Marvel characters at Disney theme parks?
Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger told shareholders attending an annual meeting that the company has had a number of discussions and done preliminary design work that it hopes will one day lead to Marvel characters appearing, as Disney's other familiar faces do, in the theme parks.
"We haven't announced anything yet," Iger said Tuesday, in response to a question posed by a shareholder at the company's annual meeting in Kansas City, Mo. "But we're working on some concepts."
When Disney acquired Marvel Entertainment Inc. for $4 billion in 2009, the Burbank entertainment giant talked about incorporating the comic book giant's library of 5,000 characers throughout its various businesses -- which include movies, television shows and merchandise. Indeed, a new animated television series, "Ultimate Spider-Man," kicks off a new programming block April 1 that's devoted to Marvel characters on its boy-focused cable network, Disney XD. And Marvel's big screen presentation of "The Avengers" superhero mash-up will be in theaters this summer under the Disney banner. Disney showed a film trailer to investors at its annual meeting.
Iger didn't mention which Disney parks might get some Marvel muscle -- just a vague reference to "a few places around the world." Its theme park competitor, Universal Studios, operates the Marvel Super Hero Island attraction in Orlando, Fla.
For the moment, Disney is focused on an ambitious theme park project based on director James Cameron's blockbuster science-fiction fantasy, "Avatar." Disney struck a licensing deal with Cameron, his producing parter, Jon Landau, and film distributor 20th Century Fox, to develop rides and attractions based on the 2009 hit.
The first "Avatar" inspired land is planned for Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando. Iger told shareholders that the new attraction won't likely open until 2015.
In other developments at the shareholders meeting, Iger announced a company-wide initiative to hire at least 1,000 returning veterans over the next three years. Dubbed "Heroes Work Here," Iger said, the program "reflects our commitment to hire, train and support military veterans and military families."
Disney stockholders re-elected all 10 members of Disney's board, including Iger as the company's new chairman. A proxy advisory firm had recommended investors withhold votes for the four members of the board's Nominating and Governance Committee in protest of the decision to give Iger the combined title of chairman and chief executive.
Shareholders also approved the company's executive pay plan in an advisory vote.
-- Dawn C. Chmielewski