Big Movie Zone Blog Press Releases Teacher's Guides Community
Features and Reviews

Herb Says: Mouse Max


Written by: Herb Lash
Date: November 27, 2001

How will six announced upcoming Big Movies from Disney change the Big Movie industry?


Category: Columns

Before wannabe wizard Harry Potter was a waggle in anybody's wand, Mickey was working his 1946 magic up on FANTASIA's mountaintop. Harry Potter, Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali are all pretenders to Mickey's title throne - The Most Recognizable Figure in the World. Keeping Mickey Mouse on top of the brand identity heap has kept the Disney Corporation at the top of the heap - as a result, when Mickey Mouse is involved the Disney Co. pulls out all the stops. The original FANTASIA (arguably Mickey's best work) was near and dear to Walt's heart and so it comes as no surprise that Disney gave the updated FANTASIA 2000 the old fashioned red carpet treatment: six new animated segments in a feature length 70mm film, a few gala performances with live orchestral accompaniment, a 21 country/75 theater day-and-date roll out, outreach programs in local school districts and a 4 million dollar temporary giant screen theater built especially for Fantasia 2000 audiences in Los Angeles. Disney spared no expense or effort in treating Mickey right. What might be a little more surprising are the box-office numbers behind this labor-of-love Event movie.

The 90 million plus dollars earned over four months made FANTASIA 2000 the first studio-produced Big Movie blockbuster and it turned a lot of heads at Disney. The IMAX world suddenly seemed like a good place for a mouse to poke around - plans for five new Large Format Disney films (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a BLACK STALLION prequel, ULTIMATE X, BRING IN DA NOISE, BRING IN DA FUNK and BIRDS OF PREY) were announced in February of this year. Also dangled before exhibitors at the recent Giant Screen Theaters Association conference in Chicago was a LION KING clip repurposed to glorious 70mm size. Maybe the Large Format world is simply a unique platform for Disney to occasionally showcase itself? Maybe Disney's recent foray into Large Format films is just a continuation of the fascination for non-conventional mediums that Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney long exhibited while building the Walt Disney Company? Or maybe Disney senses a real economic opportunity in an industry that doesn't see too many blockbuster films?

On January 1, 2002 the spiffed up 70mm version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST will be hitting at least 90 Big Movie screens around the world. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST will make a lot of money or it won't. It will make a lot of commercial theater owners happy or it won't. If it has a big-money, FANTASIA-type showing, it would seem to reason that Disney will look forward to more of the same from THE LION KING. Where Disney's animated features possess a worldwide popularity, the rest of the Large Format Disney films won't have the luxury of relying upon the same sort of mass familiarity. Still, there will be more than a little built-in recognition supporting the Broadway originated hit BRING IN DA NOISE, BRING IN DA FUNK and the classic live action feature THE YOUNG BLACK STALLION. The Disney publicity machine will have to be a bit more ingenious if it is going to make a hit out of the ESPN rooted ULTIMATE X extreme sports documentary. And Disney seems to have at least an eye on the museum crowd with the proposed adventure documentary BIRDS OF PREY. What is certain is that all eyes will be on Disney in the coming future - these films may be the bellwether for the Big Movie industry as a whole.

Disney representatives Roy Disney and Don Hahn have forwarded the opinion that Disney's entry to the Large Format world is a good thing for all. Not surprisingly, the IMAX Corp. has echoed this opinion and the logic behind it. Disney Big Movies like FANTASIA 2000 bring millions of people to the Large Format experience and thereby expand the Large Format audience - each new Giant Screen movie should then reap the benefit of this increased Big Movie fan base. Of course, this ignores the fact that there isn't room for much of an immediate spillover effect for other LF films when in competition with a Disney film: Disney commands nearly all-available show times in the theaters where their Big Movies are playing. Hopefully, the fans that Disney brings in will remember the experience and return for more Giant Screen thrills when the Disney publicity machine is not working at full tilt. There are plenty of would-be Disney competitors willing to bet on this delayed spillover and thus in the odd position of wishing Disney the best of luck. The beleaguered commercial exhibitor is not so conflicted - Disney is clearly a knight in shining armor come to save the day.

But all this talk of money forgets a bedrock principle. These Disney films may or may not change the industry - we will see. A more pressing question occurs to the passionate fan of Large Format filmmaking. What do these films have to offer the medium? Disney's storytelling prowess is proven, but what about an appreciation for the elements that make 70mm films unlike any other movie-going experience? Masters of the form, Ron Fricke and Greg MacGillivray might have a difficult time finding any aesthetic sense in a repurposed-to-70mm LION KING. Meanwhile, the proliferation of 35mm films projected to IMAX screens operates solely on the bigger-is-better principal - known to SPINAL TAP fans as the "ours go to eleven" theory. Disney cares at least enough to enhance the quality of the Giant Screen images they present - and print and distribute real, crystal clear 70mm films - but it remains to be seen if they are interested in making Large Format films that take artistic advantage of the size and scope available on the Giant Screen. Maybe Disney will make money for everybody and make some great new Big Movies in the process? Maybe Disney has just found a fancy new way to sell DVD's? Maybe Disney will open the door for others interested in keeping the Large Format film world viable and vital? We will watch and we will see.

Agree or Disagree? Voice your opinion on the BMZ Bulletin Board, or email the author.

Articles Archive: Newest to Oldest

Reviews Archive: Newest to Oldest