Friday, April 29, 2016

Better Blu: 'Zootopia' Blu-ray Details

Make no mistake, Zootopia is another mighty box office success for the currently revving Walt Disney Animation Studios...

With a current worldwide haul of $916 million, it's one of the highest-earning animated films and it might even cross the $1 billion threshold, a mark a few animated features have crossed unadjusted. It's also a runaway critical smash and it's doing especially fine business here in the states, it might make 4 1/2x its opening weekend gross. It is arguably the best-received Disney animated feature of the decade and the decade before it...

For a while, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment started to cut back on the quality of their Blu-ray releases. Titles for Disney Animation films, live-action films and other things. 2013 was when we hit the slump, with lackluster releases like Lilo & Stitch and The Emperor's New Groove, sets that didn't have bonus features at all on the Blu-ray discs yet the included DVDs - the old pressings from the early 2000s - had them. Can you say lazy?

Then you had films where the picture quality was botched, like a good number of the Xerox era animated features. I still don't own the Sword in the Stone Blu-ray, I'll stick with my DVD. Mickey's Christmas Carol was one I would've liked to have gotten, but it too had an awful transfer that made the film look like it was run through a washing machine. Even the Diamond Edition of The Jungle Book couldn't escape the scrubber!

I had given up on the home media division mostly because there really isn't any, anymore. WDSHE is now just a wing of Disney Consumer Products, when they used to be separate entities. Physical home media releases have become something of an afterthought. Pixar on the other hand makes their own sets, and almost all of their films have gotten jam-packed 2-disc sets. 1-discers like Cars and Ratatouille had the excellent, immersive Cine-Explore commentaries to make up for the lack of a second disc. Even the TV specials Blu-rays have lots of bonuses! And disc artwork, too! They care!

One exception is their most recent film, The Good Dinosaur. The bonus feature selection on that one is rather paltry for some reason. Couldn't be the fact that the film was a troubled production, because other very troubled Pixar productions got massive sets. (i.e. Cars 2, Brave) Maybe having two films out a calendar year contributed to this? Who knows, hopefully some day when the next home media edition of that film hits, it'll have lots of bonuses.

Disney Animation has been rather bad with Blu-rays since the new Golden Age of theirs began, which is very, very odd. Meet The Robinsons and The Princess and the Frog got decent editions, but Bolt's Blu-ray was lacking, as was Tangled's. All four of these films were 1-discers, Tangled being one of the worst offenders. It's only meaty behind-the-scenes bit, aside from some deleted scenes, is a googly, sprinkly documentary that runs under 10 minutes that just skims through everything and feels like it's made for non-animation fans.

Wreck-It Ralph, for a 1-discer, was decent. The making of documentary on that Blu-ray was quite in-depth and fun to watch, and it had a nice selection of deleted scenes, but more stuff would've been nice. That would be the last Disney Animation film to get a 3D Blu-ray release. (Pixar continues to do 3D editions for their films.) Frozen? The billion dollar worldwide juggernaut? 1-disc with silly behind-the-scenes things and stuff. Big Hero 6 was pretty much the same deal.

So now we have Zootopia...

Not only are we getting a 3D Blu-ray of that film, we're also getting what looks to be a healthy chunk of bonus features.

From the ever-so-reliable Stitch Kingdom, we've got...

- 3 roundtable discussions, all of which run over five minutes...
- A 9-minute documentary that covers the overall making of the film
- A documentary on the research trip the team took to Africa
- A 3-minute piece on Easter eggs
- A 5-minute featurette on Michael Giacchino's score for the film
- 3 minutes of deleted characters
- 28 minutes of deleted scenes
- 'Try Everything' music video

The 28 minutes of deleted scenes bit is interesting, because if you watched the great Fusion-made Zootopia documentary (that quite frankly SHOULD be on this Blu-ray edition), you'll know that an earlier version of the film got very far in development, so much so that many scenes from it were actually rendered. One of those scenes - the infamous polar bear scene - will be on this set. We'll also get scenes from a point when Nick was still the main character of the movie and not Judy (pre-fall 2014 versions)...

Okay... This is a step in the right direction. The studio is actually willing to show us big examples of why that earlier version of Zootopia wasn't coming together, why it wasn't working. It's rare when these things actually dive into the nitty-gritty, most of the time you'll get throwaway things like "it had to be changed, so we did this." No, Zootopia's Blu-ray, much like Fusion's documentary, will give us a big taste of what we were going to get at one point.

Zootopia originally began life as a spy story set in a world populated by anthropomorphic animals - much like the ones you see in Robin Hood, Kung Fu Panda, et al - called Savage Seas, later Savage City. This was way back in 2011 when the film was entering active development. The story trust at the studio particularly liked what was going on in the first third of the treatment, which was set in the city of Zootopia. They wanted a whole film set in that city, so away went the spy plot!

As it began to take shape, director Byron Howard and writer Jared Bush put together a very dystopian story where predatory animals were forced to wear shock collars, that would prevent them from acting out or showing possible signs of eating a herbivorous animal. Its message of prejudice was quite on the nose, and Judy was something of a villain in this story - as Nick was the main character, who came up with a scheme to get the collars off of the carnivores. After it screened and went over badly, change was in order. Rich Moore - director of Wreck-It Ralph - was added as director help Byron with an all-new take using the same location and same characters.

The end result was for the better.

Zootopia's journey from inception to projection on big screens is not dissimilar to the roads other animated features haven taken, including Pixar's own recent Good Dinosaur. The Good Dinosaur's issues were so massive at one point that its director - Bob Peterson, who conceived the whole thing and poured his heart and soul into it - had to be removed from the project, and this happened mere months before the film was supposed to come out - late spring of 2014. Rather than rush a "salvaged" version of Peterson's story out to make the date, they pushed the release date far back and re-imagined the whole thing.

Nothing new.

But that's what makes film production and film history so interesting, and I feel those stories should be on the Blu-rays and DVDs for all kinds of movies. Enough of this PR-friendly stuff where the production looked like funsies, movie production is a real process.

So it's good to see the Zootopia Blu-ray looking to tread those waters. Again, it's a shame the 46-minute Fusion documentary won't be on here, but this looks like it'll really be worth the near-$30 list price.

What do you think?


  1. I'm a bit disappointed that Disney's not putting this under the Walt Disney Signature Collection brand in addition to all the bonus features. I think it proves it can be in that brand.

    1. I think someone suggested that the Signature Collection is really going to be nothing more than a way for Disney to release vault titles alongside their live-action remakes (i.e. Beauty and the Beast accompanying the live-action film in spring 2017), but I don't know anymore with the studio now. 'Pinocchio' didn't even get a Diamond Edition.

    2. Now that I'm thinking about it, what do you think of The Three Caballeros? I'd love to see you do a Signature Collection cover of it.

  2. I'm glad Disney is going out of their way putting out a 3D version for the first time in 3 years [outside of the Pixar and Marvel stuff], as they missed out on releasing 3D discs for "Frozen" and "Big Hero 6" (There was a 3D set planned for "Frozen" which would've included a music download ala "The Little Mermaid 3D" set but it was later cancelled)

  3. Hey, Kyle. Want to try to create a Signature Collection cover for Zootopia? And a Masterpiece Collection cover to go with it?