The Walt Disney Company’s multimedia empire grew once again March 20, when the Mouse completed its $71 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s film and television assets.
“Combining Disney’s and 21st Century Fox’s wealth of creative content and proven talent creates the preeminent global entertainment company, well positioned to lead in an incredibly dynamic and transformative era,” said Disney CEO and chairman Bob Iger.
The purchase gives Disney control of multiple TV channels and film studios, a controlling stake in Hulu and an expansive library that Disney’s various divisions can now exploit, most notably for its upcoming Disney+ streaming service.
But the mega deal doesn’t offer much for Disney parks, at least not immediately, because several of Fox’s biggest properties are already being utilized in a theme park setting— including by Disney’s competition.
Both Universal Studios Florida and Universal Hollywood features characters, shops, restaurants and rides based around “The Simpsons,” meaning you won’t be seeing the likes of Homer, Marge and Sideshow Bob in Disney World. The deal also doesn’t break Universal’s lock on many Marvel Comics characters like the X-Men and Fantastic Four thanks to a 1994 licensing agreement Universal signed with a then-independent Marvel, even though Disney now owns their film rights and can incorporate those characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“Those are all known situations,” Dennis Speigel, theme park consultant and president of International Theme Park Services, told Orlando Rising. “They work around them. Disney knows there are certain things they cannot use in certain geographic regions.”
Then there’s the major Fox properties Disney is already utilizing. Chief among them is “Avatar,” the highest-grossing film of all time, which is the basis for a land in Disney’s Animal Kingdom after Disney purchased the theme park rights to the James Cameron film in 2011.
In fact, of the top 25 highest-grossing Fox films, 13 are either Fox’s Marvel films, “Avatar” or the original six Star Wars films predating Disney’s 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm. Others on the list were coproductions between Fox and other studios, like 1997’s “Titanic.”
That leaves older hits (“Independence Day,” “Home Alone”) and some films that hard to imagine fitting in a Disney theme park (“Cast Away,”) alongside contenders for theme park exploitation. One of the most obvious candidates, the “Ice Age” franchise, is rumored to be under consideration for Disney’s Animal Kingdom, according to entertainment writer Jim Hill on an August 2018 episode of his “Fine Tooning” podcast.
Disney World guests shouldn’t expect to see any quick additions. Spiegel pointed out that it took years after Disney bought Marvel for those characters to appear in Disneyland, where the Universal Orlando deal isn’t an issue, and he doesn’t expect any major Fox presence in the parks in the near future.
“You can always get characters out there running around in the park, but to create and develop a bonafide ride or attraction, that takes several years,” he said.
One of the most immediate impacts of the Disney-Fox deal may seen at Universal during Halloween season. The park often licenses characters from other studios for its Halloween Horror Nights mazes and scare zones. A common sight in recent years has been “American Horror Story,” the horror anthology series from FX — now a Disney-owned cable channel.
“Universal probably won’t be able to access any new agreements with Disney for Halloween Horror Nights,” said Bill Zanetti, a founding member of the University of Central Florida’s Entertainment Management Advisory Board. “American Horror Story at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is almost guaranteed to be a thing of the past.”
The math behind managing Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge crowds at Disney World
Disney World permit indicates Epcot entrance renovation will begin soon
Ron Miller helped modernize Disney. So why do his successors get all the credit?