For most of 2017, it feels like we’ve been strapped into Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and forbidden from getting off (the Haunted Mansion just taunting us in the distance, people casually chomping on Mickey Mouse ice cream bars, enormous turkey legs, and Dole Whips while we starve to death in our carts… man, I’ve got to stop writing these things before lunch). And just when you thought it couldn’t get crazier, after weeks of rumors and negotiations, it seems all but certain that the Fox company is ready to sell off its entertainment branches to the Walt Disney Corporation and Shadow Government. This is a huge deal with massive implications for many aspects of media and popular culture, and frankly, I’m not in the mind to talk about all of them considering how many poop-filled diapers I’ve had to deal with lately.
Disney has been an acquisition machine for years now, gobbling up Pixar, then the Muppets, then Marvel and Lucasfilm. Let’s face it, they’re one Walmart merger away from total world domination. And certainly, with the Fox entertainment properties under the Disney roof, a lot of things would change. But there are a million thinkpieces out there about that. Instead, let’s take a minute to mention a couple of the things I hope don’t change too much with the new Disney-Fox Global Consortium firmly in place.
1. The autonomy of the 20th Century Fox movie studio: Fox is one of the grand old dames of the movie business, having been around since 1935 and giving us hundreds of classic, timeless, unforgettable films, and also James Cameron’s Avatar. Disney, of course, has its own cinematic pedigree. The big difference here is that Fox’s films have run the gamut of genre and audience types. The Disney brand, however, is far more associated with family fare. Even bringing in Marvel and Star Wars hasn’t changed that dramatically — while those properties may hit an older audience than The Little Mermaid, there’s still nothing there you may be uncomfortable watching with your mom in the room.
Fox, on the other hand, gave us the likes of Aliens, Predator, Planet of the Apes, Die Hard, and hundreds of other films (both wonderful and terrible) that would be an odd fit under the Disney banner. If Disney simply folds all of these into their current operations, it seems unlikely that these franchises or others of a similar temperament would have a home. On the other hand, Disney doesn’t really have an arm that makes entertainment for older audiences anymore. Miramax was sold off a few years ago, and their Touchstone banner is basically just a distribution arm these days, not having made any films of its own in nearly a decade. If 20th Century Fox is allowed to continue, it could fill that niche in the Disney portfolio of films for older audiences.
2. Animation “Domination.” Disney, for decades, was the undisputed juggernaut of animation in film. Its television competitors — even when the likes of Hanna-Barbera created memorable characters — often paled in comparison to Disney quality. That has changed drastically in the last two decades, with Dreamworks, Warner Brothers, Universal, and — yep — Fox stepping up their game to create franchises that legitimately compete with Disney. And on TV, Fox has a foot in something that Disney has never truly dabbled in: animation for grown-ups.
The Simpsons, obviously, is the perennial classic. Futurama was even better. King of the Hill is remembered fondly, Bob’s Burgers is the current Emmy-winning darling. Family Guy is… also a thing. Hopefully, Disney won’t curtail these things or try to reshape them into the mold of their own animated properties. Things like Ducktales, Gravity Falls, Phineas and Ferb and Milo Murphy’s Law are great, but it would be a shame if the rules that govern those shows were to be shifted over to the Belcher family.
3. Fox’s Marvel Universe. Yeah, the one thing that everybody wants is to see the X-Men interact with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hugh Jackman even suggested once that doing an Avengers movie would be the only way he’d play Wolverine again. And has any superhero franchise ever needed a new approach as desperately as the Fantastic Four?
But having said that, I honestly think it’s a good thing that, when the MCU started, Marvel didn’t have all of their big guns under one roof. If they’d had the FF, X-Men, and Spider-Man, do you think Marvel’s first film would have been Iron Man? Hell no. They played with the toys that were left in the box, and as a result, they did something excitingly different that has paid off in spades. If they could have made an X-Men movie, would they have gambled on something like the Guardians of the Galaxy? Would we have seen Ant-Man or Dr. Strange on the screen? It seems highly unlikely.
And on the other side, look at the X-Men films. Okay, Wolverine and Deadpool are popular enough that they could have probably landed their own movies eventually. But at present, Fox does two or three X-Men films a year. So does the MCU. If they’re all folded under one banner, that’s likely to halve the output. Those same three guys on the internet who keep complaining that there are too many superhero movies will probably be thrilled, of course, but what about the rest of us? With the MCU only having room for one X-movie a year, would we get weird things like the upcoming New Mutants movie (which, as per the trailer, seems more like a horror film than a superhero movie), or the Madrox film with James Franco that was just announced? No, not every Fox X-Men film has been gold, but I think it’s worth the risk of the occasional clunker to have the chance to do things like Logan, which would never fit into the MCU.
The best-case scenario, I think, would be for an arrangement similar to the Marvel/Sony deal for Spider-Man, where crossover is allowed, but each company (or in this case, each Disney subsidiary) is mostly allowed to do its own thing.
As always, though, this is just me spitballing. What actually happens with all of this is going to be up to 2018 to decide. May it be a little tamer than its predecessor, because I for one couldn’t take 2017 all over again.