Monday, March 21, 2016

A Case of Re-titled Films

In Walt Disney Animation Studios' long history, only a few films of theirs were re-titled in the United States...

We'll look at two.

Exhibit A is The Black Cauldron.

Exhibit B is The Great Mouse Detective.

Now, right off the bat, you'll notice that both films were released almost exactly a year apart from each other. You'll also notice they are the lowest-grossing animated films put out by Disney Animation during the 1980s. (They grossed $21m and $25m respectively, in mid-80s dollars.)

So why the retitling?

The Black Cauldron is known more for its troubled history, its supposedly dark content, and its performance at the box office, being - at the time - the most expensive animated movie ever made and the first Disney animated film to lose money at the box office since 1959's Sleeping Beauty. It also happened to be completed and released just as Disney saw a major management overhaul, namely Ron Miller resigning as CEO and leaving the company, with Michael Eisner taking his place while Roy E. Disney returned. The film division would be headed up by Eisner's Paramount comrade Jeffrey Katzenberg.

The film was saddled with an ineffective marketing campaign, and it was also the very first Disney animated movie to get a PG rating from the MPAA... And we're talking a mid-to-late 1980s PG rating, a time when the rating actually meant something. Just my personal opinion, I don't think it's that dark at all outside of a few creepy scenes. If you want a truly dark and scary Disney animated film, just watch Pinocchio... And that was never re-rated to PG in the 70s and 80s.

Anyways, it failed to really stir up interest. Costing $25 million to make, the movie collected around $21 million domestically while its worldwide total is unknown to this day... But apparently it wasn't enough to get the film into the black. The current regime at the studio distanced themselves from the movie, and by the time The Little Mermaid lit up the box office, they buried it completely. Well, in America at least. No Disney animated film for a long while would get a PG rating, either. Eisner and Katzenberg made it a point to avoid that rating for a Disney animated feature.

Not counting 2000's Dinosaur, the first Disney animated feature to get the PG since Cauldron was Atlantis: The Lost Empire in 2001, and that film unfortunately tanked. Today, Disney's making big buckos with PG-rated animated pictures, from both Disney Animation and Pixar. All the films made by Disney Animation between 2008 and now, excepting The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh, are all rated PG.

(Though if all of them were released in the 80s or early 90s, most of them would probably be rated G. The MPAA is different and weirder today.)

What's not very well-known was that Disney actually went as far as testing a different title for the film, a series of test screenings that could possibly lead to a theatrical re-release. The new title would be friendlier-sounding: Taran and the Magic Cauldron. It would be given a very bright and cutesy-looking poster that was a country mile from the original one!

For a while it seemed like this title and poster was only used for the picture's international theatrical re-release, because it did get one in the early 90s (when, is the bigger question - I have still yet to find that out), but... A US one-sheet with the title was designed, and apparently released! How can you tell it's a US poster? The MPAA rating is on it... And it's PG! Which pretty much dispels reports of the Taran version being recut.

Merchandise was even made for this planned re-release, from storybooks to puzzles! Not uncommon actually, for merchandise has been made for canceled/delayed releases before, especially in animation.

Foodfight!, one of the worst animated films ever made, is a great example of this. Merchandise for that movie appeared in random places, from stores to carnivals to claw machines, years before the movie was even "finished". Hoodwinked Too! is another good example. For a long time, the distributor intended to put it out in February 2010, until pushing it to April 2011 at the eleventh hour... But they were a little too late, for the Burger King toys for the movie were put in the kids' meals in February 2010! I remember that very well, actually. "Enjoy the toys from a movie you... Have to wait another year to see!"

A good non-animation example is a recent horror movie, Amityville: The Awakening. A few weeks ago, it was pushed back from April of this year to January of next year! Out of nowhere! I work at a movie theater, and months ago we got the poster for the film, complete with the 2016 on it... After it was pushed back to 2017, we no longer have the poster now. Several films have had trailers or promo materials made, only for the movie to get pushed back or to be canceled completely.

So, this planned Black Cauldron re-release...

