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Disney Betrays Nostalgia

Marty Schroeder | Friday, October 6, 2006

Disney has dropped a pack of shrink-wrapped nostalgia into the collective lap of our generation. Now, the question arises – what is the House of Mouse going to do with that nostalgia in their marketing strategies? With the recent release of “The Little Mermaid” on DVD, this pertinent question is at the forefront of the current college generation – and their wallets.

“The Little Mermaid” is now digitally remastered and, so the logic goes, more enjoyable. Disney has also included several documentary featurettes on the new two-disc special edition, including one explaining the animation processes and another discussing the titular source material by Hans Christian Anderson. Anderson’s fairy tale supposedly provided the background story for this film. Needless to say, the background that Anderson supplied was only slightly altered – only slightly. They also include a feature called “DisneyPedia: Life Under the Sea.” It is almost assured that no one of our generation cares about Jacques Cousteau telling them about life under the sea when they are buying “The Little Mermaid.” All they want to hear about is what Sebastian the crab has to say about life under the sea in the eponymous song.

The release date of the DVD is also confounding because of the so-called “limited time release.” Disney has been threatening to put their most beloved films into a “moratorium” since they started releasing these two-disc special editions. Since the group that is most likely buying “The Little Mermaid” is either in college (which means they don’t have much money) or is working temporary or low-paying jobs. Yet Disney says they only have a year to buy the DVD. How do they expect people to buy it when the disposable income isn’t there? The people with the disposable income – teenagers and those who have been out of college for a few years – are either too young or too old to remember “The Little Mermaid” in the same vein as the generation in between them.

Also, the parents that had kids growing up on this film and other films like it most likely don’t have young children anymore. If this DVD were released three to four years after the film had come out (which, of course, is impossible), theoretically, our parents would have wanted to enjoy “The Little Mermaid” with our younger siblings as they did with us. However, this is not the case and it seems that Disney is shooting itself in the foot.

And the proverbial gun is the limited time release. Though it was clearly a decision concocted by some executive to get people into Best Buys and buy the DVD, it’s not going to work. In fact, it is more likely to alienate consumers than to do anything else. Many remember this film as one of their childhood’s favorites and now Disney is saying, “We’ll give it to you, but only for a year and then after that, well, tough luck.” Some will most certainly buy it, but many may hear “For a limited time only” and become awash in a wave of betrayal over the film felt given freely in their childhood which now feels stolen. When younger, we watched the movie and loved it. We feel robbed now that we know Disney is looking for a quick buck playing off their loved memories.

And it extends past “The Little Mermaid.” The past release of “The Lion King” included an entirely new song. If it were added as an extra on the DVD, no big deal, but Disney decided to throw it into the film. Who do they think is going to buy this? The answer is the kids who grew up with it and the song “Morning Report” is not in the film as remembered. It may have worked for “Star Wars” – able to create a whole new fan base in a new generation – but these films are not going to be doing that with a new song and some remastered animation.

The moral of the story is Disney wants money. They are going to make a boatload with “The Little Mermaid” DVD but if only they’d realize who wants to the DVD and how to be friendly to their consumers who love this film, they could make so much more – and wouldn’t come across as jerks.