The Marvel purchase, like the $7.4-billion deal Iger negotiated in 2006 to bring Pixar into the Disney fold, is another sign that Disney's top brass realizes that the company's reign as an original creative engine for mass entertainment is over. Once an idea factory full of brilliant animators and imagineers, Disney is now a mass merchandising machine in search of exploitable product,
whether it comes from Marvel, Pixar or DreamWorks, which will be releasing its upcoming slate through Disney as well. The signals of Disney distress have all been visible for some time.
The Pixar deal was a frank admission that Disney's venerable animation factory had run out of gas
. Not long after Disney bought Pixar, John Lasseter gave an especially revealing interview to Fortune magazine, where he told of Iger experiencing a remarkable epiphany when attending an opening-day parade at the ceremonial launch of Hong Kong Disneyland.
As Lasseter recalled: "[Bob] was watching all the classic Disney characters go by, and it hit him that there was not one character that Disney had created in the past ten years.
Not one. All the new characters were invented by Pixar."
Iger clearly had a similar moment of brutal corporate clarity when he made an unusually frank admission to media analysts this year when attempting to explain why Disney had such an abysmal quarter with its theatrical releases when the other studios were enjoying near-record box-office returns. "It's about choice of films and the execution of the films that have been chosen for production," Iger confessed. "We've had a rough year. So in that case, it's not the marketplace. It's our slate.