Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Walt Disney Home Video What-If? - Ep. 1: The Classics


As many of you may know, I am obsessed with collecting videocassettes of Disney films from the 1980s and 1990s... And sometimes, even the early 2000s. I talk endlessly about them, whether it's on my other two blogs or YouTube. It's one of my #1 hobbies, but this little piece here would just seem out of place on my other sites... This one, to me, is the equivalent of a fanfiction... Except it's a fan-history on a particular topic... Walt Disney Home Video.

Alternate histories are fun... Well, to me, that is. Disney is one I normally write alternate histories about, as I did one last summer about how the company would turn out had Don Bluth stayed and essentially asserted his ideas onto the studio. Well not all of them, but the very ones that made a film like The Rescuers a critical success. One that was deemed the studio's best in years, one that showed ambition and a desire to tell a good story. That's something that The Aristocats and Robin Hood arguably did not show.

But this alternate history is about Walt Disney Home Video, something that's probably irrelevant to many. Except me! I love the history of Walt Disney Home Video, I think it's very interesting and sometimes very important. Not everything about its history might have to do with Disney as a whole (like what FBI warning screen appears on what tape), but some things are just the little things in life that can please someone. I know I'm not alone, I realized that back in 2005 when I was 12 going on 13. That there were others out there who were dedicated to the ins and outs of Disney VHS tapes, from the FBI warning screens to the variations of certain logos to other little things that people don't really notice and/or care about.

I remember back in early 2009, I posted a very crudely made YouTube video that consisted of photos of my Disney video collection at the time. You see, I had a very weird video camera that would always die after filming 10-20 seconds of video, so I was limited at the time until I eventually found a way around everything. Oh, and why it has 300,000 views, I don't freakin' know! Then I got my own digital video camera in October of that year, so...

Anyways, I remember getting this comment...

"Why do you have multiple copies of the same movie? As far as I can tell, there's no big difference."

Being so in tune with my collection, I explained to the fellow YouTuber that there are small, tiny little variations of the tapes. I concluded by saying, "As a collector of these tapes, I try to get the different variations." Never got a reply, so I assume the chap knew what I meant. Or maybe not, maybe he thought, "That guy's in orbit!"

So, enough about that. I look into these things and every little minute detail. A lot of others do it too, and when I found this out between 2005 and 2007, I felt at home. You may think your big obsession is exclusive to you, 99.9% chance it isn't. You're never alone, so don't feel like you're on some isolated island all by yourself. I was just surprised to see that so many of these people even cared about these things, and by the time I found out, people left and right came out of the woodwork. What a refreshing feeling that was!


Here, I'll be focusing on the Walt Disney Classics video line. Of course, Walt Disney Home Video created it in 1984 so they could finally release the "untouchable" animated classics on home video for consumers to buy and rent... Films that they really wanted. We all know the official line-up... Began in December 1984 with Robin Hood and ended with The Fox and the Hound in March 1994. This will be an alternate history that changes the line-up a bit.

If you have no idea what order the Classics line went in, just bring up the Wikipedia page on it for the full list. Many of you Disney VHS collectors reading this will know it by heart... Okay, let's begin!

For the debut title in the Classics line, Disney tests with the waters with Robin Hood. Figuring that the demand isn't so high for the film itself, they release it in December 1984 but they surprisingly don't put much effort into marketing it. Priced at $79.95, it manages to sell really well. The new blood at Disney convinces the old guard to release a real classic on home video, not a more recent film that happened to be one of the least well-received entries in the canon. Pinocchio comes in the summer of 1985, gets off to a slow start but eventually sells half a million units.

Next, Disney re-releases a film that was already on home video before The Classics line was even created, Dumbo, in December of that year. It's just a mere repackaging that officially inducted the title into the Classics line. The Sword in the Stone comes next in March 1986, another film that wasn't terribly well-received. Alice in Wonderland, another animated film that happened to hit video before The Classics, gets re-issued and repackaged in May. Disney then scores a record-breaking hit with Sleeping Beauty that autumn, which sells 1 million copies.

Now, here's where things change a bit...

Disney at this point in time wanted to focus on releasing the older classics on home video first, rather than the ones that were more recent such as The Fox and the Hound and The Great Mouse Detective. Disney still believed that re-releases could keep them chugging, but they learned their lesson in the early 1990s when re-issues of some of these films didn't go over too well.

But since this is an alternate history, Disney has different plans...

