Wall Street and the comic book industry are currently buzzing like a nest of hornets over Disney’s $4 billion cash/stock acquisition of Marvel Entertainment. On the hand, the animation industry is taking a much more cautious approach.
“I’m stunned,” one voice artist long associated with superheroes responded. “I just don’t know what to think. As both a comic book fan and a professional, this could affect me on so many levels. I really have to find out myself.”
In fact, many animation professionals are currently declining comment as Marvel and Disney does employ a lot of them.
One who isn’t affected in any form, but still is keeping abreast of the acquisition, is Matt Seinreich, co-creator and executive producer of the shows "Robot Chicken" and the soon-to-air "Titans Maximum".
“It’s stunning!” said Seinreich. “I think Joe Quesada’s Twitter said it best when he said everybody’s dancing around. I think he said it best.
“I don’t know how it’s going to affect the animation world,” Seinreich added. “There’s so much to this I think it’s going to be a long time before we see how it’s going to play itself out, but I think it’s going to be exciting. There’s so much to think about on so many levels.”
“This really is off the charts,” one industry professional volunteered…as long as his name was off the record. “Marvel had made some missteps with some of their recent releases. Nothing major, but they realized if they had made one major mistake, it could have been disastrous, if not put Marvel Animation in the hole. With Disney, they now have the financial support to withstand something like that.”
The source also stated this is actually could be very beneficial to Disney’s comics.
“Disney has been trying to do comics for a while,” he said. “It’s gotten to the point where there were times their booth was virtually ignored at last year’s Comic Con. Now they have Marvel, a team that certainly knows how to sell comic books. Marvel’s comics and graphic novels are some of the best selling titles in the industry.”
Another person who is asking some very interesting questions is noted animation historian and critic, Jerry Beck.“What will this mean for our favorite comics characters,” Beck asked on his blog on www.CartoonBrew.com, “and the animation studios Disney controls? Will Donald meet Howard The Duck? Will The Incredibles cross over to fight The Fantastic Four? Will Disney Feature Animation do an Inhumans movie? Will Disney character comics be published by Marvel? How will this affect the theme parks? Disney XD?
“Due to prior deals (for example, live-action "Iron Man" is sown up at Paramount for years to come) nothing will happen right away, but lots to think about, and lots of exciting possibilities.”
“Marvel’s reputation is based on how they managed to brand themselves and reinvent themselves,” added Steve Stanchfield, another noted animation historian and producer of "Thunderbean" DVDs. “I also think that Disney is wanting to change their branding, and are working very seriously to do that.
“In fact, if we went back and looked at Disney’s history, this isn’t the first time they’ve done this. In the early 80s, that little period when the board hired Michael Eisner, Frank Wells, and Jeffrey Katzenberg in 1983, the first thing they did was ask what is it that’s working here and what isn’t? One of the things that wasn’t working was Disney was no longer providing beautiful, family-oriented entertainment. In the early 80s, it was producing cheesy B-movies. It wasn’t working.
“They knew they had to create another brand for the studio. Disney did have another brand at the studio, a little operation called Touchstone Pictures, which had already produced one successful movie, "Splash", but that was all,” says Stanchfield, who also happens to be the grandnephew of the legendary Walt Stanchfield and an animator in his own right. “So in order to rebrand Disney, Eisner made the comment that when you walked into McDonald’s, you knew what you were getting. You didn’t have to worry what it would taste like. What he meant was at Disney there wasn’t a quality of branding that said they didn’t make the great animated feature anymore.
“So what Eisner and especially Frank Wells did was diversify the Disney brand. They said they needed to improve it. They said they needed to make adult films, too. They also started making B-horror movies and a whole plethora of things.
“They also went and upgraded their animation department, too. They first cut production on the film "The Black Cauldron", which had cost the company $47 million and is still the worst film Disney ever produced. So of course it tanked. On the other hand, they were having a lot of success on the TV side with shows like "Gummi Bears" and "Duck Tales". They actually built a brand doing that.
“Now Eisner was just about to totally dismantle the animated film department, in fact he closed the Glendale studio down. Then Ron Clements and John Musker begged Eisner to let them do one last feature film with a total budget of $7 million. As it turned out, that was "The Great Mouse Detective" and not only was it a good film, it made money.”
According to Stanchfield, the success of "Mouse Detective" as well as Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" was all the impetus Eisner, Katzenberg, and company then needed to green light "The Little Mermaid", effectively cementing the animation renaissance.
“Now to tie it all back, Disney realizes that in order to keep growing it needs to keep diversifying,” says Stanchfield. “Their animated feature department was again becoming a disaster, with only the Pixar 3-D films being their hits. The reason for that is not that they weren’t drawn well. I think it was because most of them didn’t have good stories. With the exception of "Lilo & Stitch", most of the recent Disney films were not good films. They don’t really know what they want to do.
Still, it does pose one key question. Is Disney capable of handling Marvel’s line of more edgy characters? The closest the company had previously come to truly edgy storytelling coupled with superlative animation was the original "Gargoyles" series.
“I think what Disney needs to do is leave Marvel alone,” Stanchfield responded. “I think they have to run Marvel as a successful entity, the directors will have to be in charge. Marvel has some excellent directors such as Frank Paur and Gary Hartle. What Marvel has also done is they’ve established both a strong adult and children’s line of products. I like the "Spider-Man" series. Some of their other TV shows have been really well animated. It’s something to considered about their shows is Marvel has some really excellent key artists. They make shows that have some real feeling and heart.”
“Disney, in terms of TV animation, right now is pretty lost. They’ve focused pretty much on their live action shows. The only real success they’ve had as far as animation is "Phineas and Ferb". What’s interesting about that is they aren’t sure that they have anything to follow that up. The classic characters aren’t even being utilized at all.”
One person who seems to be taking it all in stride though is voice artist Yuri Lowenthal. He currently is working on the Marvel side as the voice of Bobby Drake on "Wolverine & the X-Men" and on the Disney side in a number of their video games.
“A lot of my colleagues in the voice world are calling me saying that Disney buying Marvel is going to be awful,” said Lowenthal. “I’ve been thinking about it and I don’t think it’s going to ruin anything. It’s not like Starbucks bought Marvel and have no idea what they’re doing. Disney’s been doing animation for what seems like a million years.
If their acquiring of Pixar is any indication, well Disney bought Marvel because they like what Marvel’s doing already,” says Lowenthal. “If they’re smart, they’ll let Marvel keep doing that. That’s what I think Disney was really trying to buy. I don’t think Disney bought them so they can be the only game in town. I think they bought them because Marvel appeals to a demographic Disney didn’t have.”
Whatever the outcome, it should be remembered that this is only the first 24 hours of just the announcement of the acquisition. There’s a whole lot of ythis story yet to be written.