This must've been from around 1990 or 1991. The copyright date, I can't make out, but it looks like 1985, the year the film first came out. When did the re-release occur in Europe and other parts of the world? Did Disney do the US test re-release around the same time?

Also, did the test screenings not do very well? Must've gone over poorly, because if they went well, the film would've gotten its official re-release. It shows that Disney, by that time, was perhaps not willing to completely bury the film.

Let's move on from The Black Cauldron for a second and look at the film that came out after it...

The Great Mouse Detective.

The film was in pre-production when Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg came to the studio. There was little they could do with Cauldron, for that picture was a mess from the minute it began production in 1982, as it moved forward with no clear path and lots of creative differences. Over half the picture was fully animated and completed anyways, but Katzenberg did manage to get over ten minutes - most of which was completed, inked-and-painted animation - that weren't to his liking cut from the film. For Mouse Detective, he was more involved. The picture is significantly different from what it was, pre-1984/85, and perhaps - playing Devil's Advocate here - for the better.

The Great Mouse Detective would cost less than half of what Cauldron cost, so when it came out in 1986 and grossed just a wee bit more at the box office than Cauldron, there was no panic in the Mouse House. Also, Mouse Detective happened to get much more positive reception than Cauldron, the reviews for that film were mixed. Some praised it (such as Roger Ebert), some felt it was a letdown. It was not the critical dud that some people might lead you to believe, though. Either way, critics dug the mouse more.

However, it's well-known that Katzenberg didn't want the picture to be titled what the filmmakers wanted it to be titled: Basil of Baker Street. That's the name of the books the movie is based on, but Katzenberg wasn't going to have it. One of his reasons was that he felt the title would be too confusing for kids (even though the books themselves were juvenile novels, and despite the fact that Walt Disney never pandered to children with his films), another reason was concerns over whether a Sherlock Holmesian movie would go over. This was supported by how poorly the Steven Spielberg-produced movie Young Sherlock Holmes performed the year before. Executives normally pull that card in Hollywood, they'll assume a certain type of movie won't go over just because one or two films in that genre happened to flop.

Side note: Katzenberg actually did that at DreamWorks in the early 2000s, when the great British studio Aardman - whom DreamWorks was partnered with at the time - approached him about making a movie about pirates. Katzenberg told them that pirate movies were box office poison, and about a year or so later, Disney rocked the box office with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The pirate movie was turned into 2006's Flushed Away, and years after Aardman broke away from DreamWorks, they made a really cool pirate movie called The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (Released as The Pirates! Band of Misfits in America.)

Anyways, Basil of Baker Street became The Great Mouse Detective. The creative team at Disney Animation fired back with this lovely joke demo, and that made some heads spin!

The Great Mouse Detective, unlike The Black Cauldron, got itself an official US theatrical re-release. When? February 1992.

For the re-release, Disney re-titled the film to The Adventures of The Great Mouse Detective. Here are the title cards as they appear in both versions of the film...

Why did they do this?

After years of pondering, this is my theory...

The Black Cauldron and The Great Mouse Detective took in less than $30 million respectively at the domestic box office. (Not counting Mouse Detective's re-release gross.) The other three 1980s Disney animated films - The Fox and the Hound, Oliver & Company, and The Little Mermaid - made more than that on their initial releases. Even some re-issues of the earlier films made more than that during the 1980s! Snow White's 1987 re-release collected $46 million, Bambi took in $39 million in 1988, among other examples.

Numbers like that also show why the studio was so disappointed when The Rescuers Down Under opened with $3 million in 1990. They wanted big numbers, or else! So Mouse Detective, since it was G-rated, got good reviews, was profitable to begin with, wasn't that hard of sell, and would get a re-release in the states while The Black Cauldron did not.

Arriving in February 1992, the re-release didn't do quite well. It grossed $13 million, and on the weekend charts, the still-playing Beauty and the Beast jumped ahead of it!

The video release (pictured above) followed in July 1992. The packaging, from the cover to the labels, would say The Great Mouse Detective... but the tape itself used the 1992 re-release print of the film. Even weirder, the VHS of The Rescuers - which came out in September 1992 - had a preview for the film that used the 1986 title. The 101 Dalmatians VHS - released in April 1992 - by contrast uses the re-release title.

