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You Can’t Help But “Marvel” Over Disney’s Latest Purchase


Comic book fans are reeling over news that the Walt Disney Company has purchased Marvel Comics for $4 billion. For fans of the hundreds -- even thousands -- of Marvel characters, they worry their storylines will become more reflective of Chip ‘n Dale as opposed to the darker fare that often comes with the comic book genre.


The deal is highly intricate. Virtually every major studio in Hollywood is currently producing new movies based on Marvel characters. Spider-Man lives at Sony, and Daredevil, the Fantastic Four and X-Men have all found homes at Fox. And while Marvel has self-financed recent films like Iron Man and the latest Incredible Hulk, Paramount has been acting as the distributor for those movies.


Disney’s deal leaves all of these existing relationships in tact -- at least for the time being. According to industry trade journal Variety, Sony, Paramount and Fox will continue to hold claim to these lucrative properties that have been developed for the big screen. In addition, Marvel characters that currently adorn Universal’s theme parks (Spider-man, Wolverine and other prominent X-Men, the Hulk and Captain America) will continue to do so.


So what does that leave Disney? Lots.


Marvel’s stable of characters are chock full of people mass audiences haven’t ever met. But ask any comic collector and they will tell you there is still much there to work with. Never heard of Sleepwalker? Micromax? A quick search on the Internet will reveal the legions that are waiting to appear on screens, t-shirts, plastic figures and anything else able to be adorned with a licensed image. And you can be sure they will be taking up residence in a Disney theme park in the near future.


While comic aficionados worry that Disney princesses will begin showing up in X-Men plots, those who enjoy Disney Studios’ usually family-friendly entertainment brands also have reason to worry. Over the past few years Disney appears to have more fully embraced the idea of being a company that appeals to family audiences. Not long ago, they announced they would only produce a couple of PG-13 films each year under their Touchstone label. Is this about to change?


Even with the more lenient PG-rating we’ve seen of late, I can’t imagine how most Marvel characters will fit into this classification without watering down many plot elements. And if these new Marvel movies are released with a PG-13 rating, will they be under the Touchstone or Disney brand? Or will they be solely labeled as a Marvel entity?


In Variety, Disney chief Robert Iger says Marvel fans have no need to worry because the studio has no plans to “rebrand Marvel as Disney” and that Marvel’s current CEO will continue to run the company. The article also recognizes a quick audit of current Disney characters reveals a definite trend toward young girls with many princess and fairy products and states Disney’s main reason for purchasing the comic giant is to help “target an audience of younger boys more aggressively across multiple platforms.”


Putting Iger’s promise of not Disney-fying Marvel together with the intent of selling these new properties to six-year-old boys (assuming they are after the same very young ages they are reaching toward with their princess and fairy titles) is definitely concerning. While I appreciate the mature, and sometimes thought provoking themes, found in movies like X-Men and Spider-man, these are hardly equivalent to the Disney Princess Enchanted Tales DVDs that show up on my desk.


Disney will need to walk a very fine line once it begins playing with its newly purchased toys. I truly hope they will continue to recognize the lucrative market they have available to them with parents who have put their trust in their company’s products and that they won’t stoop to marketing age-inappropriate characters to our youngest children who are already living in a violence-saturated world.


Rod Gustafson


Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews® - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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