Disney is usually one of the better and more innovative companies when it comes to supplementary features, trying to use the home video formats (whether DVD or Blu-ray) to their full potential, and here it’s no different. I also like how they do try to aim their features at children and adults, cinephiles and the infrequent movie goer. Yet, having said that, some of their stuff is obviously just advertising for other things that they offer, and this always gets a little frustrating.
First, when selecting the option to play the film, you get the option to watch an introduction by Diane Disney Miller, daughter of Walt. It runs just over a minute and doesn’t really add much to the mix, except she mentions that part of the influence towards the film was a dog Walt had given his wife for Christmas in the same fashion as what we see in the film, in a hat box (of course another feature on this disc explains that was just a PR thing and the story was actually based on the dog of Disney writer Joe Grant.) It actually feels more like way for her to mention the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, which she does right off. Skippable.
The next option is watching the film with Disney Second Screen, which I believe has appeared on a few of their other releases. As it explains here the option calls for you to download software onto either a Mac or PC computer, or even your iPad (I don’t see a mention of software for an Android tablet,) and then while you watch the film with the setting turned on it (I think) plays with the included audio commentary and then various interactive features appear on your PC/Mac/iPad. Unfortunately as of now I am unable to download the software as it appears the site has not gone live yet and I’m guessing it goes up on release day, February 7th. Playing with the setting on here, though, it seems to be a rather clever set-up using your home network to detect a device that is hosting the software so that the film plays in synch with it, but since it obviously couldn’t detect a device with the software I was unable to get further than that on the menu. It sounds like an interesting idea, but judging from the information we get in a section explaining the feature it sounds like all we’re going to get really are games. When the site goes live and I get the chance I’ll come revisit this and update the article.
UPDATE (02/06/2012): The Second Screen option became available the Monday night before release date and I went online to access it (available at http://www.disneysecondscreen/ladyandthetramp). Since I do not have an iPad I used my PC and clicked the PC/MAC option. It’s actually not a download but a Java Applet that runs within a browser. I had already inserted the Blu-ray disc into my PS3 and selected the “Second Screen” option and it began searching for the PC app. Once I started the PC app they both immediately synched up using my wireless network to talk to one another.
I have to say this is actually a pretty cool concept and I’m impressed at how seamless it works. Once started the Blu-ray plays the audio commentary, a reenactment of story meetings based on transcripts (my comments on the actual commentary are below,) while the film plays. An indicator appears in the bottom displaying what looks to be an index. It took a second but I realized the index refers to what item you are currently viewing in the Second Screen application’s “Timeline”. As the film plays the Second Screen app advances through the panels in the Timeline. The Second Screen application begins by simply showing concept drawings and sketches. The Second Screen app also indicates who is supposed to be the person currently speaking in the commentary track, complete with picture and a short bio.
What’s really clever about this is that you can control it all from your computer and do not need the remote, and if you do use your remote the Second Screen application still keeps track of where you are. You can pause it and even use an “index” to jump to anywhere within the film using your computer. You can also unsynch the two and explore the Second Screen features on your own, but then you can resynch at any time. If you want you can also jump to any point within the Second Screen application and then resynch the film to the application, or even vice versa.
I’m also, for the most part, rather impressed with the material as well. Right off, as stated, you get sketches, background paintings (of the scene currently shown in the film,) and photos of storyboards and music sheets, which you can actually zoom in on using the Second Screen application. You can also compare concept sketches with the finished paintings. There’s little information bubbles scattered about that you can click on, and you can find other bios about the various animators that worked on the film, with plenty of photos. Videos are also scattered about, some of them simply being actual footage of the dogs that influenced some of the characters on screen, and there’s also footage from the voice recordings (as a note some of these videos didn’t load for me,) and test animations. Also thrown in here are random games, which seem a little bizarre, but I guess some might find them fun. These include images you unscramble and chances to draw and paint some of the characters. There’s also “flip books” that allow you to toggle between frames in an animation or “flip” through them to animate them. They appear as both rough animations and the finished product.
You also have the option to connect to your Facebook account and post things to your Wall (same with Twitter.) I played a little with this and all it does is really just indicate how far you’ve made it into the film or what puzzles you’ve solved. You can also “like” various things throughout. Sort of useless to me but I’m sure some may enjoy it.
There’s a couple of issues, but they’re fairly minor. One is that a couple videos wouldn’t load but I have a feeling it was more than likely my internet connection. Also, when you get caught up on some items and spend too much time on them you have to keep resynching the application and video. It’s nice that it does this but it might be a nice idea to have the option for the film to pause when you’re about to go out of synch with it. As well, whenever I paused and resumed using the controls on my PC the PS3 would still think the video was paused and would dim the screen and prepare to shut off after a period of time. This was remedied by simply hitting “Play” again on the remote but it appears the PS3 itself doesn’t fully synch up with the application. It’s possible other Blu-ray players might do this. (This is more than likely an issue with the player and not the software, though.)
