Universal Studios is a major motion picture company and former competitor to Walt Disney Studios. It is owned by NBCUniversal, which in turn is owned by Comcast. It was a former early distributor of Walt Disney cartoons, and its massive backlot at its Universal Studios Hollywood studio and theme park has served as a former filming location for Disney films. Walt Disney's poor relationship with Universal directly led to the creation of Mickey Mouse. Universal has resorts in California and Florida, which are those states' primary competitors against Disneyland and Walt Disney World, respectively. Additionally, Universal has owned two animation studios, Illumination Entertainment and DreamWorks Animation (with the latter being Disney's prime competitor in feature animation and acquired by Universal in 2016), which are also meant to compete against Disney's current animation studios Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar respectively.
History with Disney
In 1927, Universal began distributing Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks' Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons, when Disney signed a contract with Carl Laemmle for Charles Mintz. In 1928, Walt asked Mintz for a budget increase, while Mintz demanded a 20 percent budget cut. He revealed that all of Walt's employees (except for Ub Iwerks and Les Clark, who remained loyal to Walt) had signed a new contract for Mintz. Walt refused to give in to Mintz' demands and disassociated himself with his character after completing what was left of the uncompleted Oswald cartoons.
That spring, Iwerks and Disney created Mickey Mouse as a response and replacement for Oswald. Mickey went on to become the world's most famous and popular cartoon character, while Oswald faded into obscurity.
In February 2006, Disney re-obtained Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from Universal Studios, which lead to a huge rise in Oswald's popularity, as part of a deal which sent sportscaster Al Michaels from ESPN to NBC Universal's NBC Sports.
Relationship with Marvel
On August 31, 2009, Disney announced that it would acquire Marvel Entertainment for approximately $4 billion. Universal announced that Marvel Super Hero Island, a themed land at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park at the Universal Orlando Resort, would not be affected by the deal and would continue to operate as long as the contract allowed. Disney CEO Robert Iger acknowledged that Disney would honor all of Marvel's contracts with competitors, but that Marvel characters would simultaneously be able to appear in some Disney parks. Marvel properties and characters are not permitted to appear in Walt Disney World Resort theme parks, as Universal holds the rights to use the characters east of the Mississippi River. As such, Disney has taken other measures to promote its Marvel properties within the Resort. For example, monorail trains have been wrapped in advertisements promoting films such as The Avengers and Iron Man 3. As these monorail trains featured Marvel characters, they were operated only on the Resort and Express lines of the Walt Disney World Monorail System, which run entirely outside the theme parks, unlike the Epcot line, which enters and loops through its namesake park. The resort does have a Marvel-themed store, Super Hero Headquarters. However, it is also located outside of park gates, in Downtown Disney.
Marvel characters and properties are featured more prominently in other Disney park resorts, specifically at the Disneyland Resort in California, where Universal has long since abandoned its rights to use the Marvel characters in its own California park. The Disneyland Resort has featured meet-and-greets with Captain America and Thor, has featured the Avengers Half Marathon as part of RunDisney, features Iron Man, Thor, and Spider-Man (and formerly Captain America when the attraction operated as part of Innoventions) at its upcoming Super Hero HQ attraction in Tomorrowland, has hosted film sneak peeks for Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, and has run Marvel Cinematic Universe movie marathons at the Magic Eye Theater during its 24-hour events. The first Marvel attraction at a Disney park, the Iron Man Experience, is now open in Tomorrowland at Hong Kong Disneyland.
Disney productions filmed at Universal
As Universal Studios Hollywood has such a massive and versatile studio backlot, many other movie studios tend to use the backlot as a filming location. Disney is not an exception to this. Some Disney films and shows that have been shot orpartially shot at or co-produced with Universal include:
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007, Walt Disney Pictures)
- Raising Helen (2004, Touchstone Pictures)
- Dick Tracy (1990, Touchstone Pictures)
- The Muppets (2011, Walt Disney Pictures)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011, Walt Disney Pictures)
- Saving Mr. Banks (2013, Walt Disney Pictures)
- Ghost Whisperer (CBS, 2005-2010, ABC Studios and CBS Paramount Network Television) - Grandview is filmed on sets such as Courthouse Square, which is famous for its use in Back to the Future until an accidental fire destroyed much of the set in June 2008.
- Desperate Housewives (ABC, 2004-2012, ABC Studios) - Wisteria Lane is filmed on the Colonial Street residential set.
- Monk (USA Network, 2002-2009, ABC Studios and Universal Media Studios) - Co-produced with Universal.