To Whom It May Concern,
I have been a Disney fan since I was first able to form memories. In fact, some of my fondest memories revolve around Disney movies, whether watching them on The Disney Channel in the 1980s, going to see them when they were re-released in theaters, sharing memories of the films with my parents, who also grew up with Disney movies, and introducing them to my little sisters when they were born. We always used to go to Disneyland as a family when we visited my grandparents in Southern California. In short, these films have affected my life profoundly. That’s why I want to see them get the best treatment possible.
When Disney started releasing catalog titles on Blu-Ray, I was excited about the possibility of getting my favorite Disney films in pristine quality discs that will retain their quality for generations to come. I was also happy to see The Muppet Christmas Carol get some attention. I was disappointed with the fact that the DVD versions only included the uncut version in pan-and-scan, unlike the laserdisc, which is now the only version that represents anything resembling the creators’ original intent. The director of the film didn’t want to cut “When Love is Gone,” and though it’s not my film, I thought cutting it ripped the heart out of the break-up between Scrooge and Belle. The song told why their relationship ended, clarifying how Scrooge turned into a miser. I was hoping the Blu-ray would offer an option to watch both the theatrical and extended versions of the film, but the song is nowhere to be found, not even as an extra. I will be glad to add a Blu-ray version that includes the extended version, but since the missing song robs the love story of its emotional conclusion, the theatrical cut is a compromised version of the film. There’s still time for the studio to invite Brian Henson to do a definitive director’s cut, which I believe would have enticed more people to buy the disc.
I understand Disney wants to include original theatrical versions of all their films, but sometimes the original theatrical version is a compromise of the creators’ intentions. After Walt died, the studio subjected The Happiest Millionaire and Bedknobs and Broomsticks to huge wholesale cuts against the creators’ wishes. In one of the latter film’s DVD extras, Richard M. Sherman basically said he preferred the long version of Bedknobs and regretted the fact that huge cuts were made before its release. I happen to agree with him (and the less said about the 97 minute version made for the 1979 re-issue, the better). When they cut the film back in 1971, they didn’t cut fat, they cut meat.
The re-instatement of “With a Flair” and the subplot about Mrs. Hobday trying to find a husband for Miss Price do a great deal to flesh out the relationship between her and Mr. Browne, deepening the characters and Mr. Browne’s sense of fear about committing to anything. Likewise, “Nobody’s Problems” reveals that Miss Price is basically lying to herself about wanting to live her life alone; she’s just as afraid of being alone as Mr. Browne is of commitment. The complete “Portobello Road” dance sequence symbolizes what the film is all about: people who are brought together by circumstance, not by choice, setting aside their differences to unite against a common enemy. The dancers are of different backgrounds that all would have fared poorly in a Nazi-dominated world. If the footage of the still-missing “Step in the Right Direction” can never be found, that will be a shame, but a seamless branching option to watch the photo reconstruction in the body of the film would be a step in the right direction. The song would have shown another, more joyful side of Miss Price, expressing how dedicated she is to the idea of being a witch, regardless of how many missteps she may make along the way. I disagreed with the decision to leave it out, but I understand why some people may have had trouble with the idea of photo stills standing in for live-action footage the studio couldn’t find.
Other scenes simply improve the overall logic of the film. In the theatrical cut, Mrs. Hobday and the children hear the Home Guardsmen singing “The Old Home Guard,” but they are revealed to be much farther away. Sound cannot travel that far without a loudspeaker, therefore the cut makes no sense. The reconstruction reveals that what they heard was actually a fight outside the museum between Captain Greer and a Home Guardsmen.
I was extremely happy to see the studio restore these two films to their originally intended versions, especially Bedknobs, which I consider one of the studio’s best films (I call it "the best film Walt didn't live to make") and my personal favorite film. I will be thrilled to see the long versions in HD when they finally reach Blu-ray, but to revert to the short versions without also including the long ones would be an insult to their creators and to the people in the archive who fought to get the films restored to their respective original lengths in the first place. If any technical improvements to the reconstruction of Bedknobs can be made that couldn’t be done in 1996, especially regarding the jarring re-dubbing of David Tomlinson and other actors, the studio can and should do so in anticipation of the eventual Blu-ray. If what has existed since 1996 is still the best the studio can do, an explanation could be included to explain the technical issues to people who may not have seen the film and are unaware of its checkered editing history.
In addition, I am disturbed by the trend of extras from past DVDs not being made available on Blu-ray releases. If space is an issue, that’s one thing. But Pete’s Dragon, another film that has been back to the editing room more than once, had two DVDs with fairly substantial extras, many of which have been dropped on the current Blu-ray. I love the film and I’m glad the studio considered its 35th anniversary worth commemorating with a Blu-ray, but the disc could have been more than it was. Leaving in all existing extras would have helped. I would have included The Small One, as it was Don Bluth's last Disney project and because Sean Marshall was the voice of the boy. In addition, I have always wondered why several reputable sources, including Leonard Maltin’s Film Guide and several industry sources and reviews from the film’s debut, listed it as being 134 minutes originally when the film has not, to my knowledge, been seen publicly in any version longer than 128 minutes. Even as a child, I suspected something was wrong with the film’s editing–at the 40 minute mark, there’s a very bad edit after Lampie says “good boy, good lad”–because it bears a lot of the same editing issues I thought the theatrical cut of Bedknobs and Broomsticks had. It wasn’t until I bought the CD reissue of the soundtrack album that I heard what might have been among those alleged extra five minutes. “I Saw a Dragon” has two verses and a bridge that are nowhere in the film; the deleted passages include the men in the tavern actually going to take a look at the same place Lampie saw Elliott, thus giving him the benefit of the doubt. Also “Passamashloddy” has an extra chorus, and the CD has a reprise of “Candle on the Water,” which I can only guess would have come after “Bill of Sale,” but before the scene where Nora tells Pete she’s given up on the idea of Paul ever coming back. I later tracked down a copy of the LP version, and it doesn’t have that last reprise of “Candle,” just a pop version of the song.