As to my final thoughts I think it’s a clever idea and with the right innovations this Second Screen application could prove to be a valuable addition. The material we get is decent and I enjoyed going through it but it becomes a bit repetitive so I can see the concept losing any appeal it has if it isn’t stepped up with future discs. But I do like the idea, think it actually has potential, and think it’s been executed marvelously, and this is coming from someone who thinks most BD-Live features are useless.
Another option is to listen to the film with the audio commentary of sorts, which is the same one that plays with the Second Screen option. I was originally expecting maybe surviving members of the production, or possibly film scholars, to be present and talk about the production. Instead what we get are reenactments of the story meetings based on transcripts taken during them. Unnamed actors play the various parts of the participants of those meetings. We of course don’t get everything, only snippets that have to do with what is going on on screen at that moment, and I also suspect they’re from various meetings that occurred over the years (the original story was first conceived in the 30’s and the film wasn’t released until 1955) so we’re not getting most of the original story ideas. From what we do get we learn about how Disney and company developed the various characters, decided on the settings, and even came up with the various backgrounds and possible song numbers. One clever little feature is that as long as you select the option to listen to the commentary from the main menu the disc provides pop ups that include the name and picture of who is the one that is supposed to be currently speaking (if you use the Second Screen option the pictures and bios appear on your computer or iPad screen.) The presentation is great, rather clever, but I wasn’t too thrilled with the content. We only get samples and of course I’m sure it’s been filtered and there’s probably more interesting information missing. But again I found the presentation neat.
Going on from here we get to new features exclusive to this edition (and all in high-def) under the heading “Backstage Disney: Diamond Edition” starting with Diane Miller: Remembering Dad. This 8-minute piece is really just a shameless ad for The Disney Family Museum, though not without some charms. She recalls the apartment they had at Disney Land over the firehouse and some of her fond memories from it. She also goes over many of the collectibles her parents had. Of course, all this and more can be seen at the Disney Family Museum. I shouldn’t be surprised we get material like this but I do have to give the folks at Disney some props for how they manage to sneak their advertising onto these releases without making it entirely obvious.
Also new (and not an ad) are three Deleted Scenes, running about 19-minutes. The scenes include Jim Dear getting all excited about the possibility of having a baby boy and what the boy could grow up to become, the introduction of the dog Boris, and then a sequence where Lady and Tramp go to a dog show. There’s also a brief introduction explaining the scenes and how they are presented here. Since they were never animated all we get are story board panels edited together to give the idea of the scene flow, and then some rather awful voice acting occurs over it. I thought the Jim Dear scene was fairly cute but the others were rightfully cut, adding nothing to the film. Still, it’s interesting to get this material (and I’m curious as to why they weren’t included on the previous DVD edition.)
Music and More doesn’t really live up to its name; it presents one feature, therefore lacking the promised more. Here we get a minute-and-a-half piece about a song cut from the film called I’m Free as a Breeze, which would have been sung by Tramp to explain his “life philosophy”. It’s been recorded here for this release, and is a fairly lame song, so it’s not missed, but I appreciate the inclusion. The song appears to have been dropped during initial planning so it wasn’t storyboarded and the song plays over various sketches of the Tramp.
”Classic DVD Bonus Features” presents features that were made for the previous DVD special edition, which have been upscaled for this edition. Lady Pedigree: The Making of Lady and the Tramp is a 52-minute documentary about the making of the film. These Disney documentaries are usually pretty good, and usually get into the more problematic details of a production, though not surprisingly they still try to put a happy spin on things. The piece goes over the long development process that went into the story, starting in the mid-30’s when writer Joe Grant came up with the story after getting his wife a dog. He put together a story about Lady with many of the elements that are still present in the film now (though there’s no Tramp character) but once he was done Disney hated it and shelved the project, and it’s sort of suggested this, along with other things possibly, led to a short falling out. Years later, after reading an article on a dog in Cosmopolitan, Disney came up with the idea of Tramp and pulled the project out again now adding this new character. The piece then goes over in great detail about the development of the characters, what each animator on the project (from the group called the Nine Old Men) contributed to the film, the voice acting, the background art, the music, and much more. It’s a great documentary actually, but it unfortunately only briefly mentions one of the more interesting aspects of the film: that it was composed and animated in both the widescreen format of 2.55:1 and the standard ratio of about 1.33:1. I’ve always found this aspect interesting and would have loved more information about this. Other than that it’s a solid, informative making-of.
