Thursday, September 3, 2009
When Bob Iger decided to buy Marvel, he did so with a long view of the company's characters, but that doesn't mean the Mouse isn't going to have opportunities to hurry up the process...
There are a lot of agreements that Marvel has made over the last decade that Disney is going to have to deal with. Some of those decisions were good and others were made during a period of bankruptcy when the company needed cash; resulting in agreements that Mighty Marvel would later regret.
The Spider-Man agreement is one of those that I'm sure Marvel, and now Disney would rather have not been made. There was even a legal dispute a while back with Marvel suing Sony for the compensation that it felt it was owed from the huge blockbuster the first movie became. Sony Pictures and Sam Raimi deserve a great deal of respect for what they did in the first and second film... but the Suits got greedy with part 3. I'm sure Spidey is the Holy Grail of this acquisition and Iger and his lawyers are going to watching Sony very closely. And Sony knows this, so I think they're going to be very cautious dealing with this property. With the recent announcements of a planning for a "Spider-Man 5" and "Spider-Man 6," it's going to be a while before the Spider goes to his new home in Burbank. If each movie takes about 3 to four years to make, expect the first chance at the character to be a decade away.
The same could be said for "X-Men" and "Fantastic Four" and "Daredevil" could be as well, but I can tell you there are going to be lawyers upon lawyers looking over this for the next decade. And I will bet you there will be a lawsuit over at least one of these properties withing the next four or five years. Disney will be looking for any wiggle room inside those contracts. Before this deal was signed, I'm sure Disney had knowledge that some of these contracts wouldn't last till the expiration date.
But this is dealing with the film rights to these characters. The television rights to those characters aren't included. So you think the company won't be planning on television series based on Peter Parker, Matt Murdock, Reed Richards and Wolvie? I bet ABC has some form of a show on within two years. Maybe it'll be something to dampen Fox's "X-Men: First Class." Perhaps a "New Mutants" television show following a new class of Professor Xavier's students. Maybe a show following Daredevil? That right there might dilute the competitions desire for a sequel if characters they're planning on investing millions of dollars in are seen weekly on television. Who knows? I'm sure over the next year or so, the Suits at Disney and Marvel will go over all these characters to determine what will be the first property to get a television show or movie.
The deal that Marvel has with Paramount will end around 2012/2013 as that will be when the fifth and final film is to be delivered. I'm sure Paramount would love for it to continue afterwards, but to think that Disney would extend this agreement is highly unlikely. Why not have the next films have your logo on the front of them? Disney will want to create a brand awareness that Marvel is now Disney and it won't help keeping the Paramount logo in front of it. As of right now, the agreement for distribution includes the films: "Iron Man 2," "Thor," "Captain America," "The Avengers," and one last film, possibly "Iron Man 3." But after that, any sequel to Captain America or Thor will have Cinderella's castle in front of it... got to start getting those young males caught up in the Disney mindshare. Cause this is what that 4 billion is after... the young boy audience. Disney practically owns the girls, they've just never been able to pull in most of the opposite side of adolescence. This is the attempt to get those boys buying Disney products, seeing Disney films and visiting Disney theme parks.
Theme parks? Yes, eventually. Again, it's complicated, but there is opportunity here. Now, I know some Disney fans are groaning at the thought of Snow White posing for pictures with the Incredible Hulk. I too would find that situation unpalatable. I don't see Marvel characters in Disneyland because Fantasyland is the closest thing to being able to display them, and men in tights don't really work there. But they would work great at "Disney's Hollywood Studios," "Walt Disney Studios" or even "Disney's California Adventure." I mean, there are like at least two stages are dormant over in the Hollywood Back Lot area. When it becomes Hollywoodland in a couple year, who knows? Maybe the Muppets building that was to house a Narnia attraction will instead be filled with an Iron Man attraction? Or maybe Disney will hold off on that here in California and wait for those contracts to expire, because by then the Second Gate will be fixed (hopefully). A Third Gate could be in the planning. I know I've always thought a Disney Villain theme park (Dark Kingdom/Shadowlands) would be best, and my choice, but all these Marvel characters could be put into their own park over in the former strawberry field.
But this doesn't include the agreement Marvel has with Disney's only true theme park rival, Universal Studios. There are agreements with Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Japan that have to be addressed with this merger. Universal Studios Hollywood ended there relationship with Marvel a while ago, so there's no problem there. As for any other place overseas, Universal has no other agreements for Marvel characters. One interesting thing is Marvel was planning a theme park in Dubai that was to be part of Dubailand. Will the Mouse try and get out of this agreement or will they use this as Disney's first beachhead in the Middle East? Much to be sorted out over the next few years. But as for Universal's deal, the Spider-Man Ride will stay for a while, but Disney will stay on them to the letter and make it very difficult for USF to do anything beyond what they've already done. A decade from now, the wear and tear of all those guest and the advancement in technology may make the attraction appear as dated as Star Tours. That would buy Disney an out. Another option is a straight buy out. Perhaps Uni would be willing for the Mouse to pay for the cost of the ride? That might give them the incentive to take the technology already there and retheme it, simply taking away the Spider-Man theming and using Disney's buy out money to change the ride. I can tell you the first thing to go will be the walk-around characters. Maybe not this year, but slowly they'll be fazed out. The eateries and such in the Florida theme park will probably go next. Eventually, all that could be left five or six years from now would be Spidey ride and the Hulk attraction. And that one could easily be rethemed in a small amount of time. My guess would be a decade from now as the Web-Slinger ride slowly fades from the park, Disney will be announcing a fabulous new addition to Walt Disney World's DHS. But that's speculation for now. We've got a long time to speculate over this.
But no matter what, a decade from now the Super-Hero/Theme Park/Disney Pictures typography will have changed greatly, just not completely. The idea of buying a Jack Sparrow figure or a Spider-Man action figure will bring to mind an image of Mickey Mouse to kids being born today. You and I will remember a time when that didn't exist. Those kids will live in a time when all of that is not only possible, but actual. Now, if we can just get the Mouse to work on a strategy for owning all those Darth Vader and Indiana Jones action figures. Oh wait, most kids at the parks already view them as a part of Disney.
Now, if only Iger would complete the circle on that one and finish the job with one more merger...