As Disney gets ready to acquire 21st Century Fox, much of the discussion has centered on how the Mouse House will impact Fox properties. However, the changes will go two ways: fans should also be wondering what the merger will mean for existing Disney properties.
After putting down just over $71 billion, The Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox and its various properties will see it become one of the most powerful entertainment entities on the planet. Much has been made about what this deal will mean for the future of world media across the board, from the wide-ranging issues surrounding a media monopoly to fears over the fates of beloved properties to the ways such corporate strength could disenfranchise creators and audiences alike. Disentangling the many topics attached to such a deal is no mean feat.
For Disney, the benefits of this kind of merger are obvious. The titans of Hollywood, arguably the most recognizable brand in the industry, have made their fortune in recent years through savvy buy-outs of beloved properties and pre-existing corporate structures to expand their reach. It’s been 22 years since the company bought the ABC network and its various subsidiaries, a deal which was considered a bad investment by many experts at the time but one that has paid off handsomely. More recently, the purchases of Star Wars and Marvel have made Disney indomitable forces at the box office. Now, the Fox deal will give them even more recognizable IPs to call their own, from Alien to Avatar to Planet of the Apes. The most notable inclusions of this deal come in the form of Fox’s Marvel properties, the X-Men series and Fantastic Four, meaning Disney now have the full deck of the franchise to play with as they see fit.
Many conversations and theories have been shared over the ultimate fate of Fox’s back-catalog in the hands of the House of Mouse: will R-rated series like Alien be put to pasture by the infamously family-oriented Disney? Will Avatar become a new power player alongside Disney’s own blockbusters? How long before the X-Men and Fantastic Four are folded into the MCU canon? What has been discussed less is what the deal will mean for Disney’s pre-existing properties, from Marvel and Star Wars to their historic slate of animated films and recent splurge of live-action remakes?
One of the most commonly accepted assumptions about the Disney-Fox merger is that it will result in less movies being released in cinemas every year. Disney already release far less than most major studios, with 2017 seeing them give only seven films major cinematic releases. Each of those movies did major business, with four of them landing in the top grossing films of the year (this extends to five if Spider-Man: Homecoming, a Sony release that took advantage of the Marvel Studios brand, is included). It’s a simple but remarkably effective strategy: why make more films and risk competing with yourself when your small pool of releases are, by and large, guaranteed to make billions of dollars? But the implications go further.
- This Page: How Marvel & Star Wars Could Be Impacted
- Page 2: Disney’s Remakes & Animation Plans
Avatar Could Help Star Wars Share The Tentpole Load
The common consensus has been that this strategy will affect Fox properties more than Disney ones. It seems more reasonable for Disney to put more focus on their established brands than new acquisitions, especially those that are undeniably “Disney” in style and scope. Few studios are as dedicated to all-encompassing brand synergy in the way Disney is. That could manifest in an unexpected way with James Cameron’s growing Avatar franchise.
Avatar remains the highest grossing film of all time, yet while it was an inescapable entertainment phenomenon in 2009, it hasn’t had much in the way of pop culture longevity since then. The sequels have been in extended pre-production and development since, and during that time everything that made the film so unique upon release – ground-breaking 3D, amazing special effects, the evolution of motion-capture technology – became commonplace in blockbuster cinema. The fanbase didn’t stick around much either, and Avatar remains something of an anomaly on that front: A massive hit that’s left little in terms of a cultural footprint. However, it isn’t completely absent from the conversation, as Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort opened up an Avatar-themed land to much acclaim. Now, with the sequels having release dates, this would be an interesting opportunity for Disney to put more focus on their new sci-fi franchise tent-pole.
If Avatar pays off – and historically, it has always been a bad idea to bet against the idea of James Cameron making boatloads of money – then it would give Disney the chance to take the heat off Star Wars for a while. The studio’s plan to release a new Star Wars film a year has taken a hit since the financial underperformance of Solo: A Star Wars Story. Audience fatigue feels inevitable, even with the other three films released since the Disney acquisition performing to record-breaking levels. Spacing the films out with Avatar sequels (which are expected for December releases) could offer a reprieve for audiences and creators alike and allow fans to miss the properties instead of being spoiled so thoroughly.
When Will X-Men and Fantastic Four Join the MCU?
It’s not so much a question of if the Fox Marvel properties will join the main franchise as when it will happen. Original reporting on the planned acquisition framed the major business aspects almost exclusively in terms of how Marvel would be affected by such a decision. It’s clearly the element of the acquisition that has general movie fans the most excited, and it’s the one that would offer Disney the opportunity to fully explore the ambitions of the franchise.
However, it will probably be a good couple of years before such a merger of movies happens. Fox has two X-Men movies waiting to be released: X-Men: Dark Phoenix set for next February, and The New Mutants, which had its release date pushed back to August 2019 to make way for extensive reshoots. Neither of these films will connect to the MCU, but Disney still plans to release them (although any rumors of retrofitting them into continuity are unfounded).
