The Lion King was not supposed to be a runaway success in 2011. When the 1994 movie was repackaged into a 3-D spectacle, families flocked to full-price screenings of the Disney classic, Puss in Boots and Kung Fu Panda be damned. But we all expected that. More surprisingly, was that the shows that consistently sold out in Boston were the late night screenings—one Friday night, I saw a microcosm of my generation lined outside the theater doors to pay over $15 to see a film they still owned on VHS.
When an usher from the box office announced the 9 o’clock showing had sold out, panic struck the crowd. I saw a woman in tears over missing the last ticket.
Clever Disney marketers (marketeers?) noticed they could count on the audience’s love from early on. When Snow White first came out in 1937, it was not unheard of for families to watch the movie many times over. During World War II, when animators and funding were busy elsewhere, the studio decided to re-release Snow White. It was a huge success, one that Disney took advantage of for almost all of its subsequent releases. Some got some special bells and whistles, such as Fantasia, re-released with a snazzy new something called “Fantasound”—not unlike our current string of 3-D re-incarnations.
This strategy worked fine until the advent of the VCR, when the Disney Vault took over. Typically, Disney movies are only released for an anniversary or a new special edition and then no longer supplied to stores. But kids are born every year, and parents want to share their childhood favorites with their offspring.
If the movies aren’t out on the market, it builds a demand so great that when the movies are re-released on DVD and Blu-Ray it means serious Disney dollars.This is why the latest DVD of Snow White from 2009 is priced between $45 and $50 on Amazon.
A 70th Anniversary DVD of The Wizard of Oz, which came out in that same year, remains safely priced at under $10.
Jump back to this summer, when trade papers wanted to call the time of death for 3-D. Ticket sales were down and audiences had shown that they preferred the 2-D versions of lackluster movies.
That was until The Lion King roared into theaters for a “limited two week engagement” (again: small supply = high demand). According to Box Office Mojo, it stuck around for nine weeks and earned over $94 million.
Not long after the happy news, Disney announced more 3-D titles were on the way: this weekend’s Beauty and the Beast will be the first of these re-releases, followed by Finding Nemo on September 14, and both Monsters, Inc. and The Little Mermaid next year.
I wouldn’t be so mad about this if the theaters actually knew how to use a projector, and if ticket prices for a family of four didn’t cost over $50. Perhaps it’s fitting that only Disney gets to have the happy ending.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: 3-D
OPENS | 1.13.11
RATED | G