Now that Big Hero 6 has walked away with an Oscar® for the Best Animated Feature and has earned over a record breaking $600 million worldwide, and an inevitable sequel in the future (at least according to Stan Lee!) I’m sure Disney has scores of mouse-eared interns poring over volumes of Marvel comics looking for the next thing they can lovingly bring to life. Well, I am here to save Disney time and money (although interns do not get paid,) I’m just going to tell Bob Iger which Marvel property should be made into the next box office blockbuster.
It’s no secret the folks at Disney are master storytellers. Most of their films produced during the Disney Renaissance (like Lion King), post Renaissance (like Lilo & Stitch) and neo-Renaissance (like Big Hero 6) follow a simple, basic formula; a powerful story structure that can be broken down various ways. For the sake of my attention span we’ll break it down to three common elements:
1) The Lost Child: First, our hero has to experience a loss, usually it’s a family member: i.e. Simba loses his father, Mustafa; Lilo and Nani have lost their parents, Stitch is exiled; Hiro loses his brother, Tadashi.
2) Child Goes On a Quest: On their journey, our hero meets new friends which become part of their new surrogate family: i.e. Simba meets Timon and Poomba; Lilo meets Stitch, Jumba and Pleakly; Hiro meets Baymax, Wasabi, Go Go, Fred, etc.
3) Child Goes Home: Our hero rediscovers himself and family by overcoming their obstacles and enemies: i.e. Simba defeats Scar and re-claims Pride Rock; Stitch rescues Lilo from Captain Gantu, proving he is civilized and allowed to live on Earth with Lilo; Hiro defeats Professor Callaghan and keeps his brother’s legacy alive.
It’s an over simplification of a classic narrative but it works. There are a few Marvel properties that seem ready-made for this formula (thanks to Marvel’s very own storytelling masters,) and with just a little tweaking and magic pixie dust, Disney’s $4 billion investment in Marvel will continue to pay off.
I’ll even take it a step further and postulate that these characters can occupy their own shared universe, perhaps even a corner of the already existing MCU!
Submitted for your approval: a six part series with a common thread throughout the films, culminating in an epic team-up of animated Marvel mayhem!
Imagine if you will…
1) Devil Dinosaur: An old-fashioned tale of a Moon-Boy and his giant, red Tyrannosaurus Rex. Created by Jack Kirby in 1978, he surmised that “just where the Dinosaur met his end, and when Man first stood reasonably erect, is still shrouded in mystery.” Despite some people believing The Flintstones should be aired on the History Channel, Devil was retconned out of Marvel’s prehistoric past and in to a parallel universe known as Dinosaur World, where primates and dinosaurs do co-exist. Presently, after being teleported numerous times between Dinosaur World and Marvel’s Earth 616, Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy have taken up residence in the Savage Land.
The Lost Child: Baby Devil, his siblings and their mother were hunted down by the Killer-Folk (a race of prehistoric folk who kill, hence the name). Devil would have also been killed by the Killer-Folk (see what I mean by the name?) who try to burn him to death; somehow turning him from green to red in the process. If not for a timely volcano exploding nearby, The Killer-Folk flee, leaving Devil wounded from the hunt. He is found by Moon-Boy, a member of the Small-Folk (another race of prehistoric folk who are small, hence the name.) Moon-Boy nurses Devil Dinosaur back to health, forming a bond of friendship between a boy and his dinosaur. However, when Moon-Boy brings Devil home, they are cast from his village because the Small-Folk feared Devil Dinosaur, because they are small and he might eat them.
Child Goes on a Quest: As in the comics, Devil and Moon-Boy become the protectors of the Valley of Flame, helping the helpless and fighting off a sordid collection of prehistoric behemoths like other dinosaurs, giant insects and giant Giants. Their main antagonist would be Seven Scars, leader of the Killer-Folk. A Disney film could take the Killer-Folk characters and build them up as the main villains.
Child Goes Home: Devil and Moon Boy rescue the Small-Folk from Seven Scars and the Killer Folk, proving that Devil is not going to eat them after all.
Animated MCU Tie-In: In the post credit scene, we see a familiar purple pterodactyl playing with a gemstone, glowing with energy. A giant looming shadow emerges from the volcano; we don’t see who or what casts the shadow but we see the pterodactyl is terrified! He grabs the stone and finds Devil and Moon Boy, the shadow looming larger, their demise seems imminent…until they are surrounded by the energy emanating from the stone and they suddenly disappear! Reappearing somewhere else, they are surrounded by other dinosaurs and familiar creatures but the moon in the sky isn’t the one familiar to them, it’s actually our Moon. To make things even stranger, they spot a strange creature in the sky, which we recognize as an airplane; an airplane that contains a passenger that will one day be known as…
2) Ka-Zar: Before there was Calvin and Hobbes, there was Ka-Zar and Zabu. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1965, Ka-Zar made his debut in X-Men #10. Formerly known as Kevin Reginald Plunder, his father discovered the Savage Land; a mysterious valley in the Antarctic where aliens set up a sort of zoo filled with primitive creatures and dinosaurs. The aliens eventually got bored and left behind this place, still fully functional (which is apparently a big tourist spot in the Marvel Universe.)
The Lost Child: During an expedition to the Savage Land, Kevin Plunder accompanies his father. Tragically, his father is killed by brutal Man-Apes led by Maa-Gor. Kevin is saved by the sabre-toothed tiger Zabu, whose mate was also previously hunted by Maa-Gor and his people.
Child Goes on a Quest: After Kevin adopts the name Ka-Zar, “Son of the Tiger”, he and Zabu become protectors of the Savage Land. In the comics, Ka-Zar is an adult, sprinkle a little pixie dust and the Disney film would portray Ka-Zar as a young teenager, on the lookout for outsiders who would exploit the Savage Land for its valuable resources, like Vibranium (the stuff Captain America’s Shield is made of.) For the prerequisite romance, introduce Ka-Zar’s comic book wife, Shanna, the She-Devil, (created by Carole Seuling and George Tuska in 1972,) also pixie-dusted into a young teenager, as the daughter of a diamond miner named Gerald O’Hara. O’Hara comes to the Savage Land to mine Vibranium which brings him into conflict with Ka-Zar. Shanna also has her own backstory: Gerald accidentally killed Shanna’s mother in a hunting accident. Heavy drama for a “children’s cartoon” but the lost parent is a recurring theme in Disney films.
Let’s not forget about Maa-Gor who is also looking to get rid of Ka-Zar and Zabu; Maa-Gor entices Gerald with a particular gem stone as they enter an uneasy alliance in order for each of them to get rid of Ka-Zar so Gerald can acquire the Vibranium.
Child Goes Home: Ka-Zar saves Gerald and Shanna from Maa-Gor’s inevitable treachery (with a little help from Devil Dinosaur), teaching Mr. O’Hara that the Savage Land is not to be exploited. He puts Gerald on the path of redemption, regaining the love and trust of his daughter, Shanna. They all live happily ever after in the Savage Land.
Animated MCU tie-in: The Savage Land is full of fascinating characters like Dinah Soar, who decides to take her pet purple pterodactyl (who has a familiar gem stone in his collar) and explore the outside world. She bids adieu to her Savage Land friends and makes her way to the Midwest where she joins…
3) The Great Lake Avengers: created by John Byrne in 1989. Craig Hollis discovers that he cannot be killed so he decides to fight crime as Mr. Immortal. He places an ad for super-heroes in the local paper and meets Dinah Soar (born in the aforementioned Savage Land,) and her pet purple pterodactyl Lockheed (yes, that Lockheed who is also seen in the Devil Dinosaur post-credit scene) , Big Bertha (super-strong supermodel of Milwaukee, WI,) Flatman (can stretch and fold himself,) and Doorman (can teleport anyone…into the next room.), forming the GLA!
The Lost Child: Mr. Immortal learns the hard way about his ability after he and his parents (naturally) are killed in a terrible accident (involving a giant looming shadow).
Child Goes on a Quest: After being the sole survivor of his family’s tragedy, he decides to fight crime with his newfound ability. His motives may seem altruistic at first but he is harboring some deep down anger and survivor’s guilt. The team he recruits become his new family, each member having their own feelings of being outsiders to deal with: Flatman is gay (perhaps Disney will find the courage to tackle this aspect;) Dinah Soar, is an immigrant from the Savage Land; Big Bertha gains strength and durability the larger she becomes but she can expel her excess fat at will (would Disney explore Negative Body Image, bulimia and/or fat shaming?) Doorman is cynical and often embarrassed of the GLA (maybe Disney can explore issues about…nah, he’s just a jerk.) Whether Disney chooses to explore these issues or others, the story is still one everyone can relate to; people feeling like outsiders. However, Mr. Immortal refuses one candidate, Gene Lorrrene aka Leather Boy* because Gene doesn’t actually have any superpowers, it has nothing to do with his leather chaps, whatsoever. Gene somehow winds up getting his hands on the gem stone on the pterodactyl’s collar, perhaps he was innocently trying to accessorize his costume. The gem gives him great powers which he uses irresponsibly, eventually fighting the GLA. It may seem Disney will need to haul out barrels of pixie-dust for this adaptation in order to make GLA more family friendly but I think it would be a great opportunity to explore issues usually ignored in animated films.
