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When Disney's $4 billion acquisition of Marvel was announced last month, fans were understandably anxious: Would Wolverine start palling around with Goofy? Would Punisher join the High School Musical kids for some high-spirited kick-lines? Most importantly, will Disney respect the legacy of Marvel's beloved heroes? Well, I'm here to tell you that most of the concerns are unfounded. Aside from Disney's promise to leave Marvel to its own creative devices, when you compare the Disney classics with Marvel's slate of cinematic heroes, the two are more alike than not. Let's take a look at a few things the House of Ideas shares with the House of Mouse.
A preponderance of heroes in both Disney's and Marvel's slate share a disturbing trend in parentage -- or lack thereof. Is Bambi -- arguably Disney's most famous orphan -- really all that different from Spider-Man? Bambi's loss gives him the strength to fight off cocky deers and save his beloved Faline, while Peter Parker blames himself for the death of his Uncle Ben and resolves to use his powers for good. ("With great power, comes great responsibility.") Tony Stark, Wolverine, Aladdin, Mowgli -- all orphans, all heroes.
Given Disney's family-friendly reputation, it's easy to forget the company is also a pretty awesome villain factory. Dalmatian-murderer Cruella de Vil, Sleeping Beauty's strikingly malevolent Maleficent, Michael Eisner -- classic villains who've been giving youngsters (and Disney employees) nightmares for decades. Meanwhile, Marvel has brought us memorable movie baddies like X-Men's Magneto and Spider-Man's Green Goblin. They're great, but if Marvel looks to the Disney classics for inspiration, they finally might find a rival to DC's Joker.
Here's a plotline for you: A brash, young protagonist stops a villainous rival from taking over his late father's company. Iron Man, right? Well, swap "company" for "pride of lions" and you basically have the plot of The Lion King. Marvel loves a good origin story, and Disney is no stranger to this device. It's also interesting how many Disney tales resemble superhero stories. Take Cinderella, for instance: She's an average gal who transforms into a glamorous heroine (complete with a flashy vehicle) through the help of magic. Sounds a bit like Wonder Woman to me.
Dark, Childhood-Warping Moments
Who wasn't at one time terrified by Fantasia's "Night on Bald Mountain," or weirded out by those trippy technicolor Dumbo pachyderms? And let's not forget The Rescuers, a movie about a young girl escaping from creepy kidnappers with the help of two fully-clothed mice. While the High School Musical Disney of today is bright and cheery, the Mouse House of yesteryear wasn't afraid to go dark. Comic book fans remember such childhood warpings as the death of Spider-Man gal pal Gwen Stacy, and that time Phoenix went crazy and destroyed an entire alien race. Disney and Marvel: Warping childhoods for over 70 years.
Mad scientists are a highly underrated sub-section of scifi, and some of my favorites have come from Marvel and Disney. There's Spider-Man 2's Otto Octavius, whose quest to harness the power of the sun turns him into the villainous Doc Ock. On the Disney front, we have the inventor of Flubber himself, The Absent-Minded Professor. (Or as Marvel calls him, Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four.) And how about Professor Ludwig Von Drake, the Disney duck who's played philosopher, scientist, and shrink to Donald in tons of memorable shorts? Is he all that different from X-Men's loveable, furry Beast?
Not that Marvel can keep up with Disney in all arenas:
Great Soundtracks -- "Hero," Nickelback's cheesy rock anthem from Spider-Man, just can't compete with catchy classics like "Be Our Guest" from Beauty & the Beast.
Female Leads -- Disney's many, many princesses put Marvel (who boasts only Elektra) woefully to shame in this department. How about a She-Hulk movie, Marvel?
Anthropomorphic Animals -- Disney clearly has the monopoly on walking, talking members of the animal kingdom. And now that they own Howard the Duck, they have zero competition.
When not writing for places like The Onion and HBO, Nick Nadel is in line at the comic book store alongside the other geeks, er, fans of speculative fiction. Want more comic book movie news and opinions? Follow Nick Nadel's column on Twitter.