The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Disney angers theater owners with 'Bolt' stunt

October 24, 2008 |  5:57 pm

BoltlogoWhen my colleague John Horn took his two young boys to see a matinee showing of Disney's "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" in Pasadena the other day, he was in for quite a surprise. It wasn't enough that Disney got to promote its upcoming movies on two of the six trailers that played before the film. The studio also showed a six-minute-long promo ad for "Bolt," its superhero dog family film that comes out Nov. 21.

It turns out that John wasn't the only one a little bit peeved at having to sit through such an obvious and lengthy commercial plug. Theater owners around the country are ticked off too, as John reports in a story running in our Saturday paper. Why are exhibitors furious? First off, they say that six-minute-plug for "Bolt" violates a long-standing agreement about where ads can be placed--and how long they can run--before movies are shown. They are also mad because Disney got away with calling the ad a short film, even submitting it to the MPAA, the studio's lapdog watchdog organization, which happily gave it a PG rating, even though it was clearly an ad attached to the film.

If you read John's story, you'll discover that while exhibitors were happy to have Disney's ruse exposed, none of them would actually speak on the record about the issue. Why not? Because no one is willing to bite the hand that feeds them -- in this case Disney, a powerful distributor who provides them with a seemingly endless string of commercial movies, from "Chihuahua" to "High School Musical 3," which is expected to dominate the box office this weekend. John says Disney apologized to exhibitors for the "Bolt" ruse, saying it wouldn't run such a lengthy trailer again. Maybe so. But the cat's out of the bag. When the head of a rival studio learned of Disney's clever promotion, the studio boss reacted the way any competitor would, saying, "Why aren't we doing that?"