Walt Disney Pictures has gone to great lengths to promote its Nov. 21 animated movie "Bolt." But when the studio attached a six-minute-long promotion for the 3-D family flick -- about a superhero dog -- to film prints of its box-office hit "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," numerous theater owners said Disney had gone too far.
Theater owners said the "Bolt" spot intruded on their screen time and not only made "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" run longer than it should but also cost them time that the theater owners could fill -- with other showings or their own commercials.
Some of the nation's top theater chains complained to Disney that the extended trailer violated a long-standing agreement about where trailers can be placed and how long they can run, according to two people close to the dispute who spoke on condition of anonymity because exhibitors are hesitant to criticize in public one of their key suppliers.
Disney maintains that the preview is in fact a "featurette," a mini-film not unlike the award-winning animated shorts that Disney and Pixar put ahead of their animated features. Disney even submitted the "Bolt" footage to the Motion Picture Assn. of America for a rating as a short film, and was given a PG mark for "some mild action."
But the theater owners saw it differently, and complained to Disney; their trade organization, the National Assn. of Theater Owners; and the MPAA.
It is unclear how many theater owners showed or are showing the spot, but it did appear in at least two Pacific Theatres locations in the Los Angeles area. One theater owner said he believed a majority of exhibitors refused to show it. Pacific declined to comment.
A person close to the dispute said Regal Entertainment, the nation's largest exhibitor, was among the loudest critics of Disney's marketing efforts. A Regal spokesman said, "We do not discuss our studio relationships with the media."
Neither Disney nor the theater owners association would comment on the dispute, but a person familiar with the conflict said Disney had apologized for the "Bolt" spot and said it wouldn't do it again. The MPAA said the promotion did not violate any of its advertising guidelines.
The lengthy "Bolt" trailer -- which features appearances from the film's voice performers, John Travolta and Miley Cyrus, and footage from the film -- did not appear in the traditional slot where coming attractions usually appear. Instead, the spot came after all of the trailers had been shown, and after where exhibitors typically present a theater's "feature presentation" credit.
While there is no firm policy on the number of trailers that can run before a movie, there are voluntary and codified rules about how long those previews can last. "The length of a trailer must not exceed two minutes, thirty seconds," says the MPAA 2006 Advertising Handbook.
Each studio is granted one exemption to run a longer preview once a year, which is usually reserved for an Oscar movie. But because Disney considered the "Bolt" promotion to be a short film, the studio did not consider it subject to the time limitation, one person said.