By now we’ve all heard that Disney is buying Marvel Entertainment, home to two dozen popular superhero characters and three thousand near-anonymous dregs. My Facebook friends list is awash in the blood of comic book geeks slitting their wrists in anticipation of the inevitable Wolverine/Bambi team-up.
Here’s what I think will happen to Marvel’s properties under Disney’s cape: next to nothing.
To my mind, the purchase of Marvel is one of the few missteps the Mouse has made under Bob Iger’s reign. Disney isn’t getting a hell of a lot for its money. The theme park rights to the characters will continue to be held by Universal. And the movie properties that Disney could use to keep Bruckheimer on the lot — Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Iron Man—will remain the properties of Sony, Fox and Paramount well into the forseeable future. (According to Variety, Fox’s deal allows them to keep the film rights to Fantastic, X-Men, Daredevil and Silver Surfer in perpetuity, just as long as they keep making the films. For Disney’s purposes, that means forever.)
Buying Marvel was an audacious move on Disney’s part — if you can’t lure the Comic Con geeks to your tweenaged-girl fairyland, just buy ’em. But it may not have been the right one. Superhero films are big-money gambles — you can’t make one for under $150 million and if it doesn’t make half that money back in its opening weekend, you won’t see profit for years, if at all. And Disney doesn’t have the big names to play with — I mean, they may be able to develop a Runaways franchise or get the publishing side to start up an Incredibles title, but I think that’s it and that’s all. Four billion dollars spent to wait out contracts and to see if Avi Arad and Jerry Bruckheimer will duke it out in Thunderdome.
I can think of ten ways off the top of my head that Disney could have spent that money to win tweenaged boys and geeks — ways that build on existing assets. Maybe I’m right; I’m probably not. Still, you can’t deny that these things would make you happy:
1. Remake Condorman with Sam Rockwell or Patton Oswalt. Only, y’know, better than the first time.
2. Revisit the Oz books. The two-decade-old Return to Oz is only now beginning to find its cult audience. Give the stories to Henson’s crew, to Tim Burton or to your own animators, front them $150 million and let ’em rip.
3. Lock down two more Tron films now. You’re going to have a Matrix-sized hit with Tron: Legacy, and probably a Rebooted and Revelations-sized critical and commercial dropoff with the sequels — but they will still make you a lot of money if you move fast.
4. Own your steampunk heritage. 20,000 Leagues! Island at the Top of the World! Atlantis! Fast-track these reboots and remakes while the goth kids are still wearing top hats and rust-colored leggings.
5. Put a billion into updating f–king EPCOT, already. Fill it with the cool hi-tech, geek-geared shizzy that appeals to readers of Wired. Every geek kid has geek parents that will fly halfway around the world to see the world of tomorrow.
6. Give Javier Grillo-Marxuach a deal and let him do something wonderful. You worked with him on The Middleman, a series that is now finding its audience on DVD. By the time he gets around to making a nice, cheap Middle-movie, the demand for it should be strong.
7. Bring back Duck Tales. Hew closer to the Carl Barks stories and cast Billy Connolly, the ne plus ultra of gruff but jocular Scotsmen, as the voice of Scrooge. I don’t know if that’ll bring the tween boys to the yard, but also, I don’t care. Bringing back Duck Tales is something Disney should already have done. ‘Cos I miss it, that’s why.
8. Make a movie based on Split Second, the car-chase video game you’re working up for the XBox 360. Stuff blows up!
9. The Disney Princesses: Teach them kung-fu and arm them with wrist-holstered blades and pistols.
10. You’ve got Nathan Fillion and Morena Baccarin on the lot working on Castle and V respectively. Marvel favorite Joss Whedon has worked with Disney on Atlantis and Toy Story. Do the math.