With the new Toy Story: The Ultimate Toy Box and Fantasia Anthology, Disney has clearly pulled ahead of the competition, putting together expansive bonus selections and features to showcase these great animated features. Gerard Raiti reports.
DVDs are the panacea for videophiles. Since their introduction in 1997, they have offered consumers dazzling displays of digital imaging and sound, arguably the closest a consumer may ever get to re-creating a cinematic experience in the home. Despite all their advantages over VHS, such as portability and random-access searching, their greatest feature is their ability to create interactivity with the viewer. Bonus or supplemental footage provides the means to achieve this.
In today's growing age of commercial voyeurism as evidenced by Survivor, Temptation Island, Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire and Big Brother, consumers want...no, no...they demand behind-the-scenes information. No aspect of a movie should remain hidden from the public. The private life of celebrities is public news -- go right ahead and ask Entertainment Tonight. Aren't we all a little touched by the breakup of Tom and Nicole? Now the once slow-selling DVD format of 1997 caters to both techno-savvy aficionados and lavish information-bereft consumers. Moreover, DVDs are currently a greater cash crop to the entertainment industry than most pundits foresaw.
A Medium for Animation
What does any of this have to do with animation? Well, of all media genres, animation epitomizes the need for behind-the-scenes footage. One could debate how live-action, multimillion-dollar, special effects laden films like Titanic or The Perfect Storm could offer the consumer better bonus content, but upon further examination, one should realize that the majority of today's special effects are computer animated.
Of all the companies in entertaindom, Disney is the paramount of supplemental DVD material. As director John Lasseter reminds in the Toy Story supplemental disc, Walt Disney always gave his employees three instructions: tell a great story, tell it with great characters and push the technology to new limits. Disney DVDs continue this tradition. As Animation World has reported in "Catch the DVD of Chicken Run" (Kubin, 5.10) and various Headline News items, movies like Chicken Run and Iron Giant have good supplemental footage, but neither film's history has such intrigue that it requires a full-fledged supplemental DVD. Two Disney DVD three-disc boxed sets elucidate this best: Toy Story: The Ultimate Toy Box and Fantasia Anthology. These films are technological and cinematic behemoths. If ever a scenario existed where behind-the-scenes, supplemental material is advantageous, it is for these films.
Specifically, these movies contain many firsts. For example, Toy Story was the first full-length computer animated motion picture; Fantasia was the first full-length symphonic, animated motion picture. Nevertheless, there is more to these movies than moving pictures. The DVD versions of these films allow viewers to delve into the stories behind the movies.
Enter the Toy Box
In Toy Story: The Ultimate Toy Box, the supplemental DVD begins with John Lasseter casually inviting viewers to explore the world of Toy Story with him. Every aspect of the film and its sequel is explained through interviews with Disney and Pixar personnel. Everything is included from the original Toy Story pitch in 1991 to Randy Newman's "You've Got a Friend in Me" demo.
There are seven main categories to explore for both Toy Story and Toy Story 2 respectively: History, Design, Story, Computer Animation, Music and Sound, Deleted Animation, and Publicity. Disney DVDs excel because they have a surfeit of information. In the Design category, for example, Buzz Lightyear's evolution is mapped through 99 different designs starting with Tinny (from Tin Toy) then Lunar Larry and later Tempus from Morph. A similar evolution exists for Woody as he transforms from a large villainous cowboy doll to a leader and buddy.
Since Toy Story was such a technological milestone, it is not surprising that the technical documentation in the supplemental disc is astounding. The entire CGI process is analyzed though every phase from storyboards to shading and lighting. A Pixar animator narrates each stage, which often concludes with numerous images through which to meander. The technical highlight comes through the angle control on DVD remotes that allows viewers to toggle between storyboards, raw CGI and the cinematic version in certain scenes.
The Fantasia DVD in the Fantasia Anthology is the 60th anniversary edition. It represents the original, unaltered "road show" version of Fantasia from 1940 when the film was only shown in twenty-five cinemas, much as Fantasia/2000 was only (really) shown in forty IMAX theaters last year. DVD interactivity allows viewers to select audio commentary by Roy Disney, James Levine, John Canemaker and Scott MacQueen. The commentary analyzes, sometimes excessively, and details every aspect of what is occurring onscreen. From the history of animators to anecdotes about technological aspects of animation, DVD grants the option for total immersion in the film and its history.
This is in addition to the forty-minute "Making of Fantasia" documentary, which narrates every aspect of the film's creation from the inception of Walt's brainchild to the "Concert Feature" to explications of the multi-plane camera. This is all in addition to the Fantasia Legacy DVD, which functions much as the supplemental disc does in Toy Story: The Ultimate Toy Box. It is replete with interviews and historic footage explaining the creation of each animated short in Fantasia and Fantasia/2000.
Moreover, the bonus content is not just historic but also humorous at times: one archived video depicts a room of Disney animators studying a female ballet dancer to learn realistic techniques in depicting the dancing hippopotami in Fantasia. The animators start describing the dancer as a hippopotamus, and she feels insulted until she sees the character sketches, and the mistake is rectified.
Perhaps I am biased toward Disney DVDs. Maybe other animated DVDs have outstanding bonus content. Then again, some films just leap into the culture; they push the boundaries of cinematic storytelling in such innovative ways that they magically capture the population. Many live-action movies like The Wizard of Oz accomplished this as well. But Disney movies tend to achieve this more often than other studios' animated movies. Consequently, Disney DVDs have more of a behind-the-scenes story worth telling. When a movie's title becomes commonplace in society, the reasons why are worth sharing. Moreover, the Disney Studio recognizes the importance of both documenting their films and the DVD ancillary market. While other studios treat their animated features as just another summer release, Disney is well aware they are adding to their heritage and they document every step of the way. That is how Disney DVDs surpass their competition. Great movies and great documentation make great DVDs possible. That is the only way it works.
Gerard Raiti, a native of Baltimore currently residing in Nashville, has reported on animation, Broadway musicals and comic books for various publications including Fandomshop.com and Newsweek. He also holds the Diploma of the Royal Schools of Music, U.K. in classical piano and music.