Legacy Content

Jim on Film
Page 1 of 2

by Jim Miles (archives)
February 5, 2004
Jim on the problem with IMAX releases.

The Problem with Imax Releases
Part 1

On January 1, 2000, Disney entered the world of Imax distribution with the ingenious release of Fantasia 2000 to Imax theaters. As a precursor to its wide release in traditional theaters, the Imax release made Fantasia 2000 a true event. Since that release, Disney has released a special edition of Beauty and the Beast, Treasure Planet, a slightly altered version of The Lion King, as well as James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss and a prequel to The Black Stallion, to Imax theaters.

Unfortunately, while Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King received theatrical reissues to Imax theaters before their Platinum DVD release, it seems apparent that Aladdin will not get the same treatment. For die-hard Disney fans and animation aficionados, it’s a shame that the under-performance of these two previous releases (along with Treasure Planet in its Imax release) could very well have sunk a theatrical reissue for other great Disney classics.

Before the days of the VCR, the reissued animated classics were a staple of the studio’s release calendar. Films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, and Cinderella are widely beloved and virtually timeless. People who enjoyed them as kids wanted to either see them again or share them with their own children. Of course, for those who love animation, the opportunity to see a great Disney classic on the big screen is legions better than even the most high resolution DVD transfer. The big screen was the originally intended canvas for these masterpieces, and as with any great movie, the experience of seeing it on the big screen with great sound and an audience enhances the viewing pleasure of the film. With the larger screen, it’s like seeing the film for the first time all over again, and the eye-popping backgrounds of Sleeping Beauty or the masterful animation in Pinocchio are more vividly experienced.

For the studio, reissues can be easy money. The film was financed many years before, and the studio only has to pay marketing costs. Even films that failed to make money in their original releases, such as Bambi and Sleeping Beauty, ran far into the black through reissues. With the increased visibility of the film, merchandise can also be sold to take advantage of the increased visibility of the characters.

Unfortunately, the reissue of films to theaters that have been previously made available on video were written off far too early. In 1985, Pinocchio was one of the first classics to be released on home video, and it was seven years later in 1992 that it was reissued to theaters. Traditionally, seven years was the interval at which these films were generally reissued; however, copies of Pinocchio could still readily be found in video rental stores and in many families’ video collections. So while, according to Box Office Mojo, the film earned over $26 million in its 1984 reissue, it only made over $18 million in its 1992 reissue. But instead of recalculating their yearly intervals, the studio wrote off the idea, thinking that audiences would never be interested in seeing their classic films on the big screen again. Unfortunately, because of this theory, the studio missed millions of dollars by rushing out the original video releases of several films without theatrical reissues and never taking reissue advantage before video reissues of others.

The theatrical reissue of The Little Mermaid in 1997 hints at the financial potential of such reissues. It received a botched release, in which it was re-released for “two weeks only,? often suggested as an attempt to sink Don Bluth’s Anastasia. After it was out of release, it was then re-reissued with a “back by popular demand? ad campaign. Despite this bizarre technique, the film managed a respectable $25 million (and likely would have earned more had it received a normal release). Considering that toy shelves were once again stocked full of Ariel dolls and figurines and that the film had been a mega-success in its original release, this was a highly respectable gross.

With several millions of dollars in alterations (not many millions, but as the saying goes, waste not, want not), Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King were reissued to Imax theaters. Among these alterations were an entirely new animation sequence in Beauty and the Beast and new animation for both versions to compensate for the considerably larger screen format. Despite the larger screen and the alterations, Beauty and the Beast grossed only about $25.5 million in reissue and The Lion King only made about $15.5 million. These were respectable numbers, but it is likely that, considering these numbers are, at most, equal to the reissue of The Little Mermaid, these films could have performed better in regular theaters without the costly alterations.

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