Disney and Marvel: Maleficent + Dark Phoenix = Perfection

This week saw the announcement of the appropriation of Marvel by Disney. As someone who stays well out of these sort of things, (I hardly pay any attention to who publishes what), I was a little confused by the apparent shock and awe expressed by all in connection to this news… After all, it’s America, don’t big companies buy other companies all the time? All day Monday, people kept asking me what I thought, but I had little to say on the subject, since it really didn’t seem all that strange.

Here’s the thing, this union doesn’t seem like such a leap, I think it could work pretty well, just on a content level. I’m not talking about ridiculous mashups, I’m saying that the some of the two company’s most powerful creations already have quite a lot in common… The scary, powerful babes.

While some children grew up on the Disney of Aladdin and the Lion King, I was cutting my teeth on films like Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmations and Alice in Wonderland. And the big bad in those films left one hell of an impression. Some of my earliest and most powerful cinematic memories are of the annual birthday trip, to see a Disney film. These films were invariably based on some supposedly innocuous fairy tale, richly steeped in power plays, melodrama and trepidation.

The first Disney movie I remember with any clarity is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which I interpreted thusly: A weak, frightened, chubby girl is forced to run away and becoming a cleaning lady for some short guys. Later she’s stupid enough to take food from an extremely messed-up stranger and is (quite deservedly by this point) poisoned. Some bland guy saves her, which is lucky since her plan seemed to be to just take all this crap life threw at her. Meanwhile her glamorous, powerful, elegant stepmother doesn’t take orders from anyone. Rather she tells other’s what to do, and apart from an irrational concern about her own appearance, she seems to hold all the cards. All I could think was, “I want to be just like her when I grow up, and just not go nuts.”, and you have to admit, without the going nuts part, she’s in a pretty good place). It seemed like the only rational option.

As I saw more of these Disney movies over the years, my first impressions were confirmed again and again. In my child’s mind, these were films about incredible, tough, fiesty women, and the powerless, ineffectual victims they obsessed over (very misguidedly I always thought.)

So there you go; you take a little girl, and show her Maleficent, blazing with power, consumed with barely comprehensible emotions, looking like a damn rockstar… Obviously, that 12 year old girl is perfectly primed to become completely immersed in the Dark Phoenix Saga (and thereafter, any number of badass women in comics). It’s about time Disney stopped pimping out their most tedious princess characters, and start embracing their true power queens, and I say that their appropriation of Marvel’s battery of strong women is just the stepping stone they need on the road to this destination.

People who read my columns regularly, have commented upon my penchant for heroic figures with an aspect of evil to them. The reasons for this are patently obvious; I was very happily brainwashed by all those early Disney movies that I consumed at such a very young age. Why aspire to be some bland, forgettable anorexic girl, waiting patiently for marriage, when you could be someone as flamboyant and outrageous as Cruella DeVille? Who would want to be a confused, lost little Alice in Wonderland, when you could be the terrifying Red Queen, and get to choose who keeps their heads, and who doesn’t? These are all larger than life characters, women who are too fabulous and wild to be constrained by logic or rational behavior. In the context of a simple parable, they’ll play the villains of the piece, but take them out of that environment, and these are the kind of driven, successful women who have a hell of a lot of the components of a classic, awe-inspiring comic book character.

Sonia Harris lives somewhere and does something. She can be contacted via email at sonia@ifanboy.com.


  1. My girls (3 and 4 years old, respectively) have latched on to the "Princess" characters. The Belle/Aurora/Cinderella model of the damsel in distress who waits for a handsome prince/magic fairy/other thing that doesn’t exist to come save them from all their troubles. Disney seems to generally place powerful women in the role of villain (Cruella/Red Queen/Maleficient). This worries me. My wife (a very independent, tough woman) doesn’t seem to mind it, but I have actively tried to steer them a bit towards women who can fend for themselves: Wonder Woman and Mulan (still categorized by Disney as a Princess) are good examples.

