The Transformation of Disney, For Better or Worse

(This is a preview of Sunday’s PopRox column in the Pocono Record.)

One of my favorite random Simpsons gags came in the season six episode, The PTA Disbands.

Principal Skinner takes the Springfield Elementary kids to a historic Civil War battlefield site, which offered free admission the previous year. When he’s told this year’s cost is $5 per kid, he complains to the ticket-taker.

“Eh, new management,” he’s told as she motions to a sign behind her.

ignore the japanese writing. you don't know how hard it was just to find this one.

The camera pans back to the sign that reads: “Diz-Nee Historical Park. Sorry, but there’s profit to be had.”

It stuck with me for years. Whenever I read a story about Disney taking over this or buying that and promising how its latest purchase is the best thing for all involved, I skeptically keep that line in the back of my head.

“Sorry, but there’s profit to be had.”

Now that Disney knows we know what they know, all bets are off. It officially has become the biggest-budget, most-franchise-driven movie studio in Hollywood, and it has no problem pounding its chest and copping to it.

That’s a big shift from the Disney most of us grew up with. Through the early 90s, it was perfectly comfortable masking its blatant consumerism behind the traditional, family-friendly Disney scope.

We wised up and stopped buying every VHS tape, seeing every movie, hoarding every toy. But as we got smarter, Disney got even smarter. The company decided to branch out from its family-friendly brand that had existed for about six decades, and it started buying up everything in the name of synergy.

TV networks. Sports franchises (remember when the Anaheim Ducks were called The Mighty Ducks?). Sports movies. Adult dramatic movies.

But of all the megadeals Disney has pulled off, three recent movie deals stand out to let us know the company’s future:

• In 2006, Disney bought animated movie company Pixar for $7 billion. Since then, it has released sequels Cars 2 and Toy Story 3. COMING SEQUELS: Monsters University (2013) and Finding Nemo 2 (2016).

money maker for the next decade, at least

• In 2009, Disney bought comic book company Marvel and all of its properties. While the deal doesn’t include the movie rights to some of Marvel’s biggest stars — Spider-Man, X-Men, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four — they’ve got just about everyone else. That includes the franchise surrounding The Avengers, which just might be the most profitable franchise going in Hollywood right now. COMING SEQUELS/FRANCHISE PIECES: Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World (2013), Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), and Avengers 2 and Ant-Man (2015). Then the “third phase” of the Avengers universe will begin, reportedly with a standalone movie for The Hulk that will set up Avengers 3.

• Wait, there is one franchise even more profitable, one that Disney bought in October — Star Wars. When Disney bought Lucasfilm, it acquired all the future prospects of the “Star Wars” franchise. Oh, and just in case it ever wants to do a little rebooting? (And you know it does.) That deal also includes the Indiana Jones franchise. COMING SEQUELS/FRANCHISE PIECES: Star Wars 7 (2015???), plus 8 and 9 in the future; Boba Fett and Han Solo movies (reportedly, no release dates).

oh right. him.

Those are 15 sequels/franchise pieces we know almost FOR SURE are coming over the next decade or so that are slam-dunk hits. In the next four years, nine of those movies presumably are coming, and six of those nine are likely megahits, destined to bank at least $400 million worldwide. Some of them have $1 billion box-office aspirations.

We haven’t even talked about the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which will be launching another movie in 2015. Disney’s also launching a possible franchise based on one of its other theme park rides, Tomorrowland, and has the sequel, The Muppets … Again! both on the 2014 slate.

Maybe, when we were growing up, Disney sneaked up on us as a greedy, profit-driven corporation. No more.

For better or worse, Disney is in it for the money, and it doesn’t care who knows anymore.

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