“Marvel and Star Wars don’t belong in the Disney Parks. They’re not Disney.” While it’s perhaps not the overwhelming sentiment when it comes to Disney fandom, it is one that I see often in the parks community, and it’s one that has interested me for a while now. It got me wondering, what makes something “Disney” and when does it belong in the parks?
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Is it because these were properties that weren’t created by Disney, but instead were acquired by them? Perhaps, but then how do we explain Pixar? To make a long story short, Pixar was born when George Lucas’ graphics group was sold in 1986, and it wouldn’t be until 2006 that Disney would acquire the company for themselves. So while Disney did act as co-producer, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that Toy Story or Finding Nemo or Monsters, Inc or The Incredibles are Disney films. They’re Pixar films and for a number of years that was a difference. Yet I think it’s safe to say that there isn’t much argument to be found today that none of those properties belong in parks.
Now in all fairness, those are all properties that were originally created when those films were made. So culturally speaking, we never had time to think of them without Disney somehow being connected. Meanwhile The Avengers is a concept that dates back to the 1960s. There was nearly half a century of history tied to that property before it was owned by Disney. Star Wars is a franchise that was born in the 1970s and so it was a major independent cultural icon for thirty-five years before Disney purchased it. So is that the secret? Do these properties feel out of place in the parks for some because they’ve existed for so long already without Disney being involved?
It made me wonder about how audiences received those first handful of feature animated films from Disney back in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Disney was known for this original and wonderful creation called Mickey Mouse, and then he makes a film about a fairy tale. Not even an original fairy tale either. He adapts one that had been around for over 120 years. A few years later he moves onto his second film and again, it’s an adaptation of The Adventures of Pinocchio which was 57 years old at that time, not too far off from how old the Avengers were when Disney purchased Marvel. And then it goes on and on. Dumbo and Bambi were not only not Disney originals, but they were new enough that Disney had to acquire the rights to make the films, whereas the fairy tales were in the public domain.
So here’s Disney, known for these original characters, yet kicking off a feature film legacy with adaptations and paid acquisitions. Yet today we don’t think twice when it comes to these properties. They’re woven into the DNA of Disney as a company, and I personally believe it’s a product of time. Odds are that you, the person watching this video right now grew up in a world where Snow White, Dumbo, Pinocchio and Bambi were all inherently Disney characters. Likewise, you also probably grew up in a world where Iron Man and Luke Skywalker were not, but that’s changing.