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Thinking about the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm this week – Yeah, like you haven’t been doing the same thing – something odd occurred to me. Disney made a point of clarifying that the entire reason it had made the deal was Star Wars, which makes a lot of sense, but made me wonder: Is Disney spending a lot of money on the wrong thing?
It’s not that Star Wars isn’t going to be a particularly profitable purchase for Disney, because – Well, it’s Star Wars; that’s a particularly valuable thing to own. But it’s also something that’s thirty-five years old. Similarly, Marvel Entertainment, which Disney purchased for $4 billion in 2009, hasn’t really had much success when it comes to creating new characters or intellectual property since… what, Deadpool, perhaps? So that’s twenty years now. I’m not criticizing Disney for either purchase, per se; the success of Marvel’s The Avengers proves that there is both life and profit left in exploiting creations that came about decades earlier, if nothing else, so it makes sense from a business sense. But at the same time, I find myself wondering whether Disney should be looking at aggressively funding creators/companies who are trying to come up with new ideas and stories to tell instead of seemingly concentrating on things we’ve seen since childhood. Nostalgia’s a fine thing and all, but eventually, that well’s going to run dry (Especially in the case of the Lucasfilm scenario; once the audience is bored with Star Wars – and, at a new installment every two to three years, that might happen sooner rather than later – then that $4 billion investment is going to suddenly seem a little moot, especially if Indiana Jones and Willow really are off the table entirely as some have reported).
There’s a temptation, I admit, to point at Pixar and say “Do what they did!” Certainly, Pixar has proven that audiences will embrace new ideas, characters and storylines if they’re good enough, and in doing so have created a whole new generation of exploitable franchises for Disney to take advantage of (Seriously, Toy Story is something that Disney’s merchandise department must be grateful for every single day). Even though the cynic in me has been dismayed by Pixar’s returning to the scene of earlier crimes with the Toy Story and Cars sequels and new Monsters University movie, they’re still alternating those with new characters and stories, which is commendable considering the lucrative temptation of the alternative. Even Disney’s own animation department works on new ideas – Okay, new reworkings of established fairy tales, most of the time – albeit those aimed at a very specific audience (and in a very specific genre space). So why not look for the same qualities in more mainstream fare?
What both Lucasfilm and Marvel needs from Disney, ultimately, is the space and time to fail. Both companies have seemingly been purchased with the intent that they are, for all intents and purposes, plug-and-play profit machines with ready-made IP that the audience doesn’t need to be introduced to, and that’s certainly true to some extent, but both companies also employ extremely talented and creative people who could very possibly come up with something that could resonate as strongly with audiences as that which already exists, if only the pressure wasn’t constantly on them to produce, produce, produce. If Disney could look at both companies as long-term prospects and not just short-term gains, and allow some space (and budget) for research and development into the unfamiliar and original, it’s possible that both companies could end up being so much more for Disney than what it appears to think that it’s actually purchased.