Saturday, December 21, 2013

Is This Farewell?

Our dear Disney historian and longtime film critic Leonard Maltin held a Q&A of sorts a few months ago…

Right off the bat, he mentions that Disney is "backing away" from home video, and they want to get away from the physical media world. He rightfully criticizes Disney for not making its massive library available on Netflix or iTunes or anything. He's more than right… If they want to ditch physical media and head right to digital, then where are the classic cartoon shorts? Where are the classic television shows? Disney Afternoon shows?

Anyways, in hindsight, Disney ditching physical media seemed like it was going to happen…

This was an unremarkable year for Disney Blu-ray, despite the fact we got so many releases…

On the Disney animated classics front, we got Peter Pan, The Sword in the StoneRobin Hood, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Oliver & CompanyThe Little MermaidThe Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan, The Emperor's New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Lilo & Stitch and Brother Bear. That's eight films (not counting Wreck-It Ralph), last year we got nine.

Live action films? Very few, not as much as last year. We also got some Muppets films, direct-to-video garbage and Studio Ghibli films. Also, we got featurette Mickey's Christmas Carol and stitched together Pooh special A Very Merry Pooh Year.

2014 is looking pretty slim right now. Of course, we have two Diamond Edition releases as always, other than that… Well, Hercules and Tarzan, which logically should've been March releases, are nowhere to be found. Instead, The Jungle Book 2 and Springtime with Roo are Disney's spring Blu-ray releases. Really Disney? Really?

So… The quality. Was the quality of each individual release any good? No.

Despite boasting fine picture and whatnot, The Hunchback of Notre Dame got the special features shaft once again much like the film's 2002 DVD. The Emperor's New Groove and Lilo & Stitch arrived with zero bonus features… Oh wait… The bonus features are on the included DVDs, because the DVDs were made from the older masters. What does this mean? It means that Groove's previous DVD release from 2005 was ported over onto the new discs - 2005-era previews and all! Same goes for Lilo. Why they couldn't put that meager batch of bonuses on the discs, I don't know. Other titles like Robin Hood and The Sword in the Stone lacked many bonuses as well, along with Oliver & Company and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

Some restorations were very questionable. The Sword in the Stone and Mickey's Christmas Carol look like they've been run through a washing machine. Other titles, such as Oliver & Company, could look a little better. From not giving us bonuses to approving of bad-looking transfers, Disney just seemed more content with belting out titles than carefully giving them the care they deserve.

Diamond Edition The Little Mermaid arrived with a noticeable error: Two shots were out of order in a very important scene! Disney issued a disc replacement program, I waited it out and bought the Blu-ray at my local Best Buy. I lucked out, it was the corrected version. But still, it should not have happened in the first place.

Little flubs also surfaced elsewhere. On the Peter Pan Blu-ray, you can't disable "Disney Intermission" (a feature designed only for little kids)… Unless you watch the film with DisneyView mode on. Wreck-It Ralph corrects this, and other future releases do the same. Lovely…

Then you'll see how some Blu-rays have headings like "Gift of Friendship Edition" (Merry Pooh Year) and "Hippity Hoppity Roo Edition" (Springtime with Roo)…

If anything, Disney Blu-ray just doesn't give a crap anymore. Prior to mid-2011, they did… And some of their Blu-rays are some of the best. Not just the Diamond Editions, but the Blu-ray editions of films like Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland. It all makes sense now, they don't care about physical media anymore. They've got their eyes on the future, and the future currently says "Digital! Streaming! Virtual Lockers!"

But will we ever get to a point where digital media offers bonus features and goodies for us buffs, aficionados and fans? Probably… I mean, some of the iTunes/digital releases of recent Disney films come with a small selection of bonus features. But with digital, now is the time to give fans everything. Disney doesn't seem to be doing that, but the technology really isn't in its infancy.

But even when Blu-ray was in its infancy, Disney went all out. Many may not have owned a Blu-ray player in, for instance, 2008, but the sets for films like Sleeping Beauty and WALL-E were excellent.

Pixar continues to make top notch sets for their films: Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University all arrived with splendid 2-disc editions loaded to the brim with bonus features. The Emeryville studio produces their own sets, they care. Even Marvel packs a good amount of goodies on their 1-disc sets (only Iron Man and Iron Man 2 got two-disc editions, and those were from Paramount), as evidenced by the recent Iron Man 3. The treatment that the recent Walt Disney Animation Studios films get on Blu-ray is pitiful. More recent live action stuff? Same.

Also, what happened to Second Screen? They seemed so gung-ho about all of that. Disney loves digital, huh? Then what happened to Second Screen? Oh wait, Second Screen was recently used for a stupid "event" where Disney screened The Little Mermaid at El Capitan, and invited people to bring their iPads and play with them instead of watching the movie… One of the greatest facepalm moments in Disney history, for sure…

Apparently Blu-rays don't sell too well for companies anymore. Disney noted in early 2013 that DVD sales (no Blu-ray for some odd reason) of late 2012 releases Cinderella and Brave sold poorly, the latter of which was 2012's second biggest DVD selling 5 million units in the US thus grossing a good $98 million. That's not even factoring in Blu-ray sales, and that's more than what DTV-turned-theatrical release Planes took in at the domestic box office… So what gives?

Here's some food for thought, though…

The best-selling Blu-ray of all time in the United States (not counting DVD-only units moved) is Avatar. How many units did it move? 5.9 million.

