The animated classic will be Disney's first Blu-ray disc with Web-enabled extras.
"Sleeping Beauty" is nearly 50 years old, yet Disney is using the animated classic to show off the latest in Blu-ray technology.
The 1959 film's release Tuesday in the newer high-def disc format will mark the U.S. debut of the Disney BD-Live Network. The free service will allow viewers to use nifty online-enabled extras, such as being able to chat with friends on-screen while watching the movie from different locations.
To access these features, viewers will need not only a Blu-ray player but one that can play BD-Live features -- known in the industry as Profile 2.0 compliancy. The PlayStation 3, the most popular and least expensive Blu-ray player (starting at $400), has this capability. But when Disney previewed the "Sleeping Beauty" Blu-ray release during a visit to Minneapolis this summer, it used a new player from Panasonic, the full-featured DMP-BD50, which retails for $600.
Disney always has been an innovator on home video -- "Snow White" was one of the first great special-edition DVDs, for example -- and "Sleeping Beauty" continues that tradition. Although the two-disc Blu-ray version ($35) wasn't available before press time, here are some of the Disney BD-Live Network features I saw during the summer preview:
Movie Chat: Viewers can chat on-screen with friends anywhere while watching the film. A split-screen interface allows you to key in text using your remote or any Bluetooth-enabled device, such as a laptop or cell phone. Disney could expand this feature, say, to hold scheduled chats with people involved in the making of the film -- a live commentary track, if you will.
Movie Mail: You can record a video message (using your own device) and send it by computer to someone to be viewed during the film. In the demo I saw, a man on a business trip sent a "miss you" message to his daughter for her to see during the movie's birthday cake scene.
Movie Challenge: This online trivia game can be played against other viewers while the movie plays.
These sound like fun and interesting things to do, but it's hard not to question their practicality. For one, how many of your friends are likely to have a Blu-ray player and "Sleeping Beauty"?
Then again, this is just the initial foray into what Disney hopes will become an online social network associated with an entire catalog of Blu-ray discs. The venerable studio is planning a high-def release of "Pinocchio" in the spring, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" next fall, "Fantasia" in early 2010 and "Beauty and the Beast" in fall 2010. "Snow White" also will mark the worldwide debut of the Disney BD-Live Network, which will significantly increase the number of viewers participating online.
I also expect that Blu-ray fans will use existing online DVD forums to coordinate Disney viewing parties to take advantage of features such as the Movie Chat.
Disney isn't the only studio getting in on the BD-Live action. Many Blu-ray discs have come out with BD-Live extras. Warner has announced that its Blu-ray release of "The Dark Knight," set for Dec. 9, will be the studio's first title with Web-enabled features. Fox's Blu-ray release for "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" on Nov. 18 will include exclusive online content. Paramount continues to exploit BD-Live with the recent addition of making-of footage for its popular "Transformers" Blu-ray disc, with plans for more online extras as a sequel nears.
Finally, I should note that the "Sleeping Beauty" Blu-ray disc and its standard two-disc counterpart ($30) also have loads of traditional extras, such as deleted songs, archival material featuring Walt Disney, making-of featurettes and a disc-based game. The Blu-ray even adds picture-in-picture commentary. And the movie, presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio, has been fully restored to look as beautiful as ever. That makes for a happily-ever-after ending, whether you have Blu-ray or not.
Randy A. Salas • 612-673-4542