Words by Kayla Schultz
Art by Connie Zhou
From the vault to the silver screen — why Disney brings back some of its fan favorites in 3-D for audiences of all ages.
It had been 17 long years since Simba and Nala first graced the big screen when Disney sent The Lion King roaring back into theaters. In Sept. 2011, a new generation of children witnessed the magic of an animated classic in a whole new dimension. The overwhelming success of The Lion King 3D’s limited theatrical run was the spark Disney needed to pounce on 3-D animation’s increasing popularity without diving headfirst into new, costly projects. In October, immediately following The Lion King 3D’s success, Disney announced a lineup of re-releases, including Beauty and the Beast, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., and The Little Mermaid.
For some, particularly those desperately holding on to their childhood, the announcement meant more Disney-filled fun with some of their favorite films. But for others, the re-releases reeked of a greedy, materialistic corporation just trying to make a profit. The reality is that Disney has been in the business of re-releasing classic films for a long time. Each time new technology surfaces, an animated classic is enhanced and re-released — VHS to DVD to HD DVDs to Blu-ray Discs — and the chain reaction continues until the earlier forms become obsolete. For a new generation of eager and imaginative young minds, 3-D keeps youngsters engaged and keeps movies competitive (the same way DVDs replaced VHS).
According to Barbara Jones, a television-radio-film professor of practice, there are “natural demographic cycles that (Disney is) the master of taking advantage of.” Re-releases may be for technological and financial purposes, but Disney is also working hard to rebrand itself to young viewers. Jones also notes that putting old content into a new market leads to more merchandising — kids love toys, especially those from that awesome 3-D movie they just saw.
“It really is a huge project to do a 3-D version of one of our films as opposed to just a 2-D to 3-D conversion that you typically see,” explained Lee Unkrich, Finding Nemo co-director and Pixar veteran, on the movie blog Film School Rejects. “Those are a lot of work as well, but that’s a lot of gimmickry and trickery to create the false illusion of depth. In our case, it’s kind of like going back in a time machine and getting to make the movie a second time.”
Finding Nemo 3D was not Pixar’s first attempt at a 3-D re-release. Back in 2009, 3-D versions of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 were released in theaters as a lead up to the new Toy Story 3. Pixar tends to be fully invested in its animated films, and re-releases are no different. Finding Nemo 3D found huge box office success, and critics commended the Disney/Pixar flick on its careful placement of 3-D visual effects. But Disney has a harder time using the new 3-D technology on its old films, such as 1989’s The Little Mermaid, 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, and 1994’s The Lion King. With the newer Disney/Pixar movies, the enhancements are not exactly easier, but the originals are easier to work with. Pixar has made it known that its involvement in the slate of Disney’s 3-D conversions is more about pushing boundaries than it is about snagging a few extra bucks.
Regardless of the reasoning behind Disney’s two-year whirlwind of 3-D re-releases, these five flicks hold a unique place in the hearts parents, children, and young-at-heart adults. The Disney franchise is one of the few that has the power to bring out fans of all ages to pay double-digit ticket prices — $18 on average in New York City — and then still grab popcorn for the kids. Whether watching for the first time or the hundredth, everyone cheers for Simba when he returns to his kingdom in hopes of defeating Scar, for Sulley and Mike in their desperate attempt to save Boo, and Ariel as she takes on Ursula in a fight for her freedom from the sea. Come 2013, a new generation will have the chance to do the same.