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Jim on Film: The Problem with IMAX Releases - Part Two
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by Jim Miles (archives)
March 9, 2004
Jim concludes his two-part series looking at Disney's recent trend of releasing films on IMAX or large sceren format.

The Problem with Imax Releases
Part 2

If you missed it, click here for Part One of this series

With the Imax reissue of Beauty and the Beast in 2002, the studio misunderstood two key financial problems with their attempts to reissue films to this format. The few number of Imax screens around the country severely limited the ability of filmgoers to easily access reissued films, deeply cutting into the ability to make a healthy profit. In addition to this, the costly “enhancements? to make the film suitable for the larger screen cut into the potential profits to be reaped from sending a previously financed film back to the theaters. The Imax reissue, however, also caused two key artistic problems.

For anyone who has seen the Disney films as many times as the average Disney fan, the larger canvas of the Imax screen was less thrilling and more revealing. The original Beauty and the Beast was created for a traditional movie theater screen, and because of this, what was perfect for the smaller screen, such as background characters that didn’t move, became flaws on the gigantic Imax screen. The filmmakers did make changes to adjust for the screen size, such as reanimating the heads of Belle and the Beast in the distant window view during Something There, but they allowed, as producer Don Hahn stated, other small-screenisms to remain under the guise of “charm.? Unfortunately, a Gaston who looks like a paper doll behind a vibrantly animated Belle didn’t seem as charming on the Imax screen or during the subsequently tainted video viewings once it was highlighted. Beauty and the Beast was a smash when it was first released and many children (and even teens and adults) from that era have watched it on video until their copies have been worn out. For the occasional viewer, such quirks were probably un-noticed, but for others, not quite so. The Imax Beauty and the Beast was so unflattering, this viewer opted not to catch The Lion King with its pants down.

In order to prepare these films for their Imax screenings, including Aladdin which never made it that far, the studio made alterations to their classic films, which could be considered a tainting of the original versions. From the deletions in Fantasia to alterations in Melody Time and title additions to The Great Mouse Detective, changes to Disney’s animated film library have been a source of frustration for Disney animation supporters for a variety of reasons.

As a student of Disney animation, it is fascinating to study the history of the studio through its films. For example, in watching the films from One-Hundred-and-One Dalmatians through The Little Mermaid, it is interesting to see the development of the Xerox line as it begins rough in Dalmatians (1961) and by The Rescuers (1977) is finding more refinement until it is almost completely refined in The Fox and the Hound (1981). It is also interesting to watch the films from this period to see the re-use of animation which begins in The Sword in the Stone (1963) and goes into Robin Hood (1973), which likely speaks of the studio’s push to make their films more economical. These movies, as they were made, are not only telling of the history of Disney animation at this time, they are representations of what the filmmakers intended at that moment in their artistic development. In hindsight, Robin Hood had a different kind of plot, but at that time in the studio’s history, that was the kind of film the studio was making. It was exactly how they wanted it to be at the time it was released.

The same can be said of all other eras of animation output by the studio. Beauty and the Beast was produced with less time than the films surrounding it, and in its beautiful animation, the astute viewer can see the development of a young team of artists whose work would advance to even greater heights as the studio would release The Lion King in 1994 and even more so with Pocahontas in 1995. In the future, the question will become, for both the casual family viewer and the Disney animation purist, which is the real version of the beloved 1991 film. In the past, when the studio has made alterations to various films, they have not always been successful in determining which to make available to the public. The versions of The Wind in the Willows and Ben and Me released under the Mini-Classics label were both altered from their original forms. The Happiest Millionaire and Bedknobs and Broomsticks were both cut for their wide releases and footage was lost, footage that was not restored in their original video debuts. In an error that was to the benefit of animation aficionados, the original version of The Three Little Pigs complete with a Jewish stereotype was made available in the Favorite Stories release of the short (while the altered version appeared on the Disney Treasures set). It’s hard to say what other accidental (or purposeful for that matter) altered versions of films made it to wide release, and in the future, one can only hope the original versions of films will also be made available.

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