Suspended Animation #358
The Disney Company experimented with re-presenting some of their recent films on a mammoth theater screen using one of the most technologically advanced theater systems in the world.
IMAX is an enormous motion picture film format that has the capacity to record and display images of far greater size and resolution than most conventional film systems. The result is a larger, clearer picture that immerses an audience into the film experience.
Disney’s Fantasia 2000 (2000) was initially released for IMAX screens for a limited four week engagement. Following its record breaking success, Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Lion King (1994) were re-formatted and re-released in this same massive screen format two years later in 2002.
Disney producer Don Hahn stated, “There’s just a visceral response to movies when you see them projected on a really big screen. Since The Lion King was digitally archived, it was really a digital movie when we made it. We were able to take out the old data from each shot in the movie, and there’s probably 1500 shots in the movie, and blow it up to the resolution for IMAX. What you have is a really pristine, clear, digitally enlarged image up on the IMAX screen.
“Well, you feel like you’re inside the movie. You feel like you’re not watching it once removed, but the film actually fills your field of vision. And because of that, I think it’s incredibly involving emotionally. You’re able to feel like you’re there in the midst of these characters fighting out their problems and victories.”
For Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, the Walt Disney Company pulled each scene off the shelf that meant in this digital age, basically a CD with data on it. The data went into a film printer that printed a new fifteen perforation 70mm IMAX frame. The disc was printed from digital elements so there were no problems with color or scratches like a regular film negative.
However, occasionally there were challenges with distortion when an image was enlarged. The Disney Company spent over a year enhancing the image and refining character faces, backgrounds, and special effects, in order to let the film shine as brightly on the giant screen as it did in the audience’s imagination. In fact, some of those beloved memories became even more striking in a larger format.
Don Hahn enthused, “The wildebeest stampede would be one of them. There are moments elsewhere that play better when you open up the camera and you have, for example, Mufasa and Simba sitting on top of Pride Rock looking at the sunrise. And then, of course, my favorite sequence in IMAX is when Mufasa’s ghost shows up. That’s a stunning scene in IMAX. It came out pretty cool in the regular cinema, but to see a six-story tall apparition coming at you is very moving.”
For the IMAX release of Beauty and the Beast, the Disney Company decided to animate the song Human Again written by the award-winning song writing team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken that was composed when the original film was in production.
As producer Don Hahn remembered the story, he was sitting around and joking with directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale about a special edition of a film that had been recently released with additional material. “Kirk jokingly suggested, ‘wouldn’t it be fun to do a special edition of Beauty with Human Again or new material in it?’
“When the head of Feature Animation said he thought it was a great idea, we stopped joking and began thinking about how we could actually do it. We had storyboarded the sequence for the original production, but completely reworked it for this special edition of the film.”
Although the song had been cut from the animated feature, it had been reinstated for Disney’s theatrical Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast and received a strong positive audience reaction.
In the special re-release, after the familiar Something There song, the enchanted objects in the castle are encouraged by the romance blooming between Belle and the Beast. Believing the curse may be lifted soon, they all burst into an upbeat, festive song sharing what they will do when they are transformed back into human form.
New enchanted items including perky knickknacks, cheery dust pails and brooms, and hard working chairs join in the joyous song. For the first time, audiences were able to see that Belle’s horse, Phillipe, was being well cared for in the Beast’s stable. This was the first time that the Walt Disney Company had ever animated a new sequence for a previously-released feature.
Thomas Schumacher, then President of Walt Disney Feature Animation, added, “At the time of its initial release, Beauty and the Beast represented a major milestone for our animators and for the genre as a whole. Now, with its giant screen debut, the addition of a great new musical sequence, and new improvements to the picture and sound quality, the film truly is bigger and better than ever.”
The addition of the new song was so well received that with the re-release of The Lion King in IMAX, it was decided to incorporate a song for the film that never made it past the storyboard stage. Ironically,the song had also been included in Disney’s Broadway musical production of The Lion King.
The Morning Report, sung by Mufasa’s feathered major domo Zazu, is the daily report of the important news of the grunts, roars and snorts around the jungle kingdom. This gossipy update is given to Mufasa early every day so that he knows what is going on in his world.
In the original theatrical release, Zazu lands on a stone to merely say the news. Little Simba is trying unsuccessfully to capture a grasshopper. Mufasa decides to give his impetuous son a lesson in stalking and asks Zazu to turn around for a moment. Simba leaps at the flustered bird and sweeps him off the stone.
In the revised special version for IMAX, Zazu lands on a stone and sings his report with much fervor. The playful Simba is now trying futilely to capture a groundhog that continually pops up through different holes and who made a brief appearance in the original scene.
Conceited Simba grabs poor Zazu by his tail feathers in the middle of his report. The little lion swings the helpless bird around in the air and finally tosses him to the ground.
Lyricist Tim Rice commented that “I just tried to throw in a lot of animal puns.” Composer Elton John added, “The lyrics are hilarious and gives the audience a little wider view of this world.”
Did the addition of these songs or adapting them to IMAX improve these outstanding Disney films? As Hahn said at the time, it was not a question of whether these changes made the films better but that it was “just another way for the audience to experience and enjoy them.”