I suspect when Walt Disney first sketched that black-and-white mouse and gave him a voice that seemed to squeak out of a helium balloon that all he wanted to do was make little kids smile. I doubt he planned to gobble up all of Hollywood like a bottomless pit (though his record-setting 22 individual Oscars might want to disagree with me) and yet that’s precisely what his eponymous company is aspiring to achieve some fifty years after his death.
The Walt Disney Company’s appetite for expansion is hardly a secret. In an age of endless reboots, sequels and superhero movies, Disney already has two of the world’s most lucrative companies in its pocket: Lucasfilm and Marvel. And it’s trying its utmost to ensure they both continue to rake in the big bucks until we’re all dead, or at least irrevocably peeved, as many of us already are. Add to that the gleaming success of both Disney’s resident Animation Studios (Big Hero 6, Frozen, Moana) as well as its subsidiary Pixar Studios (Inside Out, Coco) and you can understand how the Goliath company has the worth for its latest ambition to buy over 21st Century Fox (of which 20th Century Fox is a key component) for $52.4 billion.
What will this unholy merger mean for the future of Hollywood? Well, for one, we may finally see the X-Men and Fantastic Four – whose rights have been manhandled by Fox ever since Marvel tossed them overboard – expand the already brimming Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the acquisition will surely have more far-reaching and profound implications, not just on the Fox properties Disney will inherit, but on the way Hollywood will move forward delivering entertainment to our eyeballs.
Disney has already claimed a 75% stake in BAMTech – a streaming service provider established by Major League Baseball in the States – and plans to turn it into a video-on-demand service not unlike Netflix, Stan and Hulu, except of course it will only offer Disney titles, which, with this new deal, will also include the entirety of 20th Century Fox’s cinematic library.
And what of the exclusivity? That’s Disney’s forte isn’t it? Look at the way it has handled its animated classics – intermittently locking titles away in the “vault” to safeguard copyright when almost every one of their stories has been pilfered from someone else. Now, with this proposed streaming service, one can readily expect déjà vu, especially since Disney has stated it will terminate its contract with Netflix, effectively withdrawing every Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar and Fox movie along with it. Surely such an operation will enrage streaming-goers, as they will have to subscribe to multiple services and double-down on payments just to access films that used to all be in one place. Disney’s backyard has no room for freeloaders.
So, will Disney allow Fox to continue churning out its own films autonomously, as Fox has for almost a hundred years, or will it reduce the historic production house to merely a placecard brand? And if it does grant Fox autonomy, would it perhaps dumb everything down to placate Disney’s primary audience of younglings? Maybe a few ewoks in a Planet of the Apes sequel? Or might it just create one gigantic shared universe in which Cinderella can eat at the same table as Wolverine? Whatever the case, Disney’s hunger is currently insatiable. Viacom, Comcast and Time Warner might want to pack up and head for the hills.
Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures