DATELINE -- Friday, 5 November 1999

A Mouse that could roar: Disney has long been regarded as a DVD underperformer since the format's inception, and not for just one reason. With only a trickle of titles arriving on disc in the early days, Disney was often lumped in with non-starters Fox and Paramount, who couldn't even be bothered to embrace the format until August of '98. Disney was also a Divx supporter, and even a Divx edition of Alice in Wonderland was announced, only to be permanently delayed by the pay-to-play format's death earlier this year. Anamorphic fans have been continually frustrated by The Mouse's lukewarm support of 16x9 transfers, and almost everybody who has bought the feature-free Disney discs of Rushmore, Armageddon, A Bug's Life, and Shakespeare in Love have felt a little swindled when special editions of the same titles were announced at a later date. Even the recent series of Disney animated classics have met with mixed reaction, streeting with hefty $39.99 retail prices and no features while the corresponding, less-expensive VHS releases have behind-the-scenes documentaries.

But things in the Mouse House seem to be changing, albeit slowly. Anamorphic special editions, even when belatedly announced, are a welcome improvement. The fact that Disney gave fair warning that a special edition of Tarzan will arrive next year -- allowing some consumers to safely skip the feature-free edition -- is also a sign of progress. And despite some detractors, we are glad to see classic Disney animation on DVD. Some have focused on price, features, and moratorium dates (we're no more pleased than anybody about those factors), but animated DVDs from Disney are still a VERY BIG DEAL. Nobody expected to see five bonafide classics on disc before the end of 1999. In fact, let's chapter-select back to Jan. 6 of this year to see what Top Mouse Michael Eisner said in his annual letter to Disney stockholders:

Another development that may or may not have an impact on our animation business is the digital video disk. I say "may not" because, over time, it may simply replace videotape. Therefore, I will restrain my enthusiasm for the potential of this new format, which of course is difficult for me. In 1998, we began releasing our films onto DVD. We are hopeful that, in the coming decade, this technology will grow to the point where we can profitably release more of our animated library titles in this format.

That's right -- he said decade. But in an unprededented teleconference yesterday with securities analysts, Eisner wanted to re-assure them that the Magic Kingdom will soon return to the cash-cow profits they have enjoyed in previous years (Disney has endured some profit slumps lately), and he specifically cited DVD as a key factor, according to Variety, who note that "Eisner said he still believed the company was a growth-oriented organization with new opportunity to resell its library of films into new markets like DVD and expand operations overseas and on the Internet." Eisner is also quoted as saying "Our management approach is evolving somewhat.... Our intention is to maximize shareholder value by making the most of the array of quality entertainment experiences that are already on the ground."

Translation: "We're gonna put more of our classic titles on DVD."

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