*could Disney explore fetishist….no, I didn’t think so either.
Child Goes Home: During the climactic battle, Gene loses the gem stone, revealing the villain is Gene. Immortal learns a hard lesson when he learns Gene had taken his rejection from the GLA personally and becomes a formidable bad guy. Mr. Immortal then understands he is partly responsible for creating Gene as a villain and redeems himself by learning to accept others regardless of being super-powered or not; gaining closure on his surviving his family’s tragedy; and rehabilitating Gene.
Animated MCU tie-in: Now that Immortal is more accepting of others, he holds open auditions to join the GLA. In the post-credits scene we see one successful recruit is…
4) Squirrel Girl: Created by Will Murray and Steve Ditko. Doreen Green is a 14-year-old born with squirrel-like attributes: a furry, prehensile tail; buck teeth that can chew through wood; sharp claws; and retractable “knuckle spikes” on each hand, plus she talks to squirrels.
The Lost Child: Doreen has befriended all the squirrels in the park. Being treated as different and weird by her classmates, and even her family, the squirrels are her only friends, particularly Monkey Joe. The giant corporate conglomerate Roxxon bulldozes over the park to build an oil refinery. Doreen loses many of her squirrel friends, including her Best Squirrel Friend Forever (BSFF), Monkey Joe.
Child Goes on a Quest: Searching thru what is left of the park, she finds Monkey Joe’s baby squirrel, Tippy-Toe and nurses him back to health. She vows to stop the construction of the mall as revenge for Monkey Joe’s loss and rallies the other squirrels in the city to stop the construction of the mall. Doreen uncovers the insidious plot that the construction was actually a cover up so Roxxon can retrieve the gem stone buried underneath the park!
Child Goes Home: Doreen has saved the park, the city, the squirrels and the Universe by stopping Roxxon from recovering the gems stone. She is accepted by friends and family for who she is.
Animated MCU tie-in: In the post-credit scene, a family is walking in the new park with their four kids and their little dog, Ms. Lion (of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends fame.) Ms. Lion chases Tippy-Toe into a wooded area and digs up the gem stone. The family’s four kids look to see what Ms. Lion has. Looking Their parents call after them, calling them the…
5) Power Pack: Created by Louise Simonson and June Brigman in 1984, Power Pack are; Alex (age 12), Julie (10), Jack (8), and Katie Power (5). Power Pack uses their powers only in emergencies such as fighting super-villains or helping their friends with regular everyday partners. The Power siblings would often debate about how to use their abilities or to keep their secret from their parents.
The Lost Child(ren): Their father, Dr. James Power, is a brilliant physicist who discovers a process to generate energy from the gem discovered at the end of Squirrel Girl: The Movie. With the assistance of family friend Aelfyre “Whitey” Whitemane, a member of the alien Kymellian race, Dr. Powers is able to control the energy that would otherwise utterly, devastatingly, apocalyptically destroy the Earth. The reptilian-like aliens, the Snarks kidnap Dr. Power, his wife Margaret, and the kids, hoping to obtain the secret of the gem. The Snarks’ experimenting with the gem threaten to make it unstable and destroy the Earth. Whitey saves the Power kids from the Snarks but is mortally wounded in the process. Before dying, he passes on his alien powers and the sentient starship, Friday, to the Power kids so they can rescue their parents. They wear costumes made by Friday, which are actually Kymellian spacesuits, made of unstable molecules.
Child(ren) Go(es) on a Quest: Like most siblings, rivalry between them will keep them from focusing on the task at hand. Discovering that they can trade powers, they engage in games of one-upmanship until Alex eventually winds up with all the powers. He miserably fails to rescue his parents and he comes back to his brother and sisters, looking for help.
Child(ren) Go(es) Home:The Power Pack kids learn about family and teamwork and manage to stop the antimatter test, save the world, and rescue their parents from the Snarks. The Power Pack kids decide to continue being superheroes, and being open with their parents).: Alex takes the codename Gee, Julie is Lightspeed, Jack becomes Mass Master, and Katie becomes the Energizer.
