Today we were greeted with a big surprise: Disney bought Marvel Entertainment at the modest cost of $4 billion, grabbing control of thousands of Marvel characters while giving the comic company a tap into Disney's global power. It should bring about a lot of change, for Marvel at the very least, and a myriad of possibilities, but will stronger female characters be on that list? It would be great to be proven wrong, but this new deal doesn't inspire confidence.
On the one side, we've got Disney. Their best female potential lies in Pixar -- a company that has yet to have a real front-and-center female lead in their films, but has done a really great job with supporting characters. Unfortunately, that's about as far as it goes. Beyond that, laying in stark contrast to gals like Ellie, is Disney's princess mania. They provide the main femme arm for the company, plying young girls with pastel colors, pretty dresses, and dreams of princely saviors. In fact, they have become such a backbone for the girl side of Disney that even Pocahontas, who is not a castle-dweller, is lumped with the rest. Her characterization is similar enough, but really -- if they didn't throw her in with the rest, there would be no place for her. The Mouse House is all about their pretty, pretty princesses, and rarely, if ever, seem interested in expanding that focus.
On the other side, there's Marvel. Without a doubt, most of the company's big heroic names are male, and while there are women in the fold, the company doesn't seem to have any interest in releasing them on the populace. As Elisabeth noted recently in The Geek Beat: "What I find very worrying about the new Marvel Universe is that they seem determined to exclude the female Avengers from the club. There's ample opportunity to create some sparks by writing in Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, Wasp, and the Scarlet Witch." Even one of their biggest opportunities -- the vision of a Phoenix in the waters at the end of X2 -- became a sad bust when the reigns were handed to Brett Ratner for the third installment.
So what can come of two companies who aren't very interested in varying their female portrayals? Rather, can anything come from this combination that will be beneficial to the world of women on film? Or, will it just lead to more manly men saving the world, and princesses leaning off balconies, sighing, and wishing for one of those dashing superheroes to come save them?
There's no reason why, alongside the princesses and dudes like Spider-Man, there couldn't be a few well-written, well-developed women. Disney's power can give Marvel all the resources it needs to make a quality film, one that can hold its own against Iron Man, rather than fall to the dregs of Catwoman, or in sticking with Halle Berry and Marvel, Storm in the X-Men films. I keep hoping that Pixar will start a better femme trend -- strengthened by their dedication to solid storylines and characters -- that makes strong heroines a tantalizing prospect for Disney. But with Marvel also reveling in all things boy, there's only so much that can be done. ...unless it all starts with Pixar taking on one of those female Avengers...
But there's another aspect to consider as well: the rabid fangirl, and how she fits into the comic mix. One would assume that Disney would at least bring some of the Marvel world to the young tykes they focus on, the ones who follow Disney religiously. That could mean a wonderful and increased interest in comics and superheroes amongst the girls (and, one would hope, the creation of more girl heroes), but it also means more fangirls in the world of comics. Considering the backlash against Twilight fans, what will the Con-frequenters say when Disney descends, and can the two co-exist together?
What would be most unfortunate is if they split the superhero world into an archaic division between boys and girls. We've had enough of that over the years. Rather than "girl" heroes and "boy" heroes, each trying to serve the stereotypes of a particular set, we need well-written films that deal with all interests, regardless of the central focus. Pixar has already proved that it's possible, marketable, and ridiculously successful, but whether old pros like Disney and Marvel can follow suit remains to be seen.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Will things stay status quo, will they change for the better or worse?