The company discusses releasing The Great Mouse Detective on home video in the spring of 1987, since the film was a profitable success at the box office and garnered good reviews. Some executives felt that they should hold it off and re-release it in theaters somewhere down the road. The idea is vetoed, as many of the people at Disney believe that re-releases aren't cutting it anymore... But the successful re-releases of films like One Hundred and Dalmatians (grossing $32 million in 1985) and Lady and the Tramp ($31 million in 1986) contradict this.

But the executives feel that theatrical re-releases will die down in the 1990s, which is when they plan to re-release the film given the fact that they usually wait 6-10 years to re-release an animated classic. The Great Mouse Detective becomes the next Classics edition, released on videocassette on March 27, 1987...

Disney decides to have this release rival the home video release of Don Bluth's An American Tail, which then held the record for highest grossing animated film on initial release. The Great Mouse Detective wins audiences it didn't get in the theaters on videocassette whilst rivaling the Bluth film in sales. A whopping 1 million units are sold of the $29.95 cassette. A $29 million gross comes from this tape, as it made more money than the theatrical release!

What would a 1987 VHS of The Great Mouse Detective open with?

  • The Dark Red Anti-Piracy Warning Screens - Disney VHS tapes released from late 1986 to early 1987 (or late 1987, if you count early pressings of The Three Caballeros) experimented with a new FBI warning graphic that had a dark red background. Of course, you fans know what I'm talking about. To those who don't know, the design was very much like the green ones from the early-to-late 1990s... Except with a dark red background. Late 1986 tapes had a "Video Dealer Announcement" that followed, which also appeared on Touchstone releases.
  • A Trailer for Benji the Hunted - Disney decides to put more content on tapes by this time, thinking that leaving previews off of the tapes is a thing of the past!
  • The 1984 Classics Logo - No need for an explanation there.

With that, Walt Disney Home Video executives feel it is best to release the contemporary films on video right after they hit theaters, but they plan on re-releasing Oliver & Company if it does well at the box office, which was the next feature in line at the time.

Lady and the Tramp (October 6, 1987) and Cinderella (October 4, 1988) are the next two Classics releases, following two successful theatrical re-releases. Both break records and sell boatloads of units, albeit unexpectedly.

What would come next? Disney didn't plan to release a pre-1980 classic until the autumn of next year...

Then Disney decides to release Oliver & Company on home video next, but the film was a record-breaker at the box office. Disney begins to debate on whether they should release it on VHS and gamble away all future theatrical re-releases... Or re-release it in the mid-1990s... It is decided that the film will be dated by the time of the next re-release, which would occur roughly between 1994 and 1998. The Disney executives make the right decision, it becomes the next Classics release on May 19, 1989. When the film clears the $50 million mark at the box office in January of 1989, the tape release is announced.

How would it open?

  • The Orange-Red Anti-Piracy Warning Screens
  • A Crude Black & White "Coming To Theaters" Title Card - Of course, before Disney would get suitable-looking screens in the future.
  • Honey I Shrunk The Kids Trailer
  • The Little Mermaid Trailer - Got to get the word out somehow, right?
  • The 1988 Classics Logo

Selling a whopping 7 million units, Disney has another success in their book. Bambi follows in September of that year, both films are promoted out the wazoo during the holidays.

Both do incredibly well. In hindsight, it was a good decision since Oliver & Company would in fact seem dated by 1994.

The Little Mermaid opens in theaters that autumn, and of course does very well on top of getting great critical reception. Disney does exit polling in theaters, finding out that consumers are willing to buy the film on home video whenever. Instead of waiting for the holidays of 1990 to release it, as they had planned, they opted to give it a May release instead. The release is announced in February 1990, but Disney feels like releasing a certain other film at the moment...

The Rescuers. Why's that? Well, The Rescuers Down Under was heading to theaters that autumn, and Disney management felt that a VHS release would more than drum up interest in the film if the theatrical re-release from the previous year didn't. The Rescuers gets the Classics treatment on March 23, 1990.

That's the artwork they end up
using for the video cover...

Selling 7 million units, The Rescuers' video release already gives audiences an incentive to see the sequel...

  • The Orange-Red Anti-Piracy Warning Screens
  • "Coming to Theaters" in Blue against Black Background (think the Peter Pan VHS)
  • An Extensive, Behind-the-Scenes Look at The Rescuers Down Under
  • "Coming to Videocassette"
  • The Little Mermaid on Video Trailer
  • The 1989 Classics Logo

After that video release, The Little Mermaid arrives on May 18th and Peter Pan follows on September 21st.

The Little Mermaid moves around 10 million units, Peter Pan sells over 7 million. 1990 is another home run year for Walt Disney Home Video.

