Disney Marvels over its latest acquisition

by Beacon Staff • September 23, 2009

Okay, not really. Not yet, at least.

On Aug. 31, a massive deal was made that few people seem to know about: Disney bought Marvel, Inc. According to the New York Times, Disney shelled out $4 billion in cash and stock to acquire the comic company headed by Chairman David Maisel and President of Production Kevin Feige.,It's time to meet the new Iron Man: Zac Efron!

Okay, not really. Not yet, at least.

On Aug. 31, a massive deal was made that few people seem to know about: Disney bought Marvel, Inc. According to the New York Times, Disney shelled out $4 billion in cash and stock to acquire the comic company headed by Chairman David Maisel and President of Production Kevin Feige.

The merger calls to mind all kinds of horrible images: a High School Musical set in Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters starring the X-Men; the Hulk guest-starring on Hannah Montana as her new bodyguard; and Raven- Symone' and the Jonas Brothers as the new Fantastic Four. These thoughts do not inspire confidence.

Disney can do whatever it wants because the company now owns all Marvel intellectual property- all 5,000 characters. Well, sort of.

The deal does not negate previous ones struck by Marvel. Fox still owns X-Men, Sony still has Spider-Man and Paramount still has the right to distribute five Marvel films, including Iron Man 2 and The First Avenger: Captain America.

However, Disney wants to be the sole distributor of Marvel products in the future. If Disney wants it, Disney will get it. And that could be awful.

Disney is family entertainment, and has been putting out fare that parents can take their children to since 1923. Marvel does not necessarily do the same.

There is very dark content strewn throughout the Marvel universe. The Punisher films repeatedly receive R ratings for graphic violence and language. Carnage, a character in the Spider-Man series, kills without fear or caution as he indulges his love of violence and chaos. The misery and isolation the Hulk feels causes him to contemplate suicide.

Will Disney allow Marvel to explore this content, or will they apply the stranglehold of control that tore apart Miramax Films after they acquired it in 1993 for the bargain price of $70 million?

Miramax, the production company

founded by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, was the company that gave Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino their biggest breaks. The Weinstein brothers created an impressive streak when, from 1994 through 2003, a film from Miramax was nominated for Best Picture every year.

They seemed to know what they were doing. But that wasn't good enough. The Mouse House began to tell Harvey and Bob what films they could release and how much money they could have. Tempers erupted over Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.

Then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner told Miramax

that the content of Moore's film was incompatible with Disney's image and that they would not be allowed to release it, forcing the Weinsteins to sell the film to Lion's Gate, who released the film to an over $120 million gross, making it the most successful documentary of all time.

A rift between the Weinsteins and Disney ensued, eventually leading to the brothers' departure from Disney and Miramax-the company they built-to found The Weinstein Company. This reveals a disturbing mantra for the Disney corporation: image over content.

There is a difference between recognizing the film industry as a business and putting out schlock to score cash. Case in point: Disney is famous for making the straight to video sequel. Remember Lion King II: Simba's Pride? How about Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World? That's what I thought.

Marvel could fall into this abyss.

In a recent interview with Newsweek, Disney Chief Financial Officer Tom Staggs said, "We both have properties with broad appeal, but [Marvel] skew[s] more toward boys." This could mean that they plan to sell out as quickly as possible to bring over these boys. But supposedly the cash-in days are over at Disney, due to a company that may give hope: Pixar.

Pixar was bought for $7.4 billion. But they had the advantage of CEO John Lasseter working to be made the head of Pixar and Disney animation in the merger. He managed to maintain control of his company and to also raise the quality of the Magic Kingdom as a whole. Disney needs to learn to leave well enough alone. If they allow Marvel the same freedom they allowed Pixar, we could see amazing films.

Lasseter has already begun talking to Feige about making a film together. Marvel has demonstrated its ability to elevate its properties above escapism and turn out a more satisfying experience.

Pixar has shown its ability to craft compelling stories, including an arguably great superhero film, The Incredibles.

If these two companies take the time to look through Marvel's library of characters, they could produce something interesting and unique.

Marvel has to make their stand. They can't be bullied into prostituting

their properties. If they fight, they'll continue to produce quality. If they don't, you'll soon be able to pick the straight-to-video sequel Iron Man 3: Tony's Journey of Pride with an original soundtrack by the Jonas Brothers. God help us all.,Pierce O'Toole