Tales of Folly (August 31, 2009)

In an otherwise slow news morning, many woke up to the big news of Disney's purchase of Marvel Entertainment, the home of such superheroes as Spider-Man, the Hulk, Captain America and the X-Men. The exact details of the purchase have not yet been released but the sale has been reported at $4 billion. Given Marvel Studios' recent fortunes with the popularity of Iron Man and the announcement of similar approaches to their stable of Avengers such as Thor and Captain America to come in the next few years, the purchase would appear to be largely influenced by the cinematic success of Marvel's character, not their print origins.

Still, most of Marvel's iconic characters were licensed to other film studios in deals made prior to the purchase. Spider-Man resides at Sony, where two sequels are reportedly being developed. The X-Men and Fantastic Four (as well as associated characters such as Wolverine, Deadpool, and the Silver Surfer) are under contract with 20th Century Fox. Marvel Studios self-produced Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk but did so through distribution deals with Paramount and Universal Studios, respectively. It's not likely that these studios would look to be bought out of their deals given the fiscal reward awaiting them in sequels. That could mean that Disney would have to wait until those deals run their course before the characters return to Walt Disney Pictures. (Though at that point, they would run the risk of superhero burnout.)

That being said, Marvel's characters still have an appeal in all aspects of licensing, including toys, video games, cartoons and various merchandising. (And theoretically they would still have a part of the profit from the movies made in those aforementioned deals.) But what of where it all started, the comic books?

The comic book community is responding with requisite worry and concern, mostly based on stereotypical response to Disney's oft-referenced values. Many fans seem to think that Disney is suddenly going to force its values into Marvel's fictional world, rendering a lot of the grit and edge moot. Many seem to forget that Disney has owned Miramax Pictures, home to Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, among other R-rated fare. Still, the comic book industry has always fought a certain image problem as many still see it as a child's medium when in reality it is dominated by a fervent, adult fanbase. Would Disney risk alienating that core fanbase? Nobody really knows.

Like the aforementioned film deals, there is some buzz about what this means for Universal Studio's Islands of Adventure, where Marvel Super Hero Island has been wowing guests for years. There hasn't been any confirmation about how this will affect that deal, though I would imagine its most likely that the characters would stay there until the deal runs out. It may hurt Universal to essentially promote characters that are now owned by their rival theme park, but they would run the risk of losing some of their most popular attractions. Not to mention, Universal Studios has been home to franchises produced by rival film studios (most notably, Terminator and Harry Potter).

It can be anywhere from fun to frustrating to theorize what this means but it may be tough for anyone to really grasp the answer to that, even as noted Disney and Marvel executives start releasing statements and details.

As a fan of both companies, I do have some concern about too much corporate synergy. It worked for Pixar's characters because they were always created with Disney influence. However, I don't know that I'd want to see Spider-Man marching down Main Street, U.S.A. in a parade. And while my beliefs are this won't happen, I would have a lot of concern if Disney stuck their noses into Marvel Studios' business, especially given how hard Marvel has strived to free themselves from the type of studio interference that has undermined the quality of their franchises at other studios. (Marvel is trying to create a synergistic film world that mirrors the comic books allowing characters to intercross films.) I guess if nothing else it will be interesting to keep an eye on this new relationship.


Celebrating Forty Years of Foolish Mortals and Grim Grinning Ghosts

Photo courtesy of Disneyland

On August 9th, 1969, the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland made its much anticipated, long-awaited "soft" opening much to the delight of fans who had seen the antebellum mansion looming over New Orleans Square since 1963 with promise of fright that awaited inside. But the ghost host denied entry for years. (The delay was only partially due to imagineering changes, and mostly because Disney focused a lot of its attention on their famed exhibits at the New York World's Fair in 1964-1965). Sadly, shortly after the Fair, Walt himself passed on before seeing projects, particularly two so closely associated with him, open to the masses. (Walt's presentations on TV helped hype the opening of the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.) To this day, the Haunted Mansion continues as one of Disney's most iconic and beloved rides.

In my only trip to Disneyland, the Haunted Mansion was sadly closed for renovations which was a major letdown for me as this was one of my most anticipated ventures. I have always loved the Walt Disney World version and loved enjoyed checking out the flagship versions of all the attractions shared by both parks. Alas, I'll have to "hurry back" to the old haunt in the future.

The attraction would officially open on August 12, 1969, which also happens to be the day my brother was born! So a Happy 40th birthday from one foolish mortal to another, and a Scary Birthday to Disney's Haunted Mansion. (Cue the evil laughter.)


Pixel Hollow: Magical Gateways

This isn’t a revelatory photograph but I like the clumsy symbolism of the ancient torii gate (in front of the Japan pavilion at Epcot) looking towards the futuristic Spaceship Earth. Even at the rather na├»ve age of 17, I was keen on the Disney Imagineers’ skill in not only designing individual attractions or pavilions, but how they framed them with the rest of the parks.

My affinity for Japanese culture probably had its very minimal beginnings here as it was one of my favorite pavilions, probably dazzling my imagination with thoughts of ninjas or samurai. However, it would be another decade before I truly came to appreciate the Japanese dining experience (i.e. hibachi, tempura and sushi). Perhaps I should bring this picture with me to Sushi Boy!