Thousands of adjectives could be used to describe Walt Disneys vintage library of animation: timeless, unforgettable or, irrefutably, the late Gene Siskels one-liner, "irresistible." Because of their emotion and brilliant quality, its hard to convict the heartfelt films of anything but boundless beauty. (Although there is a point where Disneys long output of cartoons might induce some nausea.)
This argument is triggered just now by Disneys release of nine select DVDs (Digital Video Discs), a marketing ploy that has truly launched the studio into the future. The Jungle Book, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, Peter Pan and Pinocchio, five titles from Walts classic vault, are joined by four others introduced during the last 10 years, including Hercules, Lion King 2: Simbas Pride, The Little Mermaid and Mulan.
Regardless of skepticism, one piece of criticism must be stated clearly to begin our discussion. Disney has crafted such wonderful transfers for each of these films, concentrating entirely on each video being free of grain and digital pixels, that the studio seems to have forgotten the original allure of DVD. Where are all the special features? There are none.
Even though Disney has locked each disc into a $39.99 retail price bracket, collectors will probably purchase the entire set of nine (not to mention other wares to be released soon), no matter the cost or supplements (or lack thereof) on each disc. But at the rate DVDs are consuming the home video market, considering a 40-dollar disc with no special features is completely out of the question for most. The Criterion Collection, widely known for premiering supplement-packed DVDs, released a two-disc "special edition" of Armageddon early last year, complete with several audio commentaries, a plethora of making-of documentaries and much more. Guess how much their double-sized package shelved at stores for less than $50.
Honestly, the only way that Disney has attempted to justify a $40 tag is with the Lion King 2 and Mulan DVDs. Including a music video on each disc, along with a single theatrical trailer, the studio supplies only a margin of allure for its animation library, but its better than nothing. While watching the Disney Channel, a child can view thousands of hours of excessive behind-the-scenes footage, from black-and-white sequences in the bellows of animation workshops to romps at the premieres of Disneys newer films at Grummans Chinese Theater. It would make much more sense to include a few features like those showcased on the Disney-owned cable station on each disc, especially on several of the DVDs that list "Full-Color Character Artwork On Disc" as a major supplement. So instead of entertaining directorial comments or outtakes, the viewer gets to see a static picture of Baloo and Mowgli collecting bananas on the reverse side of the DVD. Are you excited yet?
Sarcasm aside, a ray of light still does shine on these enticing little films. The fact that Disney has actually made its animation library accessible on DVD is a miracle all its own. Since the studio has feared piracy of certain movies since the technologys launch in March 1997, printing any of its cash cow cartoons on DVD sparked an enormous internal debate.
Plus, add to the conflict the immortality of a DVD. Like a CD, a DVD is almost guaranteed not to degrade as long as its devoid of scratches and not placed in severe heat. On video, Disney has always released its classics in rotation, catapulting only a few into stores each year while sentencing several others to the "moratorium," simultaneously hoping that in an 8-to-10-year period a video will have become warped or destroyed. After demand has been built and tapes have been potentially lost or pilfered, the studio releases the titles once again to a new generation. But with DVD, releasing an edition of Lady and the Tramp 10 years from now would be utterly useless and unprofitable.
Still, placing a blanket over these titles is pointless, considering that an ardent fan of Disney creations is not going to shy away from anything the studio pumps out into the marketplace. The Jungle Book is the definitive answer to any inquisitive person looking for a classic romp in the wild; The Little Mermaid is perfect for the insatiable romantic with a musical heart; and who can deny the wondrous magic that Pinocchio displays for both children and adults?
It is quite nice to be able to hold these animation giants, let alone see them using the most advanced format available. But, alas, Disney should keep its ears open to suggestions about releasing more than just a bare-boned movie on DVD, and allowing the digital revolution to take full shape. In the summer, when the next wave of Disney classics is expected to hit store shelves, Mickey and the gang will hopefully have something more than supplement-lacking DVDs up their sleeves.