Is Disney Killing Pixar and Marvel?

John Carter
John Carter

After two lackluster weeks at the multiplex, Disney (DIS) realizes that it won't be making money on John Carter. The family entertainment giant is taking a $200 million writedown on the big-budgeted flop, resulting in Disney's studio subsidiary posting an operating loss between $80 million and $120 million for the current quarter, which ends this month.

It was a foregone conclusion that Disney would be taking a hit on the sci-fi movie, but even jaded analysts didn't think it would be this high. In other words, the lofty $350 million amount that has been estimated to be the film's production and marketing budget may actually be too low.


Poisoning Pixar

The charge stings, but Disney's been here before. It also took a hit last year when Mars Needs Moms bombed. However, this is a sensitive release.

Andrew Stanton -- the award-winning Pixar director behind Finding Nemo and Wall-E -- was the one behind John Carter, and now skeptics will begin to wonder if his success in theatrical animation means little when it comes to live action.
However, don't be surprised if cynics begin wondering if Disney is simply snuffing the creativity out of the great minds it acquired in its Pixar and Marvel purchases.

Andrew Stanton
Andrew Stanton

It seems like an outlandish notion, but things appear to have been going downhill since Disney spent billions to acquire the two celebrated content creators. Let's take Pixar's Cars 2 out for a test drive. After years of Pixar blowing film critics away, ratings aggregator Rotten Tomatoes shows that just 38% of reviewers liked the film.

Marvel to Behold

Marvel's state is harder to discern since third-party studios and outside directors are the ones dictating the fate of its comic book properties, though it may not be a coincidence that the most poorly reviewed installments in the Iron Man and Spider-Man franchises were their most recent sequels.

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Disney is counting on Pixar's Brave and Marvel's The Avengers to save the year. If one or both wind up generating disappointing box office receipts, it will lead to even more critiques of the Disney culture and the influence that it has had on Pixar and Marvel.

Disney can always point to general weakness at the box office. Movie attendance hit a 16-year low last year. However, that trend should have also kept the company from letting the film's budget spiral out of control.

Perhaps Disney was too busy thinking about the merchandising and theme park possibilities than the execution. Instead of building high-tech Avatar-themed attractions the way it will at one of its Florida theme parks, it could've made John Carter the marketable property to enhance its Animal Kingdom park.

It's not to be. Now let's see what Disney can do about keeping Pixar and Marvel from faltering in the future.

Longtime Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not own shares in any of the stocks in this article, except for Disney. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Disney.