The best-selling DVD of all time in the United States (and we're talking its initial release here) is Finding Nemo. Around 25 million units were sold back in 2003 and 2004 alone, and prior to its vaulting in 2010, it sold a whopping 40 million units.

Heck… Let's go back to videocassettes and videodiscs. I think back then, both were kind of combined, but it's generally said that The Lion King's "videocassette" sales amounted to 30 million. This was back in the mid 1990s.

Now, let's look at the past five years in DVD sales…

2013: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 - 4.6 million, $69 million
2012: The Hunger Games - 7.4 million, $123 million
2011: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 - 7.0 million, $86 million
2010: Avatar - 10.1 million, $183 million
2009: Twilight - 10.2 million, $186 million
2008: The Dark Knight - 17.6 million, $191 million

Now, onto Blu-ray…

2013: Skyfall - 2.2 million, $47 million
2012: The Avengers - 4.7 million, $105 million
2011: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 - 2.9 million, $58 million
2010: Avatar - 5.9 million, $126 million
2009: Star Trek - 3.0 million, $60 million
2008: The Dark Knight - 2.6 million in mid-2009, $33 million

Blu-ray had a rise from 2008 to 2010, then sharply plummeted afterwards… But the format is still selling well enough. Also keep in mind that studios are releasing multiple editions of their films on Blu-ray (Disney especially!), hence something like The Avengers making $105 million in sales. 3D packs, combo packs, retail-exclusive editions, etc., etc., etc.

So DVDs don't really sell as much as they used to. Blu-ray arguably stole some thunder there, but with the studios' pushing of Blu-ray over the last three or so years, how come the format hasn't really taken off? Avatar selling 10 million units is one thing, Potter's finale selling less than 3 million is another.

I don't want to generalize, but I believe that a lot of people simply don't know what the difference between DVD and Blu-ray is. I've had people ask me "What is a Blu-ray DVD?", "How is it different from DVD" and so and so and so and so. Sometimes, I confuse them when I explain what it is. People tend to spell Blu-ray wrong too; Blu-Ray, Bluray, Blue Ray, Blue-Ray, etc.

Perhaps the rise of streaming and platforms like Netflix have become the sort of "go to" place for people who are confused. Well then, if that's so, that's a good thing. Disney and other companies can still make millions off of that, but physical media should not be left in the dust. Over 2 million still buy the discs, so...

Sales do add to box office totals, and yes, while budgets are going sky high (it's going to backfire soon and studios will stop getting so arrogant with their budgets), home media sales are still vital. A $19.95 or $29.95-costing Blu-ray disc selling 2 million units is really nothing to scoff at.

That all being said…

If Disney were to fully migrate into the world of streaming and do it the right way (i.e. having purchased films come with a large assortment of bonus features, almost their entire library available from obscure films to television programs), then I would get behind it. I'm still iffy about digital because I prefer owning hard copies of films (i.e., what happens to your locker of content when technology changes radically in the next 5 years?), but I'm not too naive to ignore what future technology offers and what potential it all has. I'm just wary of how the company will utilize it, will they play to just general consumers? Or will they cater to film fans as well?

Like, here's what I would want from Disney in the next 3-5 years, if they embrace this new way of home media completely.

  • All of the films and content have a-ok restoration jobs that are above average and at least look nice in HD. No crumby transfers like The Sword in the Stone's recent one or the ones on numerous DVDs of live action classics.
  • Everything comes with bonus features. Something like The Emperor's New Groove better come with at least an hour's worth of behind-the-scenes material (documentaries, deleted scenes, artwork galleries, production notes, the whole caboodle)… If not The Sweatbox. (I know, I'm sounding like a broken mp3 here. Cue Professor Farnsworth!)
  • Everything is presented in the correct aspect ratio; or if they can go the extra mile and provide the best of both worlds, give film buffs the original and also provide a consumer-friendly one on the same package. (Depends on the film.)

Right now, Disney seems content with putting a few films on Netflix. You can get films on iTunes, current ones come with a few bonus features. But time to go the extra mile here; digital versions coming packed to the brim with bonuses and extras. It can happen, and it should.


Sony and Panasonic have a new format brewing, one that promises discs that contain 300GB of space! They apparently aren't gung ho about everything completely going digital, and by this time this format hits (projected to be around 2016), digital will probably have taken over. It could function as a could "strike back" against digital, or maybe not. It's unclear where this format is going, but the idea of discs containing 300GB of space excites me.

Remember, I'm a physical media guy and I appreciate what digital can achieve, but… Hard copies containing a boatload of stuff? Count me in!

The problem is… Will it sell to consumers who are accustomed to digital? Or will it be like LaserDisc and will only really appeal to collectors, buffs and adults?

The bigger question is, would Disney be willing to spend a lot on good sets for the buffs while giving general consumers the films themselves in digital format? I think this strategy could really work; make a lot off of vanilla versions that tons of general consumers will get digitally and store in their lockers, while us buffs can buy these discs and be happy, whilst adding to overall sales. Everyone wins.

Will Disney do it? Or will they show physical media the door?

1 comment:

  1. And uncut versions. Why couldn't Disney use seamless branching to include the long versions of Pocahontas, Muppet Christmas Carol, etc., in addition to the theatrical cuts when they could do it for Beauty and the Beast?