Re-releases, Disney, The Little Mermaid and value for money

Feature Simon Brew 22 Jan 2013 - 07:21

As Disney pulls its planned cinema re-release of The Little Mermaid, Simon asks whether we’re getting good value from big screen reissues.

I read last week with disappointment that Disney had apparently cancelled the planned big screen re-release of The Little Mermaid, which had been tentatively inked in for later in the year. This was apparently in response to the less than expected gross for the re-release of Monsters Inc 3D in the US at the end of last year (it arrived in the UK last Friday).

Monsters Inc 3D has taken $30m at the US box office, the weakest re-release take for Disney’s recent run of animated re-releases. Over the past few years, in the US alone The Lion King has scored $94m, Beauty And The Beast $47m, and Finding Nemo $41m. Work had started on a 3D conversion of The Little Mermaid for a planned 3D release, but we understand that’s now been abandoned. The film is apparently still scheduled for Blu-ray release later this year.

I was in the States over new year, and I took my kids to see Monsters Inc 3D. It cost me $50 for the four of us, and I sat there thinking that I had this film on Blu-ray at home, wondering what on earth I was doing. I like the film a lot, and I advocate to my children all the time about the important of seeing a film on the big screen. But still, I couldn’t help but feel a bit fleeced.

It felt different with Beauty And The Beast and The Lion King, simply because I hadn’t had the chance to enjoy them in a cinema, or in something close to cinema quality, for a long time. With Monsters Inc, it doesn’t feel that long ago. That the re-release came with a Blu-ray already on the market (appreciating that it hasn’t debuted in the US yet) was even more puzzling.

The sad casualty of this is The Little Mermaid, a film that’s not had, to my recollection, a wide cinema release since it first came out. The Little Mermaid is a crucial film in the history of Disney animation, and remains a real turning point for the company. There had been real signs of an animation resurgence developing at Disney during the 80s, but it was The Little Mermaid that really pulled it together. It’s an excellent film, with terrific music, and it started a run that would see the likes of Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King and the woefully underappreciated The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, amongst others.

Surely The Little Mermaid is a far more interesting film to re-release than Monsters Inc, then? And surely Disney is missing a real opportunity by not putting it back out in cinemas? I suspect that even without a 3D conversion, there’s a potential for a solid $30-40m take in the US alone. That might no be great shakes in the scheme of modern blockbuster grosses, but it’d be profit, surely, and good publicity for the disc release.

The Little Mermaid isn’t alone in having its re-release cancelled. Independence Day was due to get a new wide release this year, but Fox has abandoned the plans. We’re still getting Jurassic Park 3D in the summer mind, although again, that’s got a high quality Blu-ray release already on the market (when it also get a new rollout on the big screen). It strikes me that there’s not $50 worth of difference between a Blu-ray on a big telly and a badly policed cinema screen, sadly. And I think re-releases should be chosen with some care, and then backed properly.

Yet I maintain that there’s a real market, and wide interest, in big screen re-releases, and not just when it comes to publicising a disc release. It would have been interesting to see how well a re-release of The Muppet Christmas Carol would have done in UK cinemas at the end of last year, had it not been pulled at nearly the last minute. What's more, how many of us would pay to see Ghostbusters back in cinemas? Or The Goonies? Or something like Aliens? To get the chance to watch big screen movies where they belong again, with a big screen crowd?

That said, there has to be some commitment to a re-release. We were working with a cinema to put on a pre-Christmas screening of Die Hard last December, but it fell apart because the movie house in question no longer had 35mm projectors in action, and a version of Die Hard wasn’t available that had been formatted for hard drive. The changing in projection standards, whatever you make of it, throws up some interesting compatibility changes, clearly.

Thank goodness then for cinemas of the ilk of The Prince Charles in London, whose model we’d love to see rolled out across the country. Their work in tracking down quality 35mm prints of films you just can’t see on the big screen is hugely appreciated, and the success they enjoy surely proves that there’s more mileage in a re-release than just as a publicity tool.

But back to where I started. I do hope that Disney revisits its decision to re-release The Little Mermaid, something that would feel special again to see in a cinema, and something of a treat. I hope it gives us the opportunity to see such a striking, strong family movie in the place it deserves to be seen. There are still questions over the value of paying so much to see something at the cinema when the quality of disc releases is so much improved. But on this occasion, I’d be happy to pay the admission price. The right film, in a format that you've not been able to experience it in for some time, feels like far better value for money.

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The problem, as I see it, is that a trip for two to the cinema is now more costly than the BluRay - and that's even before adding on the petrol/travel costs, snacks etc.

I love the cinema as an experience but this cost, not to mention irritating audience members, have made home viewing the preferred choice for me for now.

That said, I recently watched Les Mis in London with a crowd who were clearly appreciative of the experience as not one person spoke or made a noise once the film had started and it was a pleasure to watch.

Not like the idiots who spoke all the way through The Hobbit (and I paid extra for an over 18s only showing to avoid such moronic behaviour). They wouldn't be quiet at my (numerous) requests and the staff weren't interested in intervening so I had to put up with 2 hours 45 minutes of a commentary which was way below the standard Peter Jackson puts on his DVDs!

