Disney & Marvel: A Marriage Made in Cartoon Land


It’s a tough job for an old arthropod, but Spiderman might be getting called on to help save Disney theme parks from the most evil (economic) villain of them all: the current recession.

Here’s what we do know: Disney announced a takeover of Marvel today. They’ll pay $4 billion in cash and stock and take control of a small city of characters. Just how many figments of Stan Lee and other great comic-book creators’ imagination will Disney capture for that 30 bucks in cash and .745 a share?

About 5,000.

In addition to Spiderman, they will get the Fantastic Four and X-Men. In an unlikely pairing, Iron Man and Minnie Mouse will be living together under the same roof. Disney called it a “treasure trove.” Perhaps.

But here’s what we don’t know: whether the merger will boost Disney theme park attendance, which has been flagging, by drawing in the mortal Peter Parkers of the world and their cash-strapped families. Will Hulk be hanging at the Magic Kingdom, pumping up revenues in Orlando? Or would Disney have been better off concentrating those billions on cutting prices?

Disney certainly doesn’t think so. For one, they bought Marvel, proof in the Kodachrome pudding. They are obviously aiming to reach more boys across distribution lines (from parks to licensed products to video) as they already have plenty of inroads with princess- and Hannah Montana-obsessed girls.

But boys?

Well, calling Captain America!

Disney has also raised park fees recently, by order of as much as 5%, additional proof that they are not concerned.

(To cut down on the costs of a visit, read this.)

Analyst consensus, always a bit of an oxymoron, is predictably split on the day of the merger.

David Joyce, an analyst for Miller Tabank, said in The Wall Street Journal that the deal was a "good long-term strategic move."  But a click away, the “Deal Journal” column posited that the Marvel character story lines are tapped out, thus Disney wasted money.

But while some might feel Captain America ambling around Anaheim, Calif., handing out high-fives to the kids alongside Pluto is not as essential as affordability, to park fan Scott Gober, who has two boys, the pairing holds promise. “I'm thinking everyone saves to go to Disney at some point,” he said, “so it's not about money. Marvel means more themed rides in my mind, more characters, more fun!”

And how about Marvel fans? How will Disney treat their beloved characters? There is no telling for certain, but the Disney acquisition has proved a mixed fate for the Winnie the Pooh crew, which Disney first licensed in 1961. For nearly five decades, there has been a lot of money for Disney, lawsuits from the Pooh side and a feeling among critics, as time passed, that Pooh was reduced in stature. “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” in 1977 proved a brilliant classic, but Pooh and his gang from the Hundred Acre Woods has been plastered on everything, even Hanukkah menorahs.

Moreover, Disney’s many straight-to-video efforts on behalf of Pooh have, as a New York Times review put it, departed “radically from both the spirit and the letter of Milne's books, and they range in quality from unbearable to adequate. The animation is, by Disney standards, crude and unimaginative, the songs banal and the stories maudlin and chaotic.”

Captain America, you might have a big battle ahead.  Stop high-fiving those kids and engage.

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