By now you may have heard about the recent business deal by the Disney Corporation to purchase Marvel Entertainment, including it’s historic comic division, with final deals to be completed by the end of this year.
Many internet geeks, comic geeks and other salubrious purveyors of gossip and innuendo have decided to get all weepy and cranky over this deal, as they see this deal as a usurption of Marvels autocracy by the larger, dominant company. This is, as usual with most internet gossip, without foundation.
Disney have made several acquisitions of other companies throughout their history, notably the Jim Henson Company (and so acquiring controlling interest in The Muppets franchise) and more recently Pixar, after a brief falling out.
Disney, being a corporation interested in the almighty dollar, would have little-to-no interest in these purchases if they did not think they would make money, after all, the shareholders are the primary reason these kinds of conglomerates are in business: it’s hard to imagine that Disney would want to tamper with Marvel in any way that would cause them to run at a loss. And with Marvel recently entering, and then leaving, bankruptcy within the last decade, Disney would want to be sure of their financial sustainability before signing on the dotted line.
So why would an animation company want to purchase a comic-book company, a company who already have a variety of film contracts with other, competing, film studios? 20th Century Fox are contracted to X-Men, for example, and aren’t going to let that revert back to Disney in a hurry. Rights and contracts aside, what does Disney stand to gain by acquiring Marvel, and what can we look forward to seeing in the comic lines they produce? Wolverine vs Donald Duck? Perhaps one of the most mismatched crossovers ever produced? The Uncanny X-Men featuring guest star Mickey Mouse? Or Goofy?
Many geeks around the world have foreshadowed a directive from Disney management to kiddify the comic lines, to reduce the violent and sexual content to less explicit and graphic levels. Perhaps a new line of Mickey Mouse comics will be produced by the publisher, to cater for Disney’s family brand of entertainment. Many critics and cynics around the web have major reservations about Disney’s handling of Marvels assets, although I do believe this worry is unfounded.
Disney co-opted ownership of Pixar in order to control it’s creative assets and franchise features such as Toy Story et al. But while Disney own the company, it’s been smooth sailing for the hugely successful animation company, with apparently little to no interference from Disney at all. And with Disney Animation return to traditional 2D animation, Pixar is apparently going to lead their 3D and CGI animated output, which can only be a good thing considering Pixars track record.
The Jim Henson assets, the Muppets (but not Sesame Street) are also controlled by Disney, and although output of material from this franchise has been limited in recent times (criminally so, I still think there’s a market for good quality Muppet stuff) Disney haven’t wrecked the franchise with badly thought-out marketing strategies. My only concern is that you’ll soon see Kermit and Miss Piggie, or perhaps Wolverine and Spider-Man, trotting around Disneyland like Mickey and his ilk already do: gargantuan obscenities of corporate branding for children to fear and abuse.
Disney have a family brand associated with the Disney name, but they do have an adult oriented film studio in their control, Touchstone Pictures, which has released plenty of more adult fare over the years. This differential in branding allows Disney to make money from a commercial sector it’s never been associated with as a brand, without tainting it’s corporate image to the masses. With this in mind, it’s highly unlikely you’ll see any interference with the Marvel brand, at least in the short term. But should Marvel fall back into the black financial hole it once found itself in, rest assured Disney will do all it can to cull the fat and trim the sails. Mixing metaphors there, I know, but they’ll ensure a lean, mean, comic producing machine.
As far as Marvels current studio contracts go, they stand firm under the new deal, so don’t worry about X-Men being remade under the Disney banner any time soon. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this situation is about as good as it gets for comic-book film franchises… DC Comics, which is owned by Warner Bros, has a problem in that it can’t get any of it’s properties made anywhere else, since the rights are tied up with Time-Warner. Marvel, with it’s current deals at Fox, Paramount and other studios, has the ability to generate plenty of income from its property being franchised to interested parties. This issue of property “development” was a key factor in the delay of bringing Superman’s most recent cinema adventure to the big-screen. It’s not like DC could shop the character around for an interested studio to develop into a franchise; they had to wait for Warners to come to the party before anything was done.
Perhaps this new deal will be a positive venture for Marvels’ franchised properties. It’s hard to imagine it could be to the studios detriment. In any case, the next few years will prove interesting viewing.
The bigger picture out of all this, meanwhile, is that yet another smaller company is bought out by a large, multi-national conglomerate; eaten by the whale, as it were, to steal a plot point from Disney’s Pinocchio. And perhaps this should be more disturbing to us than the simple picture that a jovial, amicable acquisition has hitherto displayed….
© 2009, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.