Walt Disney Animation Studios is firing on all cylinders… Scratch that, has been firing on all cylinders for a while…
Many people have different ideas of when Disney made their comeback after the disastrous final years of the Michael Eisner regime/David Stainton era of Disney Animation. Some people say the comeback began with Tangled, Disney's biggest box office hit since The Lion King and a film that a majority of people saw - unlike Bolt and The Princess and the Frog. Others who look past quantity say it all started with Frog or Bolt. Others say Frozen marked the beginning of the comeback.
I say it all began with a little film that quietly came out in the spring of 2007… Actually in two days, this film turns seven. It's none other than Meet The Robinsons, which was met with mixed but generally positive critical reception. People and fans' reactions were mixed, too: It's either a pretty good movie, a messy well-intentioned film or a bad Chicken Little 2 of sorts.
Personally, I think it's pretty good. It restored what made Disney animation so special; the beating heart, the memorable characters, the good storytelling and character development, and the visual greatness. Meet The Robinsons isn't great in my eyes, because a good chunk of it is very hyperactive and all over the place. It's got a gleeful and bizarre silliness that tends to get old from time to time, but luckily the core of the story is great and the emotional stuff is there. I think it's highly highly underrated.
Unfortunately, the little film didn't really do well at the box office. A lackluster marketing campaign (I remember feeling mixed on the US trailers, but was then blown away by the Japanese trailer) didn't get people geared up, and it had to rely on word of mouth to make a near-$100 million total at the domestic box office. That was even less than Chicken Little, and the worldwide gross was very weak as well.
But Frozen is Disney's major box office comeback, more so than the very successful Tangled. This is their biggest box office hit since The Lion King and it has outgrossed that film, though Lion King's 1994 ticket sales were much higher.
You'd think by now that Disney's marketing department would be ramping up Big Hero 6… You know, getting the word out early on…
Now to Disney marketing's credit, they can begin the campaign in the summer and still score a huge hit. Tangled and Frozen more than proved this, but I digress. Actually, what I'll talk about in this piece is something that Disney used to do for their animated features. Now that Frozen is a massive success and interest in animation is as high as ever, I think it's high time that Disney should look into this for future animated features…
What is "it" you might ask? Well, watch this preview for The Rescuers Down Under… This was exclusive to the Peter Pan VHS that came out in the fall of 1990.
Now how about that? Behind the scenes footage, interviews with the higher ups and animators, and heavy emphasis on the past Disney classics and their importance/value. Heck, this preview even shows scenes from those classics!
I love these previews. When I was young, I was into animation production thanks to the behind-the-scenes specials included on the Masterpiece Edition VHS tapes of Bambi, Sleeping Beauty and The Jungle Book. Seeing these were also a blast, because before the DVDs of these Renaissance films came out, this was your first-hand look at some in-studio stuff.
We haven't seen that sort of thing for a long while now. I understand that this kind of stuff is perhaps not suited for theatrical trailers (though Focus Features happily made the first BoxTrolls teaser a behind-the-scenes look, albeit setting a montage of footage to music), but I honestly think that Disney should bring this back for the Blu-rays of their animated films…
Peter Pan wasn't a new film in 1990. The 1953 film was re-released theatrically for the last time in 1989, and the home video release followed. But Disney still included a special preview for The Rescuers Down Under on it, The Little Mermaid's tape for some reason didn't have one… Or any previews for that matter. So the preview didn't go to the recent event film, it went to the then 37-year-old classic.
Now imagine if Disney did this sort of thing today. The Blu-ray of Frozen, or maybe even the Diamond Edition of The Jungle Book, includes an exclusive first look/sneak peek at Big Hero 6. It doesn't have to show completed animation, if there isn't any in the can at the moment. But it can show storyboards, animatics, concept art, have the animators and perhaps directors speak about it briefly. That sneak peek could also be used as an effective selling point - have a sticker or the back of the case saying, "Exclusive Sneak Peek at Disney Animation's Next Film - Big Hero 6!"
Then maybe the next batch of animated feature Blu-rays (in this year's case, Hercules and Tarzan) will contain the same sneak peek or a different one. It's a good way to get the word out if a teaser or whatever doesn't.
(Up until now, we've seen some concept art, got an overview of it at D23 last year and just found out recently who will be voicing the Fred character… Other than that, nothing else. The teaser, at this rate, will debut before Maleficent on May 30th.)
Disney wisely put out a great Elsa-centric trailer for Frozen in October of last year, after a cute teaser and a typical slapdash joke-a-thon full trailer. This trailer was awesome, as it emphasized the story, the music and the "event status" of Disney Animation. (Though I think "Biggest event since The Lion King" tag was kind of overdoing it.) This was a trailer that made you want to see it! That trailer, to me, was a baby step… Think of what Disney marketing can do now that the film made bank. I'd say they should aim even higher than very good trailers.
While I hope Disney keeps it up in this department, I'd like to see them bring back the sneak peek. Physical media might be dying in their eyes, but it would still be nice. That's the big problem right there: They, like other studios, think that physical media is pretty much outmoded at this rate. But Frozen's great sales should say otherwise, and digital just isn't all there yet. Convenient it may be, but it's not the be-all end-all… Especially since a lot of people are film buffs who like bonus features.
What do you think? Should they bring that back?