Naturally, our biggest fear is that Disney was going to be purging Marvel of all its down and dirty heroes onscreen and off. We made a lot of jokes about it, but the one thing stressed by Disney and Joe Quesada was that all such weeping and wailing was groundless. Comic Book Resources exhaustively detailed the big conference call where Disney executives stressed again and again that they were uninterested in messing up Marvel's business, and cited their arrangement with PIXAR as proof of their good intentions. They feel that Marvel Entertainment handles their characters intelligently, and knows how to work with them in other media. Disney was attracted to them for that very reason -- and that's not exactly the first time we've heard that since it's precisely why all kinds of talented people are racing to get involved with Marvel movies.
That was repeated again and again at the Iron Man 2 roundtable. No matter if they're actors, directors, writers, or producers, everyone loves hanging around the Marvel gurus, and only a madmen would tamper with that formula.
When the news first broke, my concern wasn't that Wolverine or Iron Man would stop drinking, smoking, and sleeping with everything in the comic book universe, it was for the cinematic world that was being so carefully plotted by Kevin Feige and his friends. It's pretty impossible not to become infected with the enthusiasm Feige, Jon Favreau, and Robert Downey Jr. display towards their fledgling universe, and how eager they are to welcome guys like Kenneth Branagh into it. But to borrow a quote from Brian Heater, the term "Disneyfication" was not created in a vaccuum, and it was impossible not to picture an assembly line of watered down, mythology-drained product. It's a little harsh of us to jump to that conclusion since the same thing could have happened with Marvel's existing any-studio-that-will-finance-and-distribute plan. Hell, it could still happen, since we have all of Iron Man and Iron Man 2 to go on. (I liked The Incredible Hulk, but had that been the first film out of the gate, I don't know if we'd be filled with such blinding hope for the The Avengers, you know?)
Right now, nothing is going to change. The properties Marvel has set up with Paramount (Iron Man, The Avengers, Captain America, Thor, and Ant-Man) will remain there, and be distrubuted accordingly. The same presumably goes for Hulk at Universal. Whatever distribution deals there are will remain in place, but over time, Disney will become sole distributor of the Marvel movies. Where this could hurt is in the timeline Feige had planned out. As Devin Faraci worries, " I think Disney will let Marvel Studios make their movies their way. But the big problem for DC characters at Warner Bros is that the studio will only distribute so many DC movies a year. The way that Marvel was set up before the deal, they could strike distribution deals with different studios, ensuring a large stream of film content. Will Disney be happy to put out three or more Marvel movies a year? Kevin Feige is definitely thinking about releasing a Marvel movie a quarter in the near future -- and maybe even more than that -- but will Disney get behind that? This is my biggest question."
The depressing news is that whatever Marvel characters are owned by Fox and Sony will remain there until time immemorial. Fox currently owns the X-Men Universe (including Wolverine, Deadpool, Magneto and all other spin-offs they've been eying), Fantastic Four, and Daredevil. Sony owns Spider-Man. Any hopes that Disney's deep pockets can win them back are impossible ones, as Faraci points out. "Don't hold your breath for those properties to come home anytime soon - now that Disney owns Marvel the studios would ask huge amounts to sell them back, and the deals will not be expiring in the near future." This is made pretty evident by Fox immediately deciding to relaunch the Fantastic Four, as they retain rights as long as they keep churning out movies. (While the rumor mills have been churning about the reboot for some time, and deals take a long time to ink, I don't think the timing is entirely coincidental.)
Overall, I don't think fans will have a ton to worry about, though and I don't think it's going to be the salutary neglect you see between Time Warner and DC Comics. This is Disney, mouse of marketing, and they are going to expand these characters to places you never, ever thought you'd see. You will be able to buy Captain America everything. There's something vaguely sad about that and yet, it's not as though Marvel characters haven't been slapped on toothbrushes, underwear, and sleeping bags before. They're just going to be more of it and in this day and age, who is really going to notice? Are you really going to go to the mall and go "Life was so much better before there were so many Hulk and Wolverine toys?" In this age of conspicious consumerism, it's just more color to the shelves.
Frankly, if I have to chose oversaturation of anything, I would much rather my future progeny be exposed to the hearty values of Marvel heroes than some of the iffy product Disney has been putting on screens big and small in the past ten years. Nearly a year ago to the day, I wrote about the surprising self-esteem lessons I'd discovered in Kitty Pryde's adventures with Wolverine, and lamented that books like that aren't put into the hands of the kids that need them. Dark and gritty comic movies might please us 20 and 30-somethings, but they don't do a lot for the younger set, and if a Disney-Marvel partnership can help simpler stories like that one find their way into the lives of boys and girls, then I'm all for it.
Besides, as everyone has excitedly pointed out, think of what this means for Pixar and Marvel. Already, there was much squeeing behind closed doors, so I can't imagine what treats are in store. Faraci already has a pretty terrific list of obscure Marvel characters they could run with. My ignorance of licensing will show with properties I pick, but I hold some feeble hope that we could see a Union Jack movie, or that some of the Femizons remain unoptioned, and will make it to the big screen thanks to all those new and creative minds Marvel will have at their disposal. I was too grim in my initial news story, so let's end with a cheery quote from the Twittering Joe Quesada as he quelled the rising flood of geek panic: "Welcome to this moment in history. Everyone relax, this is incredible news and all is well in the Marvel U ... if you're familiar with the Disney / Pixar relationship, then you'll understand why this is a new dawn for Marvel and the comics industry."