The next phase of the MCU is still in the planning stages, but as films for 2020 and 2021 become set, that does push back any organically melding X-Men and Fantastic Four with the rest of the saga; they may not be around until “Phase 5”. As for Deadpool, anything could happen as the fourth wall smashing nature of the story allows for chaos in all forms.
One thing this restructure could do is allow Marvel and Disney a greater foothold in television with their properties. The division between Marvel’s film and television divisions is notoriously difficult, with Marvel TV under the control of Marvel Entertainment, while Marvel Studios goes direct to Disney. This is why shows like Jessica Jones, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Inhumans have never convinced as integral parts of this sophisticated and intertwining narrative. If bigger picture changes led to restructures, it’s possible we may see things become (slightly) more cohesive.
Page 2 of 2: Disney’s Remakes & Animation Plans
What Next For the Disney Remakes?
While Marvel and Star Wars have proven to be major money spinners for Disney, it could easily be argued that their named franchise clout lies in their recent stream of remakes. Their decision to do big-budget live-action remakes of their most beloved properties hasn’t won Disney many critical favors but the box office receipts speak for themselves. Films like The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, and even Maleficent offered the studio an opportunity to tap into that all-important nostalgia demographic, as well as a chance to update various elements for modern audiences and strengthen the brands themselves. Disney has shown no sign of slowing down with this strategy either, with Tim Burton’s Dumbo, Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin, Jon Favreau’s The Lion King and Charlie Bean’s Lady and the Tramp all arriving next year.
The issue with a business plan like this is that it inevitably has a shelf life. It took Disney’s animation studios close to 80 years to make 56 animated films (with a skew towards recent years), but if they continue remaking them at the speed they’ve committed to then it won’t take quite so many decades to have a new crop of reimaginings. The studio are currently focusing on the most beloved properties that are the most recognizable to audiences, but soon they’ll run out of those. While it may actually be more creatively beneficial to remake the properties that were less successful as animations, it remains to be seen how excited general audiences would be for, say, a live-action version of Atlantis: The Lost Empire or The Black Cauldron.
The Fox merger does not bring many nostalgic properties that could face the same live-action remake treatment. Don Bluth’s Anastasia, a princess film itself very much in the mold of the 1990s Disney Renaissance, has experienced a nostalgic boom in recent years as well as a lavish Broadway musical. Many fans have theorized that Anastasia could benefit from similar treatment and add a new princess to the official line-up.
But, really, what the Fox properties do is provide a reason to slow or curb the remakes. These are Disney’s big brands, and so they’re using them (while struggling to get new names like John Carter or Tomorrowland off the ground). With so many more nostalgic names, then surely there’s the opportunity for a changeup.
What Next For Disney and Fox’s Animation Studios?
Disney and Pixar remain the undisputed kings of animation in American cinema. While Dreamworks and Illumination Studios have put up good fights, none of them have the illustrious lineage of Disney’s decades of work and its immeasurable influence on the industry. Fox previously tried to get into the animation game with Fox Animation Studios. They even brought legendary animator Don Bluth on board. While Anastasia did well enough, Titan A.E. lost 20th Century Fox around $100 million, and soon the entire team were laid off.
Fox found better success with one of their own acquisitions, Blue Sky Studios. After Ice Age established them as real power players in animation, the studio saw big box office hits with films like Rio, The Peanuts Movie and Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! However, outside of the Ice Age franchise, their work has never reached the box office heights of, say, Frozen or Illumination’s Despicable Me series. Now, Blue Sky joins the Disney team.
It certainly wouldn’t hurt Disney to have a popular new intellectual property like Ice Age under their belt. However, it’s unlikely that Disney will yield any of their animation duties to Blue Sky, especially when they have Pixar on their team too. The most likely endgame here is a round of layoffs at Blue Sky, with some of the more talented members making their way to Disney (layoffs are expected across many areas once the acquisition is fully completed). Animation is costly and Disney/Pixar’s work tends to cost more than their competitors, so a good way to balance things out is to simply swallow up one of your bigger opponents.
The major sign of this acquisition for Disney is how even the most prominent properties gained from the deal pale in comparison to those that Disney has already made their fortunes on. While they have greater options now, the true display of their immense power lies in how they are able to categorize legendary franchises like Alien, Planet of the Apes and Avatar as their B-Team. Even if they do more with these properties than many are predicting, it seems inevitable that their franchise will lie with the tried and tested products, since that strategy has worked so well for many years.
However, the real boon for Disney with the Fox acquisition is how it gives them the freedom of time. Disney can spread their offerings more evenly across the long-term movie calendar, balancing out their key properties with favorites and unexplored treats in the Fox back-catalogue. Then, of course, there is the freedom of the slate when a decent chunk of your competition has been eliminated. Disney has the ability to do as they please in a way few studios can or ever will, and therein lies the strength of their strategy. Disney’s properties, as a result, may be bigger than ever.