by Gary Nosacek
The recent announcement that Disney would be buying Marvel was not exactly greeted with victory shouts of, ” I’m going to Disneyworld!” Fans of both companies have strong misgivings about the matchup, and since I spent 20 years hosting the children’s radio show, SECRET CLUBHOUSE, they have had no problem seeking me out to let me know what they think about it.
Disney Dads and Mouse Moms are worried about what might be moving into The Magic Kingdom. They point out, rightly so, that many of the Marvel titles are much darker, and contain more adult content, than they did when they were children. They worry that other parents who fondly remember the Spiderman and Hulk of their childhoods, will unknowingly expose their children to these comic books, especially now that Disney is going to be the parent company. They’re not convinced that Thor can come down from Asgard and peacefully coexist with Tinkerbell in Anaheim and Burbank where Disneyland and Disney Studios make their home.
Marvel fans are also not bashful about how grumpy they are with a Disney Marvel marriage.
“I can’t wait for Ironman and the Seven Dwarfs,” one fanboy blogged sarcastically.
“Now we’ll have lousy direct to video sequels with cheesy generic pop songs,” another lamented.
A self-proclaimed Hulkette growled in her best green giant voice, “Hulk can’t smash. Hulk has to go to the happiest place on Earth!”
But if The Mouse is smart, and it usually has been, it will study what Time Warner has done with The Bat. Very early, Warner Entertainment knew Batman was going to be a split personality problem for them. Children loved the idea of a guy swinging on ropes with cool gadgets in his belt. The cartoon type villains like Joker and Penguin were also a big draw. However, The Bat also appealed to young male adults who flocked to the Dark Knight, a tough, no nonsense avenger who dealt with evildoers on his own terms. How do you serve these two drastically different audiences without alienating them both?
The solution was simple and brilliant. You don’t try. Warner and DC Comics created two different Batmans. Each one was true to the character, yet was tweaked just enough to be age appropriate. For the action figure crowd, there was a series of animated TV programs featuring a heroic Caped Crusader. DC accompanied that with good old fashioned comics that had traditional good guy bad guy themes. The action movie crowd got the grittier Batman films and comics that featured a Batman who lived up to the name Dark Knight. It was always clear, with even just a casual glance which was which. Parents got no unpleasant surprises and comic fans didn’t complain about stories being dumbed down. Everybody was happy.
Disney will also learn from Warner’s biggest mistake, THE RETURN OF SUPERMAN. While some Hollywood types still insist that the movie didn’t draw because there wasn’t enough action, the fans will tell you that it just messed too much with the Superman legend, and you don’t MESS with Superman! America needs a hero it can count on. It doesn’t want a Superman who deserts us to go to live on the moon for years, with no explanation. Add a totally unneeded subplot with an unwed Lois Lane, whose child may or may not have super powers, and you have made the ideal movie for fans to reject! Even Batman himself respectfully refers to Superman as “The Boy Scout” in some of the comics. If The Dark Knight says there are some things you don’t dare try to change, Disney would do well to listen.
Disney does have one problem, though, that Warner and DC didn’t have. The company’s very name implies wholesome, family friendly entertainment. This gives it an extra responsibility to carefully work out a way for The Marvel Universe to become part of The Magic Kingdom. If cartoons are made that feature Marvel heroes, or if the characters show up at the theme parks, there will have to be child friendly versions of the comics. They wouldn’t replace or change the current books, but would be new versions, just for the new fans.
As for the movies, it will be a few years until Disney gets the rights to make them. However, THE INCREDIBLES shows that, when the studio puts its mind to it, it can make a super hero flick that is good, clean fun yet will draw a huge audience. If Disney feels that some movies just have to be given a DARK KNIGHT type treatment to remain true to the characters, then Touchstone should release them, while making it clear just who the audience for these stories should be.
Yes, this would mean that we have to be more vigilant at first to make sure that our children are getting the appropriate version of the Marvel books and films, but then, it’s never a bad thing to check up on what our children are reading and watching anyway. That’s just one of the powers that the super heroes known as “parents” must flex.
As for Disney, one of its newly acquired heroes, Spider-Man, said it best, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We can only hope that Disney is heroic enough to live up to the call.