    I know a lot of people are concerned that Disney will stifle creativity on the Marvel side, but I am hoping the influence runs the opposite way.  I want Disney’s female characters to absorb some of the praiseworthy characteristics of Marvel’s women (such as Storm, Black Cat, Jean Gray [when she’s alive], and Maria Hill). My girls need to be exposed to some women they can respect and learn from.

    Thank you for providing us with an interpretation of the Disney/Marvel deal from your unique perspective. 

  2. "I want to be just like her and not crazy" — that’s a bit of the rub, isn’t it?

    Now I find myself wishing Disney would go with a morally ambiguous stepmother as a hero.  For that matter, Marvel could do a bit more of it too.  Excellent post!

  3. My wife is partial to Mulan.

    It is sort of odd that the majority, if not all, of Disney’s popular female characters fit into the "damsel in distress" model.  It would be nice if they tried bucking that trend in some way, hopefully Marvel can help influence that.

  4. Stuclach and Drake, I do think you’re overgeneralizing a bit.  If you watch the modern Disney princess movies they’re generally *not* about girls waiting for someone else to save them, and in fact "Beauty and the Beast", for one, works really hard at subverting those expectations, with the ‘handsome prince’ being a sexually harassing jerk.  There’s a pretty big difference between these movies and the thoroughly passive ‘heroines’ of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, for instance.  I’m not a huge fan of the Disney princess trope and I do wish there was some more variety in the stories, but I also feel like these criticisms are not totally fair, and don’t really reflect what kids get out of the movies.  And at least with Disney princesses, I don’t have to worry about them giving out the message that women who assert themselves will be raped or tortured or killed, or go insane, as often happens to heroines in comics.

  5. @drakedangerz – I think Mulan is not only the best role model Disney has to offer, but I actually think that is the best of the female lead movies that Disney put out.  I actually pay attention when they watch that one.

  6. @ohcaroline-True, Belle was quite different when I think about it.  But how does Disney market her?  As one of the Disney princesses in her large yellow dress.  Same with Jasmine.  So although I agree that a lot of the newer movies are trying to buck the trend, that isn’t the only thing that girls see.  They see the toys, the Halloween costumes, the clothes, books, etc.

  7. Maleficent actually gave me nightmares when I was little! I think she’s great but she’s terrifying. It’s sad that Disney’s kick ass women (at least from the old guard) are all villains.

    The Disney Princesses I grew up with (Cindarella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White) never really did anything for me as a kid. I was way more into She-Ra and Cheetara from Thundercats. The Princesses now are alright. Belle’s my favorite because she’s smart and kind and has a backbone… and Meg from Hercules because she’s snarky and sarcastic.

  8. @drake  I roll my eyes at the princess stuff too, but I have a hard time seeing it as better than the way female superheroes are marketed.  If you just look at *them* without the stories, you see unrealistic body types and not enough clothing.  Wonder Woman doesn’t even wear pants. 

  9. @ohcaroline-They should throw some fishnets on her, that would help.  Kidding, but you make a good point; its not any better.  It’s a shame.  But I’d rather take the superheroine in skimpy clothes than the damsel with a big fluffy dress.  That’s just a matter of personal taste though.

  10. @drake  Oh, I’m there with you!  I just don’t think a girl being a princess makes her a helpless damsel, any more than a girl being a superhero automatically creates a positive portrayal.  Though I’m also with WonderAli — I would have taken She-Ra and Cheetarah, when I was a kid, over any of them ;).

  11. Maleficent = Sexy.

  12. @ohcaroline Exactly! There’s nothing really wrong with the Princesses. They just lack personalty (I think),  Cheetarah was fun!

  13. I had a crush on Scarlet ^_^

  14. Female characters in Disney films have definitely evolved over the years. I mean you said it perfectly; we’ve gone from generic Snow White to tough nose Mulan within 70 years. I don’t know if I am ready for a team up with Phoenix and Maleficent yet…..but great article as always.

    Oh wait, why not have a intercompany crossover ala ‘DC vs Marvel’?

