Castle in the Sky 1999 VHS Promo

Ugh, look at that horrible logo! It look like Kermit the Frog exploded. My eyes, the goggles do nothing!

This is the original 1999 VHS promo for Disney's US release of Hayao Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky. It features an English dub that has aged very badly, a corny narration voice-over, and a low-resolution pan-and-scan picture that was a hallmark of the videotape era.

It's fascinating that Disney had originally planned to release Castle in the Sky on video in 1999, no doubt to tie in with Princess Mononoke. However, their shocked reaction to Miyazaki's 1997 film (which was far more violent and adult than they were expecting), as well as the subsequent difficulties with Studio Ghibli (cough, Miyazaki threatening Miramax head Harvey Weinstein with a samurai sword) left such plans in a holding pattern.

Perhaps Castle in the Sky was just too "anime" for the time. Even in the late '90s, Hollywood struggled with the difficulties in selling Japanese animation to a mainstream audience, who expected cartoons to follow in the traditions of Snow White, Mickey Mouse, and Bugs Bunny. An animated Steven Spielberg movie was not only unusual, it was entirely alien. Nobody could wrap their heads around it, and you can see this struggle in this film's movie reviews at the time.

By the turn of the century, Disney would only release one Ghibli catalog title: Kiki's Delivery Service. It was a much easier choice, far closer to the kind of children's fairy tales they wanted from Miyazaki. The home video rights to My Neighbor Totoro would remain in 20th Century Fox's hands for several more years. Mononoke was just too violent for children. The rest of the studio's movies were just too weird, too unconventional, too foreign. We would have to wait for Miyazaki's Spirited Away, and the relentless pushing by Pixar's John Lasseter, to finally end the impasse and move things forward.

Even then, Disney always seemed to be dragging their heels in regards to Studio Ghibli, never fully understanding these movies or how to sell them to the American public. To be fair, this is a daunting challenge, one we still grapple with today. We have more or less accepted that Ghibli will never achieve more than cult status in the United States. It's just what it is. We live in a country where reality show stars become Presidents and cartoons about talking poop become blockbuster hits.

1 comment:

Christopher Sobieniak said...

It's sad to live in this country, still I'm glad for what GKIDS have been doing with these films. I just wish I had time and money to have seen this this summer.

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