Is Disney Killing Pixar and Marvel?

John CarterAfter 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

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.

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Is Disney Killing Pixar and Marvel?

Admittedly, Brian DePalma's tale of the Chicago underworld is historically inaccurate, melodramatic and filled with some of Robert DeNiro's most egregious scenery chewing. But David Mamet's script gets a few things right, namely that Al Capone's bootlegging empire wasn't brought down by bullets or business rivals, but rather by his failure to file his tax returns.

Oscar note: it was nominated for four Oscars and brought home one -- Sean Connery won for best supporting actor.

Moral of the Story: Don't bring a knife to a gun fight. And don't bring a gun to a forensic accountant fight.

In this 2006 film, an IRS accountant played by Will Farrell hears a disembodied voice narrating his life. Upon further investigation, he realizes that the mystery speaker is actually a suicidal writer who has created him as a character in her latest book. Unfortunately, he is slated to die in the last chapter.

Moral of the Story: IRS agents are real people, too ... or are they?

Harry Johnson (Edward Herrmann) is a mild-mannered mailman until the IRS takes on his favorite aunt. When she dies of a heart attack in court, Harry declares war on the government -- and uses her extensive military surplus collection to quickly escalate his attacks.

Moral of the Story: When fighting the IRS, it helps to bring a tank.

Sure, it's tough when your king's in jail, his brother is scheming to take over the country, and another noble stooge is arresting the locals for poaching, but the straw that breaks the camel's back is the onerous taxes that Prince John decides to levy on the country. No wonder that Robin Hood and his merry band are popular with the locals!

Oscar note: Nominated for four Oscars, it won three -- for best art direction, film editing and original score.

Moral of the Story: Tax increases + skilled archers = Occupy Sherwood Forest

In between cringeworthy scenes of public humiliation, betrayal and flailing romance, this 2010 film offers an interesting look at the misfits who run the IRS. On the one side, hapless Barry Speck (Steve Carrell) crafts elaborate dioramas with mice; on the other, his arrogant boss Thurman Murch (Zach Galifianakis) attempts to use mind control on his employees and randomly threatens to audit his enemies.

Moral of the Story: On the dark side, if you underpay on your taxes, you'll have to pay interest. On the bright side, the IRS won't spank you.

In Cameron Crowe's classic, the path to teenaged love is filled with obstacles. But with the help of a boombox, a Peter Gabriel song and an IRS investigation that gets Ione Skye's disapproving father out of the way, John Cusack's Lloyd Dobler manages to get the girl.

Moral of the Story: If you want to keep your daughter away from deadbeats, be sure to pay your taxes -- and stay out of jail.

The Charlestown Chiefs hockey team are on their way out, until a scheming manager and a trio of childlike hockey thugs transform the team. But even after they raise attendance and inspire fans, the owner still decides to fold the team, rather than sell it. The reason? She can take a hefty tax write off for a failed business.

Moral of the Story: "Old Time Hockey" is no match for newfangled accounting.

A silversmith's apprentice who joins the American Revolution, Johnny Tremain falls in love, learns to shoot, listens to great patriots, and dumps tea into Boston Harbor. Along the way, the film gives a very Disney look at the birth of America.

Moral of the Story: Boston was a pretty boring place until taxation without representation riled up the locals!

When a hefty pile of unpaid back taxes threatens the orphanage where they grew up, Jake and Elwood Blues hatch a scheme to raise money, reunite their friends, and create beautiful music.

Moral of the Story: There's nothing like the threat of the taxman to get the band back together.

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