Monday, September 07, 2009

Marvel & Disney Sittin in a Tree...

I'm not sure what to think about this whole Marvel/Disney marriage that was announced a while ago.

On one hand, it's probably a good thing for Marvel, because as part of the Disney empire they'll have steady access to a lot more capital to develop movies and avenues like stores and themeparks to hawk merchandise. This is, of course, a good thing, most especially from a business perspective.

For Disney, it's another property to put bums in the seats of its themepark rides. It's not hard to imagine the mouse taking some of the big Marvel names and flushing them out into Indiana Jones-style show rollercoasters or Star Tours-esque puke theatres. And it would work. Hell, I'd go.

On the other hand, with Mickey at the helm, I worry that it's only a matter of time before comic fans see the Disneyfication of the Marvel lines. Oh sure, it wouldn't be right away and it wouldn't be all in one fell swoop. It would probably start subtly because the Disney guys are smart and won't want to damage the revenue from their new property, but over time I wonder if you might start to see a softening of some of the violence or a gentling of character personalities to be more in line with the wholesome image of the mouse's company (granted, American pop culture rarely has a problem with violence - it's sex and swearing they're really afraid of - but you have to admit that at least in recent years, Disney's something of a soft touch when it comes to slugfests). This is not to say that Marvel's titles are the homes of over-the-top gore or phsychological violence. They're still ultimately (for the most part) written with the understanding that kids and youth will be buying them (as opposed to other comic publishers which lean towards the adult audience specifically and are markedly different in the depth of content). But I can just imagine a boardroom meeting some day with execs talking about developing, say, X-Men into a ride for the themeparks and getting into a discussion about whether Wolverine's gonna have to tone down the attitude in order for the concept to be a more palatable for parents; this in turn could affect the comic months, if not years in advance of ride construction. Just a thought, but one that's certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

But beyond that, there's just a general uneasy feeling that I have when I think of these two entertainment powers joining forces. It's the same feeling of wrongness slithering just through the fringes of conciousness that I had way back at the end of the 80's or beginning of the 90's when Disney bought out the Muppets. Sure it probably gave the Henson factory the backing it needed for the Muppet movies (like their versions of A Christmas Carol and Treasure Island) that they put out in the 90's, but when I saw the news footage back then, I just had this feeling that the Muppets were losing something special about their identity by coming under the Disney umbrella. Even now, years later, if you go to the Disney California theme park across the lane from Disneyland, they've got a replica of the Muppet Theater with a funny little show, but it somehow seems faded and half real. Admittedly, part of the problem there is that this show is half-empty most of the time is because its real draw is for the adults who remember watching the Muppets as kids. They bring their own kids there, and the little ones generally enjoy themselves, but the Muppets aren't that big a part of pop culture for kids anymore, so it's not what the kids want to see. That's not Disney's fault per se. But is probably is why the Muppet Theater there feels like it's been half-forgotten and tucked in a corner of the park more out of obligation than any real desire to push it as a destination product - Disney's too focused on promoting its core properties, rather than the add-ons from a bygone era. While Marvel is certainly current, I worry that it may become somewhat marginalized because it isn't a core Disney property. And beyond that, I just can't shake that same feeling that maybe, like the Muppets, some of the magic has gone out of Marvel because of the Disney deal - that it's become the sidekick where it used to be the superhero.

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