  15. Speaking to Marvel and Disney, its hard not to see dovetailing interests. Can’t watch the Incredibles without seeing a clear line back to the Fantastic Four. Then there were the C. B. Cebulski Marvel Fairytales books. As to future joint ventures, I could see Disney doing a Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius cartoon or even a Disney live action movie of Runaways.

  16. @Dumeer Oh please God spare us from disneyfied Runaways movies…

  17. "Disneyfied" is my new least favorite word….

  18. I’m 27 and I have never seen a Disney movie. I’ve never seen the lion king, or Aladdin or any of that stuff.
    Thinking about it. I’m really glad my parents never gave me that rubbish as a kid. seriously

  19. I got a great crossover:

    Aladdin’s Genie and Deadpool

  20. no, it’s not

  21. You’re really missing out on a lot if you’ve never seen any Disney film.

  22. i’ve seen the first 20 minutes of a few. i’m not

  23. Yea cause totally enough to make a judgement call

  24. @Heroville-He’s baiting you.  He does it alot.  Ignore it.

  25. he he


    @heroville: i’m just saying there not for me

  26. they’re

  27. Here’s what I’m hoping for a few years down the line: a Marvel/Disney/Square Enix Crossover of Kingdom Hearts. Why?

    Just think about it: Square Enix is known for making Disney’s everyday characters more larger than life than we could have ever imagine. Watch a youtube video of KH II and tell me your perspective on Mickey hadn’t changed. They’d probably collaborate over the top stuff like Jack Kirby’s Celestials into gameplay. I’m a big fan of crap like that.

  28. The potential for some thoughtful and meaningful content that is Disney/Marvel, or to that effect that crossbreeds something new and original (and not a mash-up), I think we’ sooner see Marvel used as a relaunch-pad for some of Disney’s forgotten properties. This would mean my pipedream of seeing the Gargoyles reappropriated in comic book format would come true, or even The Black Cauldron.

    Comics are now Hollywood R & D, and Disney’s got a wealth of stuff to work with, and not just IP, but talent. Brian Michael Bendis could easily be borrowed for any number of Pixar projects, or have the backing to truly compete with DC/Warner’s line of direct to DVD animated movies. Possibilities of benefit are endless. 

  29. @Mangaman a Marvel/Square/Disney crossover would be cool, but considering Disney and Squeenix have been butting heads alot recently(according to the video game sites and whatnot), I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    @ivithebatmanivi Gargoyles has been a comic for quite some time now I believe.

    But the biggest thing everybody is overlooking is the greatest possible duck mashup ever:

    Donald Duck vs. Howard the Duck!

  30. @Heroville Like Drake said just ignore it.

  31. I grew up watching those movies and while I, even as a tiny little squirt hated Snow White with passion of a thousand suns, I loved Ariel and later Jasmine and Belle and Mulan because they were their own persons: independent and smart and funny and sang pretty songs. While Cinderella and Snow White were generic personality-less losers, and Briar Rose was a victim of her own fate, Fillene (Phillene?) Bambi’s mate was smart and sassy, Lady liked her men from the wrong side of the track and Maid Miriam ran into the woods to be an outlaw! We found our strong women in Old School Disney where we could, even if they were badass villians like Maleficent or anthromorphized animals.

  32. @Bakakaba: YES! That would be an awesome crossover comic.

    Oooh how about a Marvel/Disney Ultimate Alliance video game for the PS3?

    All in all I’m wondering why DC and Warner Bros haven’t had JLA/Looney Toon Crossovers.

  33. Donald would totally beat the feathers off of Howard!

  34. Well thats a window into Sonia’s psyche that is both impressivly fantastic and worrisome. 

  35. @mangaman. Have you not seen the Duck Dodgers crossover with Green Lantern? The episode is actually on the Green Lantern first flight dvd (special edition, I think.) It’s great.

  36. @Anson17: o=!!! … Thank you. Seriously. I now have something to rent. =)