When I watched the “Brazzle Dazzle Effects” extra on the Blu-ray, I noticed it used some of the film’s underscore in the background. I also noticed it used a longer version of the Aaron Copland-esque dance music from “There’s Room for Everyone.” From 00:18:53 to 00:19:26, you can hear several bars of music that are nowhere in the film.
Was this the bulk of the five extra minutes, and was there more dramatic material in addition to that? Considering the history of the post-Mary Poppins live-action musicals and the jarring nature of many of the edits, I’m inclined to believe the studio forced more cuts to this film. If this is the case, then I’d be thrilled to see those cut scenes someday.
Another film that saw several studio-mandated wholesale cuts was The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band, which had two songs and several dramatic scenes totaling 46 minutes of cuts, just as The Happiest Millionaire did. I confirmed this by reading a contemporary interview with Richard M. Sherman in the book “Walt’s People, Volume 8”. 1981's The Watcher in the Woods had a completely different ending and was supposed to have been about 20 minutes longer. Anchor Bay tried to restore it when they had a licensing deal with the studio, but it never happened. I have heard about Something Wicked this Way Comes having cutting issues as well, but I haven't researched that film's history further; Brian Sibley's blog has some info about the production. According to an animation blogger who worked on the film, The Black Cauldron had about 10 minutes of finished animation removed. Reconstructions of the originally intended versions of are great ways to create interest in these films. They may not change any critics’ opinions, but they will be closer in spirit to what the people who made them wanted to achieve.
When Disney restored the song “If I Never Knew You” to Pocahontas and offered a seamless branching option on DVD to watch it with or without the song, I thought that was a great idea. Why is it only available as a supplement on the new Blu-ray when Beauty and the Beast still has the option to watch the film with or without “Human Again”?
All I ask for is consistency, and my other Disney-loving friends and family members feel the same way. Other studios have made multiple versions of films available on the same set, and there’s no reason Disney can’t do the same with films that have multiple versions, as you did a very good job handling all three versions of Beauty and the Beast. Warner Bros. recently released the musical Little Shop of Horrors in a two-disc set with both the theatrical cut and a newly created director’s cut with the original ending. Fox has done the same for the 1958 film of South Pacific, while Lionsgate had both versions of Apocalypse Now set. In the future, I would like to see multiple cuts made available for films that had multiple versions, and I would like to see as many of the legacy extras maintained as possible. The Exclusive Archive Laserdiscs from the 1990s raised the bar for the quality of extras, and this is the standard of quality Disney's Blu-ray extras should strive to meet or exceed. Many of the Touchstone titles had extended versions made for laserdisc that have been ignored, including Ransom, Pretty Woman and Dead Poets' Society. I see no reason their respective Blu-rays could not have included both versions.
And as for the Song of the South question: I'm from the South, and I am white, and slavery is an embarrassing part of our past. It affected all of us negatively. But this movie is part of our heritage, too. I saw the film as a three-year-old in its last theatrical release in 1986 and I loved it. The first time I saw it as an adult, I still loved it. I think the film is in no way anti-black, and to keep it off the market is an insult to everyone who worked on it, black or white. Racial politics aside, the Uncle Remus stories were Walt's favorites, Joel Chandler Harris supported Reconstruction, the animated characters are all over Disney theme parks, and it's conceivable that Mary Poppins would not have been possible without it. The film is about a well-to-do white boy named Johnny who feels alienated by his own peers and can only find friends among freed blacks (including a boy named Toby) and a lower-class white girl named Ginny. In my opinion, the only way to clear up misconceptions about the film is to make it available to anyone who wants to see it. As a gay man, the scene in which Ginny's older brothers, Joe and Jake, teased him for wearing a lace shirt collar really hit close to home even though Johnny wasn't gay. Any potentially negative imagery can easily be countered with positive imagery in the studio's other films. I'll also put in a good word for its sister film, So Dear to My Heart, as well.
While I would prefer to see some of the more obscure older films get released on commercially released Blu-rays, I would like to see the Disney Generations MOD program continue. However, I hope the studio will provide new masters for the titles that come out this way. I own the MOD discs of Amy and Child of Glass and reviewed both of them for HTF. They are painful to watch on a large screen because of the video noise and dot crawl. Even on small CRT TVs, you can tell these are older masters. Anything worth releasing is worth releasing in the highest quality possible. Now that Warner Archives is pressing Blu-rays, Disney should do it, too.
Walt Disney held his studio to high standards of quality, and I will continue to support the studio’s Blu-rays whenever they meet or exceed those standards.
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