Who's afraid of the big, bad mouse? You'd be surprised

Aug 16 2011 - 9:19am

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You know that old saying, "Mess with the bull, you get the horns"?

Well, apparently there's an even older saying in the entertainment business:

"Mess with the Mouse, you get the ears."

Permit me to explain ...

In the GO! section, our weekly arts and entertainment publication, we attempt to keep you informed about all of the upcoming events in the community.

Well, all but one.

Because there was an event a few weeks ago that, it turns out, we couldn't tell you about. At least, not without getting a local nonprofit organization into a whole lot of unnecessary legal hot water.

It all started when a reporter here at the paper turned in a brief story on an upcoming movie that was due to be screened that weekend at Peery's Egyptian Theater in Ogden. The short notice had all of the usual who-what-when-where journalism stuff in it, with one notable exception.

It didn't actually say which movie was being shown. Instead, that part of the brief read: "The theater cannot announce the name of the movie due to restrictions with the studio."

Huh? What kind of an idiot studio imposes such restrictions on a theater? I called the reporter over to my desk.

"So, what's with this unnamed-movie nonsense?" I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders.

I pressed. "What, they expect us to run a brief about a film screening without naming the film?"

Another shrug.

"Well, we're not going to play that silly little game," I concluded. "If they're not willing to tell the public the name of the movie, we won't be running the brief."

The reporter, clearly devastated by this news, simply shrugged one last time and returned to the pile of work on his desk. (Incidentally, hyper-efficient verbal exchanges such as this are frequent around the newspaper. We are, after all, in the communication business.)

Unwilling to let sleeping dogs lie, I made a few phone calls.

No one was willing to speak on the record about the situation, and all were fairly nervous about even taking my phone call. However, I did manage to piece together a few details:

* The contract with the studio prohibited any sort of advertising -- including news items in the local paper -- of the film.

* A breach of this contract could result in a $250,000 fine.

* No idle threat, that. Apparently, this particular studio has a reputation for playing hardball.

* Local theater folks seemed genuinely scared over the prospect of the film's title leaking to the press.

Wow. What could possibly spook grown adults that much? Africanized honeybees? Domestic terrorism? Shark Week? The Mob?

You're getting warmer.

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Disney.

That's right, as it turns out, the movie in question is owned by The Walt Disney Company. And, as near as anyone can tell, the Mouse House has some sort of restrictions on what is called "third-run" theaters like the Egyptian, prohibiting them from telling people about the Disney films they screen. (Apparently, potential audience members are just expected to show up and be pleasantly surprised.)

Word on the street is that Disney's legal department makes Cruella De Vil look like the newborn fawn Bambi. Deserved or not, the corporation has developed a reputation as the sue-happiest place on earth.

"Maybe I'm overreacting, but they (Disney) scare the hell out of me," said one local source who asked -- nay, fairly begged -- for anonymity.

So in the end, we chose not to run anything in GO! And my guess is, as a result, many of you didn't even know about the screening.

Now, after the fact, we can reveal that the name of the movie was "D.O.A.," a 1950 film noir drama.

Not exactly "Little Mermaid," is it? In fact, it's not even a Disney-made film. So how'd the Mouseketyrants end up with it?

"The license rights had been taken over by Disney," a local source explained. "What irony. A 60-year-old movie they had nothing to do with ..."

That worries this particular unidentified film buff.

"I'm scared to death," he said, "if they're getting into the old classics movie business, what that portends for us."

He worried that "third-run" theaters like Peery's Egyptian Theater, which often shows older movies like this, would no longer be able to advertise these classic old films.

But the worst part? Sadly, this experience is souring such longtime classic-movie buffs on great old films like "D.O.A."

"I love this movie," he said, "but now I'm beginning to hate it."

Thanks, Walt.

So then, what's the take-home lesson here? Something like this:

When you wish upon a star, you'd better hope and pray that gigantic ball of burning gases isn't owned by a certain media conglomerate.

'Cause otherwise, you're gonna get the ears.

Contact Mark Saal at the second-happiest place on earth, 801-625-4272 or msaal@standard.net.

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