Finding Lady: The Art of the Storyboard is a 13-minute feature that almost acts as a primer for those unfamiliar with the art of storyboarding. It explains what storyboarding is and how important it is to not only animating films (so you can plan everything before you start the laborious process of animating the film) but filmmaking in general. It starts off with information on Disney’s storyboarding meetings and how they’re done, or more correctly, performed, and then oddly includes an interview with Robert Boyle who talks about how Alfred Hitchcock used storyboards, and then another with Kevin Costner who talks about his storyboards for his film Open Range. I was thrown for a loop at how in-depth this feature actually got as I was expecting it to just be about this film’s use of storyboards. For those familiar with storyboards the feature may not prove as fascinating, except maybe for some of the details from Boyle and possibly even Costner, but for the uninitiated I think they’ll find it an informative and engaging primer.
The next segment, the original 1943 storyboards for the film, is a 12-minute feature that has storyboarder Burny Mattinson and animator Eric Goldberg give an example of what a storyboarding meeting at the company is like while also sharing some of the original concepts to the story, like Tramp having the name Homer. It’s interesting in some regards but grating in others. Goldberg, who appears throughout the features for the old DVD material, has this certain nerd quality that is both charming and off-putting at the same time, as if he’s over-compensating. If you can make it through it it’s interesting enough but it’s not something I’d say is a must-see.
Siamese Cat Song: Finding a Voice for the Siamese Cats is a 2-minute presentation of what I think is a test recording for their song, which plays over early concept sketches. And wow(!), if you felt what you actually get in the film is offensive it obviously could have been much much worse—the version we get here is complete with heavier accents and more obviously mis-pronounced L’s and R’s just to complete the Asian stereotype, which are still present in the finished film but to a much lesser extent. My hat off to Disney for having the guts to include this on the edition as it’s obviously not flattering at all, but it does offer a look into the development process and some of the wise moves that were made.
PuppyPedia: Going to the Dogs is a 9-minute piece featuring Fred Willard going over the many different types of dogs and the various breeds, including many of the dogs that appear in the film. It’s a bit fluffy but is obviously aimed more for the kids and is at least an educational aspect to the disc. Plus I like Willard, so win-win.
The release also includes a new(er) music video for ”Bella Notte” performed by Steve Tyrell, which I didn’t find particularly good, and then we get three theatrical trailers, one for the original 1955 release, another for the 1972 re-release, and then the 1986 release (which I went to see.)
And snuck in here is one of the cooler archival features, excerpts from the “Disneyland” television show, which, as it’s also explained in the introduction, was Walt Disney’s way of letting people in on the process of making the films there, and also a form of advertising. Presented here is a restoration of an episode called “Story of Dogs”, which aired originally to promote Lady and the Tramp. Though televisions were black and white Disney had most episodes filmed in colour, knowing that colour televisions were on the horizon. Here we actually get a somewhat restored colour version, made up fromvarious elements (so some scenes are still in black and white since the colour versions no longer exist.) It acts as a vintage featurette, looking at the making of the film through reenactments of storyboard meetings (or they’re at least staged) and having interviews of sorts with the animators and others who are working on the film. The segment is, of course, hosted by Disney himself. It’s a promotion piece, pure and simple, but a cool inclusion. This segment runs 18-minutes.
We also get a 3-minute clip from the previous week’s episode, showcasing what would have been next week’s episode “Story of Dogs”, and then there is the 22-minutes of an episode of Cavalcade of Songs, which features (obviously reenacted or staged) footage about the process of coming up with the songs for the film. This segment is presented in colour. Though, again, it’s obviously staged, it’s still wonderful being able to view this material and I’m happy it was seen worthwhile to include them here.
More Deleted Scenes are then presented, totaling 13-minutes including an introduction. The scenes, which were never animated, are presented as storyboards and are blended into sequences from the film where they would have appeared. Included is an alternate sequence involving the arrival of the baby (with different voice performances that were recorded at the time) and a sequence where Tramp talks about how the world would be if the roles of dogs and humans were reversed.
The rest of the material on this disc is advertising. There’s shameless 4-minute piece called Discover Blu-ray 3D with Timon and Pumba and it’s possible your kids could just happen to come across it and watch it and then suddenly want you to fork over a fortune to upgrade to 3D. There’s then a piece about Digital Copies that come with some Disney releases (the 3-disc edition for the film includes a digital copy, which I do not have here.) Then, under Info, we get an 8-second disclaimer about how Disney and Buena Vista Home Entertainment distance themselves from all material found on this disc.
One thing I really wish was included here was more information on the standard format version of the film. The previous DVD included this version, but it’s not found here. I would have loved to see more comparisons between the two versions and more information about how they went about essentially animating two different versions of the film and the challenges that would have brought. Considering what Blu-ray can do there is no real excuse to not include anything like that here.
Overall, despite some fluffy material, obvious advertising, and a couple of big misses, we get a solid set of features. Some of the newer material is disappointing (and as of now I can’t play with the Second Screen feature) but the older supplements from the DVD edition prove quite worthwhile and have thankfully been carried over for the most part. 7/10