1991 kicks off with The Jungle Book, which hits shelves on May 3rd. This film is released because of the highly successful 1990 theatrical re-release, plus they want to help plug TaleSpin while they can.

But then Disney shocks the industry by announcing that two Classics titles will arrive on the same day - July 12th!

The first of which is Robin Hood, the first Classics title to be re-issued and repackaged (the stock number changes from 228 to 1189). Disney releases this to take advantage of live action blockbuster Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but the intent is to reintroduce the title as a general release - rather than a limited one that'll go back in the vault in the next 2-3 years. It joins the ranks of Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland and The Sword in the Stone. The then-current Robin Hood VHS will remain available until a new re-issue replaces somewhere down the road.

The other title Disney releases the same day is The Fox and the Hound, a film that was last re-released in 1988. Instead of waiting for another theatrical re-release, Disney decides it is best to finally put it out on home video - and what better way to do it than releasing it the same day as another Disney animated classic from the era starring a fox?

Robin Hood does very well, but The Fox and the Hound outpaces it. 8 million units are sold, and the tape is to be withdrawn in 1993.

How would it open?

  • The Red-Orange Anti-Piracy Warning Screens
  • 1986 Walt Disney Home Video Logo
  • 1989 Walt Disney Classics Logo - Cut Short w/ Announcer
  • The Jungle Book on Video Trailer
  • The Rescuers Down Under on Video Trailer
  • 1989 Feature Presentation Title Card
  • 1989 Walt Disney Classics Logo - Full, unlike the Robin Hood VHS...

Back in March 2009, with boredom and MS Paint at my side, I made this pitiful-looking custom cover artwork... Well, the spine anyway...

The two-the-same-day strategy goes over well. Following this pair of releases are the home video debuts of The Rescuers Down Under (September 20th) and Fantasia (November 1st).

The Rescuers Down Under wins the film new fans, as it did okay but not too, too stellar at the box office ($60 million is nothing to sneeze at, though). Fantasia becomes the best-selling home video of all time, with 14 million units sold. It beats the record held by Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

1991 is their biggest year yet, with 5 releases all selling very well. Walt Disney Home Video is on a roll...

1992 kicks off with the Spring release of One Hundred and One Dalmatians, following a very successful re-issue that opened the previous summer. 

That sells incredibly well, beating out Fantasia even! What's next? Well, of course, we all know that Disney followed that up with the home video debut of The Great Mouse Detective, but since that already came out during this history... We get The Aristocats on July 17, 1992!

That film was last re-released in 1987, so Disney is planning on getting films out whenever at this rate, regardless of when the last re-release came. The tape is a success once again...

It opens with...

  • The Green Anti-Piracy Warning Screens
  • Aladdin Trailer
  • 1991 Feature Presentation Title Card

Like the Dalmatians VHS, it has previews at the end...

  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh on Video Trailer
  • "And Coming This Fall To Home Video"
  • Beauty and the Beast on Video Trailer

Next up was a familiar silly old bear, and that tape would come out September 21st...

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was released in time for its 15th anniversary, though the artwork and promos didn't really make mention of the anniversary. The three individual shorts that made up the film were already available as Mini-Classics editions, but since Disney didn't have anything to release around that timeframe, they just opted to release this film.

This would open with...

  • Green Anti-Piracy Warning Screens
  • Aladdin Trailer
  • "Now on Video" - 1986 WDHV Logo Animation / FP Music
  • Winnie the Pooh Mini-Classics Promo
  • "Coming to Video" - 1986 WDHV Logo Animation / FP Music
  • Beauty and the Beast on Video Trailer
  • 1991 Feature Presentation Title Card - For some reason, they use a variation with a navy background!
  • 1992 Walt Disney Classics Logo - The first to use the distorted version!

This one particularly takes off, selling 11 million units.

Of course, the massive success that was Beauty and the Beast followed it up on October 30th. Selling over 20 million units, it was the best-selling home video release of all time. 1992 was Walt Disney Home Video's biggest year yet.

1993 kicks off with the second ever Classics re-issue - Pinocchio. Though it keeps the same stock number, the artwork boasts that the restored version of the film that was used for the re-release in 1992 is on the tape itself. Like the Fantasia VHS, it oddly doesn't have the diamond anywhere on the packaging and the heading says "Walt Disney's Masterpiece" instead - yet it opens with the Classics logo.

For summer 1993, Disney finally gets a certain film off of their chests when it comes to home video...

Disney management was hesitant at first... They were planning to just leave The Black Cauldron in the dust, as they unfairly treated that film as a blemish and an embarrassment, yet it was #25 in the Disney Animated Classics canon. It wasn't even theatrically re-released in the United States, only other countries got a re-issue - but the promos named it Taran and the Magic Cauldron and it was a recut of the already censored original!

