Monday, August 31, 2009

House of Mouse buys House of Ideas (or Make Mine Disney)...

"First Disney/Marvel collaboration: Hannah Montana refuses to reveal secret identity, she goes to war with Iron Man. Iron Man wins easily." -- Brian Lynch

Some random, somewhat rambling thoughts about what may be the biggest film-related news story of the year...

Chud's Devin Faraci did a solid play-by-play bit as it was happening this morning. First of all, at this point, any and all licensing and distribution deals that Marvel has in place with Paramount, Sony, Lionsgate, Fox, or the like will be honored until their expiration dates (no wonder Sony has been desperate to get the next dozen Spider-Man movies into development). What is obvious is that Marvel either didn't trust itself as a stand-alone movie studio, or they were financially shaky enough to be in total peril should any of their big films (like Thor) out and out tank. Latching onto any major studio was a smart move for them, as spending Iron Man-type money for B-level projects (like Ant Man) was a recipe for eventual disaster. Having one of the big studios provides a cushion for the occasional whiff. I've chided Marvel in the past for this or that boneheaded play (forcing Sam Raimi to put Venom in Spider-Man 3, recutting Daredevil, spending $160 million of their own money on The Incredible Hulk and then gutting said film), but this new deal gives them the safety of actually being able to survive a truly awful situation (such as an out and out flop like Warner Bros/DC Comics Catwoman). From an artistic point-of-view, at the very least the idea of a Marvel/Pixar collaboration is beyond exciting (put any Marvel team with the Incredibles). And while Warner was never smart enough to let the DCAU gang (Bruce Timm/Paul Dini/Alan Burnett/etc) write the live-action DC scripts, Marvel doesn't have to make the same mistake. Free tip - let the Pixar gang write the scripts for the live-action superhero movies.

For Disney, the movie studio is just icing on the cake (which may or may not be good news for said studio wanting to fund exceptionally expensive superhero epics). The real money will come from the licensing opportunities. They will have the ability to infuse their theme parks with Marvel characters if they so choose. Or they can open a completely new Marvel Comics theme park if they wish. The possibilities are endless, especially once the other deals with the other studios expire (expect Fox to greenlight a flurry of sequels and reboots of existing properties). This also clears up any number of rights issues for the various Marvel Comics-based cartoons that the Disney-owned Saban put out on the 1990s. I'm guessing that the out-of-nowhere DVD release of the 1990s X-Men cartoon was some kind of peace offering or test run (at least this means that Disney DVD will actually release the whole series). So along with everything else, Disney gets clear sailing to release about a dozen animated series collections onto DVD as a bonus. I'm guessing the reason that Disney bought Marvel is the simplest one... they want the merchandising bonanza that comes from Marvel's flagship characters.

A big question is of course how this will affect the actual Marvel Comics content. This pretty much destroys any chances of any R-rated Marvel movies in the future (however slim those chances were in the first place), since Walt Disney only started putting out PG-13 films under their Walt Disney banner with the first Pirates of the Caribbean film in July, 2003. I'm sure the recently resurrected Touchtone distribution label (used by Disney to release R-rated comedies and action films) may play a role, but we'll see. I don't think Disney is dumb enough to meddle with the comic book material or the various spin-offs (such as video games), but that's always a danger. Because now that Disney owns Marvel, the various pro-censorship Focus On The Family-type groups can send out press releases touting some horrifying violence that happened on page 12 of last week's issue of The Punisher or last month's issue of Ultimate Avengers. Come what may, the acquisition of 5,000 often violent, occasionally sexualized comic book characters just makes Disney an even easier target for such rubbish. We'll see if Disney reacts to inevitable cheap shots. I'd like to think that Disney didn't buy Marvel for $4 billion just so they could tinker with it. On the other hand, will Disney allow the flagship characters for their new sub-company to run around in four-color land swearing, drinking, killing, and screwing if they think it will inversely affect their ability to sell t-shirts of said characters to people already suspicious of the 'Disney agenda'? Or worse yet, will Disney worry that Wolverine killing someone in a comic book might somehow affect the sale of a Mickey Mouse t-shirt? I'd love to be proven merely paranoid about this, but it'll be something to watch for over the next few years.

But overall this seems like a solid play for Marvel and Disney, and a huge blow to the allegedly cash-strapped Paramount (they also recently lost Dreamworks to Disney). The Mouse House gets the rights to pretty much every Marvel character, and the other studios may have to come to Disney for co-financing if costs for their characters' films can't be controlled (does Sony have a $1 billion or so lying around for the next three Spider-Man films?). This gives Disney a boatload of ready-made franchises to supplement the (nearly dead) Pirates of the Caribbean series and the National Treasure series. And as long as Disney doesn't meddle with the content, Marvel now has the cushion to build its movie empire as well as the ability to (theoretically) lose money year after year on the actual comics, Ala DC Comics and Warner Bros.

All of this is pure speculation, but I can't wait to see how this plays out. This is genuinely shocking and exciting news from every possible perspective (business, filmmaking, comics, etc).

Scott Mendelson

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