It looks like Disney is finally getting off its huge ass and will be releasing their animated films to DVD.
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Di$ney Does The Little Mermaid
It looks like Disney is finally getting off its huge ass and will be releasing their animated films to DVD. The Wall Street Journal scooped everyone, and reported today that Disney is expected to release a series of animated films to DVD this fall, including Mulan, The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid and Lady And The Tramp, among others.
This is, of course, great news for DVD owners because it means that the selection of family titles on DVD will suddenly go through the roof. Until this time, the pickings had been slim, with sub-par animated features being the rule, while quality animation (Antz, A Bug's Life) was the exception.
The release pattern is unique, as well, in that the titles will be released for a limited time. Sixty days per title, then put on moratorium for up to ten years. This release window is significantly shorter than Disney's video release windows, and represents a new way of thinking for Disney.
Of course, nobody is going to argue that this is great news, but being the cynical guy that I am, I can't help but question the timing.
Now, I can't blame Disney for waiting for the DVD market to grow before releasing their A-list titles. After all, ever since old Walt died, the bottom line has been more important than anything else to the mouse-house. Releasing A-list animated titles to DVD early on would've definitely helped push the format faster, but we all know that Disney would've taken a bath on those discs in the early days. Especially given their policy of putting titles back on the shelf for seven years after release.
Add to that the fact that Disney was one of the studios hedging their bets in the DVD format by supporting DIVX, and we have further proof that profit, not consumer interest, is the real motivator here. After all, DVD was big last Christmas, and while nine titles may have been excessive, one or two would have done fine. So why wouldn't Disney have taken bigger steps at that point? In a four-letter word: DIVX. Another motivating agent may have been the success of A Bug's Life on DVD. This is easily the best family DVD out there at this point, and it showed Disney that DVD is ready for content the whole family can enjoy. In a big way.
Also, in June of this past year, the whole Disney home video division was shaken up, and a new chief was put in charge of the Indians. The reason this was done was because Disney's home video sales were flagging. A Bug's Life was a major success on DVD, but only did marginally well (as compared to expectations) on VHS. Mulan, as well, was considered a VHS failure. Obviously the new chairman of the motion pictures division, Richard Cook, could see the writing the wall for VHS. The market for Disney titles on VHS is saturated. Even titles which were available on video for the first time were not selling well, because they weren't appealing enough to the market. Consumers effectively said, "I'm not interested in buying this on VHS, because it'll be re-released in seven years on whatever format is popular at that time."
Upon closer examination, this whole announcement seems REactive rather than PROactive. Disney is finally releasing titles to DVD not because the DVD market is finally big enough (it has been for a while) or because they have a newfound moral obligation to give consumers their classics in the best medium possible, but because their VHS revenue stream has finally dried up, and it's time to dig a new well.
I do notice a few odd things about their announcement, though. First, the sixty day purchase window. This is incredibly short, and means that Disney wants everyone to run out and buy these titles immediately. This will re-create the sense of urgency they once had with their VHS titles, but it'll also mean there's not TOO many digital copies of their films floating around out there. After all, if the disc doesn't deteriorate, the moratorium on titles could be a hundred years. If there are too many discs out there, nobody's going to buy them again. That's the other thing that's odd, the moratorium on titles. I notice the wording this time is very vague. Previously, Disney titles were released every seven years on video, like clockwork. Now, the moratorium on titles could be "up to ten years". This is interesting, because it means that the usually inflexible Disney is keeping its options open. If they release the titles this fall and sell, for example, half a million of each title, that would be a very small number of DVDs out there if the market suddenly grew to 50 million players two years later (which is not unreasonable). This means that Disney could do a "very special re-release" on any of these titles without breaking the rules (because the rules are more flexible). This could also help to kill the black market for pirate DVDs.
You'll also notice that these first few titles are not the ones we all want to see. This is by design. Nobody will argue that the list of titles is bad, in fact it's quite good. Out of all nine titles, only one is of real questionable quality (Lion King II: Simba's Pride). The other eight are either Disney "classics", or at the very least, current Disney titles (Mulan, Hercules). Still, you don't see the big ones as launch titles. You don't see The Lion King, you don't see Beauty and the Beast, you don't see Snow White or Cinderella or Bambi. The DVD market still isn't big enough for these ones.
The announcement is also very vague on features and price. I suspect the animated titles will cost significantly more than live action titles (which was the case with the VHS titles, as well), because demand is so high. I also suspect that features will be kept to a minimum. I expect there will be next to no extra features, and while the DVDs are expected to be widescreen, don't expect 16:9 enhancement. After all, we all have 4:3 televisions right now, and if they decide to re-release The Little Mermaid in ten years in an anamorphic version, we will all have to repurchase it.
Still, I have to give Disney credit. They've managed to boost the mass market credibility of DVD multi-fold with one announcement. The only possible announcement I could see eclipsing this one in terms of importance would be if Lucasfilm and Fox got off their huge ass and announced the Star Wars and/or Indiana Jones DVDs. I'm still pissed at Lucasfilm for bringing out a VHS "special edition" of Indy Jones later this year, and not announcing anything in the way of DVD support. I hope they find their revenue stream as dried up as Disney's.
As for these Disney DVDs, I know I'll end up with a batch of them. My life plan includes kids at some point in the future, and it'll be nice to have something they can watch in the collection already (after all, who can afford DVDs when you're struggling to buy diapers and car-seats?). Besides, some of those Disney movies are damned good. Too bad we can't excise the corporate parasite attached to them.
Oh, one last thing to point out about the timing of this release. You'll notice that Dreamworks is releasing The Prince Of Egypt on September 14th. This is a little over a month prior to the release of the Disney titles, and the timing of this announcement seems to have a lot to do with usurping POE once again (Disney used A Bug's Life to steal some of POE's thunder at theaters last Christmas). This is a long time feud, having to do with Jeffrey Katzenberg's (the "K" in Dreamworks SKG) less than amicable departure from Disney a few year's ago. I suspect the announcement will not have the desired effect, though, as the POE disc is a fully loaded special edition, and looks to be a true flagship title for Dreamworks. Besides, dedicated DVD owners know that Dreamworks does amazing DVD...too bad they can't convince Spielberg (the "S" in Dreamworks SKG) to release Saving Private Ryan to the digital format in a reasonable time frame. And if someone from Dreamworks is reading this, can you think of a better way to steal back some of Disney's thunder? Not to mention Warner Brothers (The Matrix), Universal Studios (The Mummy), Paramount (Titanic) and MGM (the James Bond films).
The quote of the week last week was correctly identified by a number of people as coming from John Cusack in the (new) classic comedy Grosse Pointe Blank. In another one of those weird karmic twists of fate, the film is available on DVD from none other than Disney. The person who got it in first was David Akers. I promised him fame (but not fortune), so there's his name. Expect the Hollywood producers to be pounding down your door now, David.
This week's quote is from a film which is a little less mainstream. I'll give y'all a hint, because I think it's a little tough. The film IS available on DVD, and it's a region zero disc (so it can be used worldwide), but you can only buy it in Canada (but it's not a Canadian film). I suspect if you've seen the film it'll stand out in your mind, if you haven't seen it, you'll be hopelessly lost.
Boss: "Do you really think there are people interested in nasal sex?"
Employee: "Sure, boss. It's the next big fad."
This week, email me if you know the film and director at email@example.com (if you know one, the other one should be easy).
Until Next Time...
Contributing Editor: www.dvdfuture.com