Animated MCU Tie-In: In the post-credits seen, Dr. Powers decides that the gem stone is much too dangerous to handle and decides he must hide it where no one will be able to use it. As he prepares to sequester it away, a strange group of animals materialize in front of him, who turn out to be…
6) The Pet Avengers: Created by Chris Eliopoulos in 2009, they consisted of the animal sidekicks residing in the Marvel Universe: Lockjaw, giant dog of the Royal Family of the Inhumans; Throg, a man-turned-frog given the powers of Thor by a sliver of Mjolnir; Redwing, the Falcon’s falcon; Lockheed, alien dragon companion of the X-Men’s Kitty Pryde; Hairball, hyper-kinetic cat of the New Warrior’s hyper-kinetic Speedball; Ms. Lion, Aunt May’s pet dog originally from the 1980’s animated Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, and Zabu, loyal Companion to Ka-Zar of the Savage Land. Now, here is a test of your reading comprehension (and my writing) I’ve been introducing a different pet in each of the previous films so that they can all be assembled in this final, epic film. However that means, Throg, Hairball and Redwing have to be replaced. The Animated MCU Pet Avenger line-up would consist of Devil Dinosaur (Devil Dinosaur), Zabu (Ka-Zar), Lockheed (Ka-Zar post-credits. Great Lake Avengers), Tippy-Toe (Squirrel Girl), Ms. Lion (Squirrel Girl post credits, Power Pack) and Lockjaw (Power Pack post credits and Pet Avengers).
The Lost Pet: Lockjaw lives the idyllic life of a pampered pet of the Royal Family in the secret city of Attilan. One day, the Royal Family is being attacked by the giant looming shadow we have seen in the previous animated film Devil Dinosaur. Actually, that giant shadow has appeared in all the films. The villain of the story and possessor of the looming shadow is Fin Fang Foom!
Fin Fang Foom has brought a dragon horde to attack Attilan, protecting a cache of dragon eggs in a nearby volcano. The Royal Family and the citizens of Attilan are in mortal danger of being destroyed unless Fin Fang Foom gets what he is looking for, the gem stone. The dragon horde needs the gem stone to hatch the eggs.
The Pet Goes on a Quest: While defending his family, Lockjaw attacks FFF. He locks on to the scent of the gem stone. Using his dog sniffing and teleportation skills, he traces the scent to the Savage Land. He recruits Devil Dinosaur and Zabu, then to Midwest where he recruits Lockheed, and then the park where he finds Tippy-Toe and finally back to the post-credit scene from Power Pack where they meet Ms. Lion. Lets say it is revealed through exposition that Lockheed’s home was destroyed by FFF while he was looking for this Infinity Gem (presuming he’s not licensed to Fox as part of the X-Men deal because that would suck since the whole series hinges on Lockheed brining the gem stone across the Animated MCU).
The Pet Goes Home. Fin Fang Foom offers Lockheed a choice: FFF will destroy Attilan and kill the Pet Avengers or Lockheed will bring him the gem stone, join him and his fellow dragons to be part of a new family so they can use the gem stone to hatch dragon eggs (not mentioning that by releasing them they will wreak havoc across the Earth). Lockheed sacrifices himself to stop Fing Fang Foom to save his friends but the dragon eggs are hatched. Ms. Lion, who becomes Lockheed’s best friend throughout the film, is finally given superpowers from the gem but uses it to bring back Lockheed. The dragon horde, moved by such noble sacrifices, fly off into space with the newly hatched dragons.
Animated MCU Tie-In: The Inhumans is scheduled to be released on July 12, 2019, so perhaps the post credits scene would have Lockjaw simply curling up at the side of Black Bolt…and before you protest the fact that this is animated and the Inhumans film will be live action so they can’t occupy the same universe let me remind you that in that other Disney property, Star Wars, considers both animated series’ Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels canon.
I’m not claiming to have a crystal ball or any inside information on Disney’s plans for Marvel properties, and admittedly, these choices are somewhat apparent and nowhere as obscure as Big Hero 6 was at the time the movie was in production. Fortunately a few of these properties are being seriously considered, and many have made appearances on TV before in animated form. It just shows how wonderful these creators’ imaginations are and their mastery of the craft of storytelling is with such great and appealing characters. I have no doubt we will see many, of not all of these characters on the big screen in one form or another.
Juan is secretly hoping that Kevin Feige recognizes his genius and puts him in charge of the Animated Marvel Universe, please follow him on Twitter (@JuanCPineda) and tell him he is very delusional.