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Is too much Disney a bad thing?

January 16, 2013 by JIM SLOTEK and STEVE TILLEY

Jim Slotek: Multiplex sameness only going to continue

The tide seemed to take a decisive turn in 2013 in the comics-to-movies war between Marvel and D.C., with Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 soundly trouncing the latest glum reboot of Superman, Man Of Steel.

Game, set and match, when the biggest gun in your canon gets wiped out by a relatively minor character like Thor. (Be with us when Ant-Man takes out the next Dark Knight incarnation).

But really it was a win for Marvel’s new owners, the Walt Disney Company. Disney ended the year patting itself on its own historical back with the feel-good Saving Mr. Banks, which chronicled Walt’s wooing of Mary Poppins creator P.L. Travers. Travers, for her part, went to her grave regretting ever hearing the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

In the 21st Century, Disney has made itself the giant ape of fanboy culture. And it did it the old-fashioned way. It bought it. A little more than a year after the sale of the Star Wars franchise (and the hiring of Star Trek’s J.J. Abrams to revive the films), Disney World is awash in Jedi Mickey Mouse merch.

Disney previously bought Marvel for $4 billion. I haven’t seen the Spider-Mouse line of plush toys, but I’m sure they’re out there.

They’re well on their way to making themselves the only franchise game in town. And don’t be surprised if they make a play for DC (hey, if they same guy can do Star Trek and Star Wars, nothing is taboo).

So what? Does it really matter who owns Marvel? Maybe not. But Disney’s “family” image is its trademark, and it tends to seep into everything it does. Its efforts to dip into entertainment for actual adults haven’t been ragingly successful (Touchstone Pictures, Miramax without the Weinsteins).

And, Tom Hanks aw-shucks Missouri-boy portrayal of Walt aside, it is a bottom-line corporation, not an artists’ commune. As the century began, Disney Animation was an anachronism, made so foremost by Pixar, which it bought in 2006. Before merging, Pixar had made one (1) sequel in its history, Toy Story 2. Since then, three of the last four movies it has released have been sequels. I have seen the future, and it’s all 3D IMAX CGI-animated movies with numerals after the title.

As for Star Wars, George Lucas made the transition easier by infantilizing the films from The Phantom Menace onward – with the combination of Darth Vader as a little boy, and Jar Jar Binks. The Phantom Menace practically begged to have a Disney logo slapped on it.

So here’s Marvel, the company that almost single-handedly changed the demographics of comic books – turning them from kid-stuff to existential reading material for college students – suddenly a chattel of the Mouse House.

The explosions and wise-cracks will still be there. The artists-in-residence, like Joss Whedon and Marvel President Kevin Feige will follow their templates. The Avengers 2 will be the biggest film ever.

And the sameness that now inflicts the multiplex will be secured with one company responsible for most of what we see.

Steve Tilley: I say bring on the Disney dictatorship

The Star Wars I knew died in 1999, slain by a grating little tyke named Anakin and his gibbering, floppy-eared CGI sidekick, Jar Jar Binks. And that was nearly 15 years before Mickey Mouse got his comically oversized white gloves on the Skywalker clan.

That’s why it doesn’t bother me one bit that when it comes to Star Wars and Marvel, Disney is doing what Disney does: building a well-oiled, highly efficient money machine that will quite likely be running for the rest of my natural life.

The J. J. Abrams-directed Star Wars: Episode VII due to hit theatres in 2015 could feature creaky old Han Solo wearing mouse ears, and it would still be better than Episodes I through III. There is literally no place to go but up.

As for this week’s announcement that Star Wars comics will be moving to the Marvel fold from longtime publisher Dark Horse in 2015... I see how that could be a red flag for fans, who understandably fear a synergy deal more focused on making money than telling stories. But Disney’s ambitions are matched by an equal measure of smarts, and they know better than to do anything that might bloody the goose before it’s even had a chance to hatch a golden egg.

True, concentration of power in the hands of the few is almost never a good thing (although it might be a tad disingenuous for those of us who work in traditional media to be railing at that sort of thing.) But the Disney empire overseeing both Marvel and Star Wars has more ups than downs.

Yes, there will be tons more merchandise. Yet take a stroll into any Toys Backwards-R Us today and you’ll see that there’s not exactly a dearth of Star Wars or Marvel action figures, colouring books, video games, bedsheets and much, much, much more. Dumping another few tonnes of seawater into the Pacific Ocean isn’t going to cause a tsunami.

And yes, Disney has a family-friendly image. But they’ve shown in the past they’ve been willing to tinker with their squeaky cleanliness: Pulp Fiction was the first movie to be greenlit by Miramax after the sale to Disney, and while the relationship turned out to be a bust, the film was anything bit. (And it didn’t lead to Vincent Vega plushies being sold at the Magic Kingdom. Although, to be honest, that would have been utterly awesome.)

Disney’s had four years to screw up Marvel movies, but instead they’ve done a fine job of assembling a creative team that knows how to make mass-market entertainment that also pleases (most of) the fanboys.

Maybe this is just a case of the frog not realizing it’s being boiled to death. First they came for the Marvel fans, and I didn’t speak out. Then they came for the Star Wars fans, and I said nothing. If Disney ever came for something I was truly invested in – maybe a Disney-powered Star Wars/Blade Runner crossover sequel that reveals Han Solo and Rick Deckard are the same guy – I’d lose my freaking mind.

But until then, I’m content to live in this benevolent dictatorship of fanboy culture. Bring on Princess Leia photo ops at Disneyland and another 50 Avengers spinoffs. Mickey hasn’t wronged me yet.

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