Sunday, August 9, 2015

Bits Journal #47

Bits on black cauldrons and Blue Sky and British animated films and more...

A little while ago, a petition was going around. One that begged for something that many an animation fan often wonder about... The uncut version of Disney's often-forgotten 1985 animated feature The Black Cauldron.

For those who aren't in the know, this is the skinny... The Black Cauldron, a project that endured years and years of development hell at the transitioning Walt-less animation studio, was set to be a more violent Disney animated feature. The creative team behind it were most likely aiming for PG-13 swords-and-sorcery adventure in order to sit alongside the darker fantasy films that were big in the 1980s (note: many of those films were released prior to 1984, the year the PG-13 rating was invented, so some of them were "hard PGs"), an attempt to get Disney's animation up to speed with contemporary audiences, who at the time had turned their backs on the family-friendly, G-rated Disney product. As it was getting closer to completion, Disney saw a regime change as Ron Miller's tenure as CEO was causing a lot of damage.

In came Michael Eisner, and a young Jeffrey Katzenberg. Like many a boomer who grown up in the 50s and 60s, Katzenberg saw Disney's animation as children's only fare. He had The Black Cauldron edited down for time constraints, then took to the editing himself, removing scenes that were pretty graphic. Cels were uncovered in the later years, showing just how far the studio wanted this film to go in the content department. The finished film, whose cuts can be detected in certain sequences, ended up getting a PG rating, came and went, and took years to hit video.

Many animation fans, myself included, would like to see what could've been, even if the 10-12 minutes of cuts don't improve the film in any way, which they most likely don't.

The petition, unlike previous ones, seemed to be going somewhere. The man behind said petition got several people who worked on the film to sign, and even a lot of the film's voice actors, alongside other notable people in animation.

After inquiring about the film, he got this for a response from the restoration director from the Disney library (I'm assuming ARL?), which he posted on the petition's Facebook page:

We do appreciate your interest in the Disney library and in The Black Cauldron in particular but you must please understand that there are no plans at the Studio in either the immediate or distant future to revisit the film. That is the final decision on this project. And after researching our inventory, I can assure you that there is no “uncut master negative”. The one and only existing original Technirama camera negative is conformed (cut) to match the final “as released” version that was seen in cinemas in 1985. We simply do not have the time and resources to do any further investigation on this matter.

We are screening the film at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood multiple times on October 16-17-18. If you are visiting Los Angeles at that time we can secure you tickets for a screening of your choice.

Thanks for your understanding and again this is my last word on this subject.

The immediate "and" distant future? C'mon, that's a bit harsh, no? The film turned 30 this year, and it's one of the remaining Disney animated features that hasn't been given the Blu-ray treatment. It has a considerable cult following, no less. Surely they can simply update the 2010 DVD, right? They are screening it at El Capitan, so why no Blu-ray? It's not like it's that hard to release. Has it been forgotten that the film's first home video release moved a good five million units in North America? All the Disney animated classics deserve the Blu treatment, even with the format arguably on its way out, so why not? Sure, sales, but still...

As for an "uncut master negative" not existing... Well I guess the very person who mentioned that it exists, producer Joe Hale's wife, was wrong? She said the following in the comments section of animator Michael Peraza's third and final post on the making of Cauldron...

"I talked with Roy E. Disney about restoring the cuts when I learned that it would be put on VCR tape. As I am sure that you know, the original version would be on the master negative, as the master negative is never cut. It's the "inner negative" that is cut. So all that is needed, would be to to make another "inner negative" from the master and all the cuts would be restored. Roy did not want to go to that expense for the release of the tape."

So what's the verdict on your end? Was the restoration director simply trying to quiet the petitioner? Or is he speaking the truth? Do you think The Black Cauldron will eventually hit Blu-ray despite what he happened to say?

Whatever the answer may be, my hat is off to Mr. Brian Martin, the very person behind the petition. At least you got Disney's attention in some form!

In other bummer animation news, Aardman's latest opened very badly here in the states.

The Shaun the Sheep Movie, which belatedly arrived this past week, opened with just $4 million. This is the lowest opening for an Aardman film at the domestic box office, and Aardman's post-Chicken Run films have all opened below $15 million. Unlike the last two films the studio released, this wasn't 3D either.

The film holds a stellar 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, the highest for an Aardman film.

I keep asking this. What's the deal? Do Aardman's films just not appeal when the trailers unravel before audiences? Did Shaun the Sheep look too childish for adult moviegoers? Was there not much of a marketing push for people to even notice? Or is stop-motion box office poison? Chicken Run was a big hit back in 2000, in fact it was the highest-grossing non-Disney animated film in North America until Shrek was released a year later. The Nightmare Before Christmas was a moderate success back in 1993, and it has a massive following. That film is a big deal, even today. Disney thankfully saw the hype and capitalized on it years ago, it's iconic. Jack Skellington is arguably just as recognizable as several of Disney's most well-known characters outside of the Mickey gang.

Despite Nightmare's growing popularity, we didn't see Corpse Bride rocket at the box office, ditto Frankenweenie. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit opened with weak results, despite arriving five years after Chicken Run. Did audiences simply treat stop-motion like some kind of novelty that has overstayed its welcome? The good thing is, most of these films have great legs. The Shaun the Sheep Movie has no competition whatsoever until Hotel Transylvania 2 opens at the end of September.