Disney simply doesn't see $30-40 million as solid, I guess. After the Lion King did so well hopes were high, but it seems to be have diminishing returns since. Returns you or I would be happy with, but they don't think it's worth the bother to do more.

There is a huge market for older films, but as you say they need to be done right, I'm 33 and grew up watching Back to the future, but I was 5 when it was released so never had a chance to see it in the cinema. So when the re-release came out a couple of years ago I couldn't wait to see it, I'd rather see re-releases than so many remakes

Its got to make its 7 billion back after buying Lucas Corp!
How dare you question the might Disneys money making machine, micky mouse will be round later to slap you.

Which is really odd because Disney has historically been a huge fan of re-releasing films every decade or two to rake in fresh eyes and fresh money. Perhaps not enough time has passed since the originals have been released to really make back money? Or, perhaps, with the easy availability of home video, there's no real need to see a revival roll-out of a Disney film everyone already owns on VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray.

You'd think a free $30-50 million on top of a film that has long since made a profit would be an easy choice to make. Simply sell it as a limited engagement 1-week (or 2-week) run.

There certainly needs to be a span of significant time before a movie is re-released. I loved Monsters, Inc. as well, but would not waste the money to see it in theaters again. Beauty and the Beast? I sure as hell did. The Little Mermaid? You bet I would! Jurassic Park? Shut up and take my money!

The movie makers have become so lazy, that they don't even bother with a remake anymore, they just re-release a movie that's 11 years old.

TBH, I'd prefer that movie companies cleaned up and re-released films rather than make sub-par remakes/reimagings/regarbage.

It had a wide re-release back in '98. I went to see it (I'm in London) with my dad and then got it on video for christmas. I was convinced it was a film from 98, it was only when I got older and shockingly discovered it was from 89.

First: Thank you for again giving a shout-out to the underappreciated "Hunchback" (my absolute fave Disney animated movie)!! On to the Mermaid... how disappointing. The music alone is worth paying to see the film in a modern theater. Not to mention the animation! Many people actually can't afford the ridiculous Disney classic DVD prices (my copy of Little Mermaid is a very dark, faded videotape), so millions of us WOULD enjoy a re-release before eventually buying a BluRay/DVD. Love your suggestion: Ghostbusters and Goonies, spruced-up and in theaters once more, is happy cash waiting to happen! (I'm adding Princess Bride to that list, because I don't believe it got a wide re-release for its anniversary.) "Someday" Hunchback too will be "Out There" again in theaters... and I'll definitely be buying tickets. Hmmm... the success of Les Mis could open the door for it... Viva Victor Hugo!

Ugh... I hate rude audience members. Seems between the price of your theater and its lousy patrons, you need to find a new theater! I don't go to my local one anymore because, though the Les Mis audience was mostly respectful, I had to keep my hand cupped at my ear the entire time, just to hear the film at a decent volume and tone quality!! (And my hearing is very good, BTW.)

I found that too - we all said on coming out of the film the sound quality of Les Mis was weird - sounded like it was all coming from the right hand side of the theatre.

who can we write to about this? my kids saw The Lion King EACH DAY it was out and would surely see The Little Mermaid. Monsters Inc is a great movie but on tv ALL THE TIME. I really think Disney is making a mistake...

The Little Mermaid is my sister's all time favorite movie (she's 23, I'm 19) but we were not able to see it in theaters because we weren't alive when it was released. In 2011 when they announced that they would release The Little Mermaid, we decided to go together. My boyfriend took me to see the re-release of Beauty and the Beast (my all time favorite) and, I am not ashamed, cried in the theater by the end of the film because I finally got to see the movie on the big screen. I wanted the same for my sister.

Today, we found out that Disney cancelled the plans to release The Little Mermaid. She cried a little... Is there anyone we can petition to have them release the movie in theaters? The Little Mermaid really is the turning point of Disney because it's what started the modern Disney Renaissance. THIS MOVIE NEEDS TO COME OUT.

Thanks for the thoughtful post, Simon. I hadn't been able to put my finger on why Monsters, Inc. tanked when Lion King did so well, but I think you stated it well.

You said you weren't sure if Little Mermaid had ever had a wide re-release. The poster you have pictured above is, in fact, from the re-release (Nov. 14, 1997). It didn't do very well, possibly for the same reasons that Monsters, Inc. didn't (too recent, and readily available on video).

Regarding this comment: "Surely The Little Mermaid is a far more interesting film to re-release than Monsters Inc, then?" Possibly, but the main factor for Disney is that the prequel for Monsters, Inc. was about to hit theaters this summer. That was certainly also a factor in the 2009 re-release of the first two Toy Story movies and in the re-release of Finding Nemo (in both cases, there was -- or is -- a sequel coming).

While that's Disney's perspective, I totally agree with you that the older films would make for a much more interesting re-release than the more recent ones. Let's get Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins, Pinocchio, etc. back on the big screen and in 3-D!

And for non-Disney films, I think it's long past time for some of the films you've mentioned to be released, as well as the Indiana Jones movies. :)

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