Disney and Marvel: Why I’m Not Scared

marvel I grew up in Orlando, Florida – as some like to say, in the shadow of the Mouse.  Pretty much everyone in that town has a love-hate relationship with Disney, and I’m not really an exception.

On the one hand, I’m well aware of the eccentricities of the company: the slippery city status which means they don’t pay Orange Co. taxes, the horror stories of  employees who served their time in high school.  I’ve even heard tell of a marching band that got sued for replicating Lumiere and Cogsworth on canvas for their halftime show.   Disney has eyes and ears everywhere, always searching for ways to make money off you.

On the other hand… I grew up going to the parks and watching the movies.  I know people who benefit from their insurance plans.  They offer partnership benefits to gay employees, and have Gay Days and Star Wars Weekends.  I make bets with friends on where we’ll break down on Spaceship Earth,  and going to EPCOT when you’re 21 is a rite of passage.   And I love watching the WSOP on ESPN.

When it was announced that Disney would be acquiring Marvel, my first reaction was literally, “…And?” Maybe it comes from growing up in a town of theme parks, but it seems inevitable that either one company or another would get them.  In fact, there’s already a Marvel Island at Universal’s Islands of Adventure  (the only thing, in my opinion, that has an uncertain future).  I thought they were already owned.

At this stage in the game, Disney’s looking to make money.  They’ve had the girl market secured ever since this Disney Princess line really blew up in the last ten years, but they’ve been looking for something to fill that stereotypical “boy” niche.  They’ve been trying, with Pirates, but ultimately there’s only so many boys who will go for Pirates of the Caribbean, and there’s really only one pirate “hero.”

Acquiring Marvel makes perfect sense for Disney – there’s a little boy merch line to go with your little Princesses, ready-made.  The possibilities are practically endless.  They don’t even need to work at it – the characters are already a part of the cultural consciousness.   And if they chose to make theme park rides, those possibilities, too, are endless, and they have that much more fodder with which to fight Universal’s upcoming Harry Potter world.

From Marvel’s perspective, however, I don’t think there’s much cause for alarm.  The fact that Disney doesn’t need to get involved for it to be a success is a good thing – less work for them.  Just as McDonald’s and Starbucks have learned recently that keeping a home-grown image works in their favor, so too should Disney know that they don’t have to put their personal touch in everything they own.

And they haven’t – just look at Miramax films, or ESPN.   Do we occasionally get a little cross-promotion?  Sure, but we don’t feel like we’re watching Disney Movies for Grown-Ups or Disney Sports.   When I think of the Weinstein brothers, I’m more likely to think of Quentin Tarantino than the fact that they served for ten years under Eisner.

Disney has claimed that they don’t wish to change Marvel, and current management will stay in place.  So what can we reasonably expect?  Here are a few of my predictions:

  • Something aimed at smaller children – a merch line, maybe some cartoons.   Maybe they’ll just take the revenue from what already exists.
  • A cutesy comic crossover of some kind.  With all those resources, they’d be foolish not to tap in once in awhile.  However, this would be one line in the vast Marvel universe, easily ignored.
  • A renewed focus on comics in the Disney world.  Remember Disney Adventures magazine?  Maybe something similar to that, still aimed at a younger demographic.
  • Some resolution to the theme park question, whether it means Universal shells out more money to keep their Marvel rides or not.  Universal’s not one to cling stubbornly to the past, so I wouldn’t be surprised at an entire overhaul.

What I’m not anticipating: any change in the content of any of the existing Marvel properties.  I don’t think any comic will feel that it needs to be family-friendly.  If anything, this just means that now if Marvel pursues something like copyright infringement, they have the might of the Disney legal team behind them.

And I’m looking at you, seller of bad bootleg Spiderman costumes.

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