This thing, I assume, will have some ridiculous legs because there really is nothing else other than some holdovers. No, I'm not talking 4x multipliers. Try 5x, 6x even! With such a low opening, it can only go up, up, up, right? My prediction? 6x multiplier, $25 million-ish final gross. Gotta make at least a little something, even if its paltry in the grand scheme of things.

I hope one day, Aardman sees their next Chicken Run-sized blockbuster. Could it be caveman story Early Man? Or something else? Who knows. Even their two CG features, one of which is a modern Christmas classic, didn't take off.

Blue Sky made a smart decision yesterday. Ice Age: Collision Course, originally set to open on July 15, 2016, was pushed back a week. Now Illumination's The Secret Life of Pets has two weeks to itself, but both should of course co-exist at the box office. No cannibalization here. I figured Blue Sky would end up moving Ice Age part five anyway, plus the weekend it opens on is pretty much free. Sony pushed Ghostbusters ahead a week, and Power Rangers has been out of that slot for months...

Speaking of release dates... Inside Out and Toy Story That Time Forgot hit Blu-ray on November 3rd. Amazon, as pointed out by Stitch Kingdom, says the DVD-only edition arrives that day, so obviously the Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D should hit that day as well. Toy Story That Time Forgot has cover artwork, and its release date is pretty much set in stone. I'm surprised Inside Out's Blu-ray release date hasn't been solidified...

Also, an animated film that was set to open a few days from now no longer has a release date! Underdogs.

For those who aren't in the know, Underdogs is a dubbed version of a 2013 Argentinian animated hit called Metegol (Foosball), one that comes from - no shock - The Weinstein Company. They've been this way with non-American animated features in the past. For example, they took a 2005 animated film called The Magic Roundabout, based on the classic French-British stop-motion series that was launched in the 1960s, and completely butchered it. Their "version" had a completely different script and a mostly American cast of big name celebs, that was released in early 2006 as Doogal. Instead of just releasing the original British dub, they had to butcher it and really dumb it down because heaven forbid you show American audiences a more British-flavored film. Their other animated releases were also botched.

It's no surprise to most of us, for Harvey Weinstein is known for this kind of thing, trying to cut films and ruin them. Sometimes he and the company surprisingly back off (Django Unchained, Snowpiercer), it's a shocker that Paddington was released here without any alterations given the fact that they have butchered a lot of family films. There's also that classic story of Hayao Miyazaki sending Harvey Scissorhands a samurai sword with a note saying "no cuts", as he intended to alter Princess Mononoke for its American release.

Underdogs' script, as confirmed by the company almost a year ago, was "reworked for a domestic audience." The cast? All big names. Katie Holmes, Nicholas Hoult, John Leguizamo, Ariana Grande (?!?), the usual. Mr. Weinstein himself even said the reimagined script "enhances" the film. Judging by the trailer we got many months ago, it not only looks like a lame run-of-the-mill kids' flick, but it also looks like anything unique about it has been stripped from it.

This butchered version of Metegol was supposed to open last August. Imagine that? Then it was pushed back to January 2015, then to April 2015, with the trailer rolling before Paddington, then it was pushed back to this coming weekend. Now, with just a few days to go till the 14th, the release date is now to be determined. Do they want to release this film or not? What is going on?

Hey, here's an idea! Forget this version, and get the first and probably superior English dub of it! It was released in the UK as The Unbeatables. Just release that here! Oh wait, I just asked for too much, didn't I? At this point, I think Underdogs goes straight to VOD or something...

What do you think will happen?


  1. I don't know why Disney's so invested in maintaining BLACK CAULDRON's reputation as a flop. If the cuts Katzenberg made are so obvious you can tell stuff was cut without even knowing what it is—and at this stage in his career he knew nothing about animation—there's practically no way a longer version would be a worse film. The only reason they don't bother is because of their asinine policy against anything other than original theatrical cuts, even if they're not the best version of the film! Meanwhile, other studios can include multiple cuts of the same films at a good price point and on the same disc, but we are expected to believe that a Fortune 100 company doesn't have the resources to send someone to root around the archive for a box of outtakes?

    And Disney was slowly starting to turn things around before Ron Miller's resignation from the company. NEVER CRY WOLF and SPLASH were both profitable in theaters and got good reviews, vindicating the PG Initiative that started in 1979. The Disney Channel started in 1983 and made money in less than two years, while the much-needed New Fantasyland renovation of Disneyland came that same year. It was the Saul Steinberg debacle that derailed all that.

    1. That is correct. Miller did show that he had the potential to get Disney back, as evidenced by his ambitious plans, EPCOT, the Disney Channel, and whatnot. What I meant was, his run had been mired in problems (like you said, the Saul Steinberg problem) which ultimately resulted in the regime change. Should've worded that better.

    2. Ah, corporate raiders. Gotta love em'.

      I didn't think The Black Cauldron was anything special, and the violent parts may have been drowned out by the energyless middle of the film with the witches. I'm sensing that energy would not have been present whether or not the film remained intact.

      Now I don't know EXACTLY where Katzenberg made cuts, and people on Youtube and other sites LOVE taking potshots at him for the cuts. If he did anything to the middle of the film, then we can talk. If he left THAT alone, then I think this film was dead in the water long before Katzenberg got his hands on the editing scissors.

  2. Maybe Black Cauldron fans could discuss there problem with my fellow Land before Time fans. Many films have this issue.