Disney deal a marvel of creative marketing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 September, 2009, 12:00am

Can Mickey and Minnie Mouse make friends with the likes of Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk? Walt Disney executives seem to think so. The surprise US$4 billion deal Disney has done with comics legend Marvel Entertainment has excited investors and financial pundits. It is, after all, the only mega media deal in a slump season. Marvel shareholders are over the moon, given the high premium on offer. But fans of both Disney and Marvel are, understandably, having serious doubts.

For decades, Disney has appealed to a younger audience; its characters are bubbly and sunny. Violence and vengeance are not part of their vocabulary. The Disneyworld of Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers is free of crime and vice, pain and rage. Not so with Marvel heroes like Spider-Man, Thor and Iron Man. These are characters with a dark past, their stories full of menace. An outbreak of violence is always lurking beneath the dialogue. No wonder. Marvel and rival DC Comics cater to a teenage and young adult male demographic whose inhabitants see the world in much bleaker terms.

There is financial logic in Disney's decision. The Marvel bid is being compared with its earlier merger with animation studio Pixar of Toy Story fame. It is, in effect, buying its rivals to gain the rights to their highly lucrative super-hero characters, movies and television shows. But then Pixar and Disney were a good fit because their characters shared the same child-like, optimistic dispositions. Of course, Disney will have no trouble making ingenious theme-park rides and cute little merchandise items out of Spider-Man and Captain America. That's what Marvel aficionados are worried about, that the darkness and menace in the comics' message will be watered down to fit Disney's sunnier image.

But any influence can cut both ways. In a world of extreme violence, religious fanaticism and global terrorism, it may be a sign of the times that even Disney is joining forces with more menacing cartoon heroes. The company so loved by children the world over is, perhaps, changing with darker times.