This is because the trailer that appears on the Dalmatians VHS is just a slightly altered version of the actual theatrical re-release trailer, right down to the credits card at the very end.

The one on the Rescuers VHS has a new voiceover from Mark Elliott, replaces the Walt Disney Pictures logo with the Classics logo, the film's title card is changed to the 1986 title, and there are some other minor edits.

Quite the difference!

Disney didn't restore the original 1986 opening credits until they made and released the 'Mystery in the Mist' Edition DVD in 2010. The Blu-ray, which bears the same banner and packaging, uses this print of the film as well.

So I think both films were re-titled in the early 1990s because they were the least successful films of the 1980s, and some of the studio's least-successful films ever. Maybe they felt new titles would help them sell better on their re-releases?

If so, then I guess they felt "The Adventures of" added some kind of zazz. They should've just gone back to using Basil of Baker Street as the title, but when does that really ever happen? (Minus some exceptions) As for Black Cauldron, again, I think Magic Cauldron was an attempt to make it sound less dark, if that re-release had happened.

All of this also leads me to believe that The Black Cauldron's "Taran" re-release would've occurred in 1991, a good six years after the film's initial release. Usually when Disney animated films were theatrically re-released, it would be every 5-10 years they'd come around. Mouse Detective's re-release came 5 1/2 years after its debut in summer 1986.

Posters for past Disney animated films, when re-released in the late 80s/early 90s, used the "Walt Disney's Classic"/"A Walt Disney Classic" headings, much like their home video counterparts. The Taran and the Magic Cauldron poster uses it too, so that would land it somewhere before 1994. It couldn't be as late as 1992, I'm going to speculate and say it would've been before Beauty and the Beast came out and rocketed Disney Animation to new box office heights. After that film, Disney probably saw no need to resurrect Cauldron. That is, until it came time to release every last classic on VHS. The Black Cauldron belatedly hit home video in North America in 1998.

1990, I think, would be a little too early... Plus, 1990 brought the theatrical re-releases of The Jungle Book and Fantasia, alongside new releases The Rescuers Down Under and Disney MovieToons' DuckTales: The Movie. Their animation plate was full that year. 1991 on the other hand brought only one classic re-release: 101 Dalmatians, and that was in the summer. New release Beauty and the Beast followed in the autumn.

1992 also had Aladdin (November), alongside a re-release of Pinocchio (July) and the aforementioned The Great Mouse Detective re-release (February). Again, plate full.

I'm going to go with late winter/early spring 1991. Probably around February/March-ish, just about 25 years ago!

As for when the Taran re-release hit in Europe? Probably somewhere around that time.

What say you?


  1. When I saw the original memo I almost spat out my soda laughing, I thought it would be funny to do that to the other Disney films. I left Tangled and Winnie-the-Pooh (2011 film) for obvious reasons.

    Oliver Twist with a Kitten and Some Dogs

    A Mermaid Becomes Human

    Two Mice Save a Boy

    The Girl and a Monster

    A Guy and A Genie

    Hamlet With Lions

    Jamestown Love Story/Historically Inaccurate

    Our Darkest Film Yet / Victor Hugo Condensed

    Greek Superhero

    The Girl Who Became a Soldier

    Jungle Man

    More Color and Music

    Inca Buddy Comedy

    Lost City

    Little Girl and Alien

    Treasure Island in Space

    The Guy Who Became a Bear

    Cows in the West

    Chicken and Aliens

    The Boy Who Traveled Through Time

    Dog Actor

    Frog Prince with Voodoo

    Video Game World

    We Finally Made A Marvel Comic Movie/ A Boy and A Marshmallow Robot

    1. A couple other fun ones...

      The Snow Princess and the Talking Snowman

      Our World with Animals

  2. You mentioned "Pinocchio" being pretty dark and scary. I had made a spoof VHS cover of the film, combining elements of the 1985 VHS cover and the 1993 VHS cover, and gave it a PG rating! It's on my DeviantART account.
    I also kind of think "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" can be rather PG at times...