Luckily, the home video release has the theatrical cut. Roy E. Disney does not spend on extra on restoring the footage Jeffrey Katzenberg excised from the film, plus Katzenberg himself was probably going to object since he cut it in the first place. What mattered was that the film was at least getting a release...

The film hits home video on July 16, 1993. The tape opens with...

  • Green Anti-Piracy Warning Screens
  • Aladdin On Video Trailer
  • 1991 Feature Presentation Title Card
  • 1992 Walt Disney Classics Logo

Oh, and here's the spine to the custom-made one I hastily threw together 4 years ago...

Aladdin then arrives on October 1st, slamming the home video industry like a meteor shower.

Selling a whopping 21 million units, it's the new champion of home video sellers...

Disney's plans for 1994 are certainly very big, but they don't have a new film to release that summer on home video because Walt Disney Feature Animation doesn't have a film ready for a November 1993 release. The Lion King, at this point, is a summer 1994 release and the home video version isn't expected to hit until Spring 1995. In the mean time, Disney comes up with another plan.

For the summer, they plan to finally release all of the package features...

The Three Caballeros is the only one that got a release during the Classics line's run in 1987, so this release updates the cover and adds the Diamond to the spine and changing the heading to "Walt Disney's Classic". Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros arrive on March 4, 1994, side by side.

Both tapes open with this...

  • Green Anti-Piracy Warning Screens
  • The Lion King Trailer
  • Make Mine Music, Melody Time and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad on Video Trailer
  • 1991 Feature Presentation Title Card
  • 1992 Walt Disney Classics Logo

In fall 1994, they plan to release the long-awaited classic... The one everyone wants... The one that started it all...

That's right... Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs...

This is the long-awaited Classics release... The big one... So big that like Fantasia and Pinocchio's recent releases, the cover doesn't say Walt Disney's Classic nor does it have the diamond anywhere... Except on the tape's opening! Of course, the release goes on to break tons of records and a deluxe version is released as well.

Tape contents?

  • Green Anti-Piracy Warning Screens
  • Roy E. Disney Introduction
  • 1992 Walt Disney Classics Logo

Finally, on March 3, 1995, Disney releases The Lion King...

It's possible that it may be the last ever Classics edition, as Disney considers starting a new line for their animated classics because they re-issues planned for all of their earlier Classics titles and ones that are in general release. The Lion King breaks all previous records and sells a whopping 30 million units.

Tape contents...

  • Green Anti-Piracy Warning Screens
  • Walt Disney World Advertisement
  • Pocahontas Trailer
  • "Coming Soon to Videocassette" Title Card - With FP title card design scheme.
  • Cinderella on Video Trailer - Oddly says Walt Disney's Masterpiece, hinting that it'll be another re-release like Pinocchio where it says that on the packaging, yet it opens with the Classics logo... Or it hints at the name of Disney's supposedly planned new video line for the animated films.
  • Angels in the Outfield Trailer
  • 1991 Feature Presentation Title Card
  • 1992 Walt Disney Classics Logo
  • "This Film Has Been Modified" Title Card

So what does Disney do next? A new line? Or do they continue the Classics and possibly update it with a brand new, crisp-looking logo that's appropriate for 1995? Well... That's another story...


  1. Great post. What about another alternate history where theatrical releases continue as a form of advertising for the eventual videos?

  2. Not a bad alternate history, if I say so myself!
    Though I'd imagine the Classics line would still continue to this day, and it would include the Platinum and Diamond editions, and this would of course apply to DVD and Blu-Ray. The 1992 logo is still used (the company would still be called Walt Disney Home Video into 2014!), and occasionally substituted with the 1988 or 1989 logo. A cropped-widescreen version also first appears around 2006. Then finally in 2008, a newly-animated version of the logo by WETA Digital would debut, with a CGI Mickey Mouse, spectacular firework effects and a more glassy, shiny diamond backdrop over a blue/pink-gradient starry night sky! The music, however, would be the same 1988 jingle (but probably as the messed-up 1992 version.)
    In fact, I could even see Olaf of "Frozen" being in the diamond profile of a Classics DVD/Blu-Ray release of "Frozen!"

  3. Ironically I've been hand drawing a Black Diamond VHS cover for the unmade Disney film The Gremlins (based on the book by Roald Dahl). My alternate timeline to this is that the movie did go through with production and was released in theaters in 1944. The film would go on to be a moderate box office hit in the US and be nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song, later a success in the UK. But sometime between 1989 and 1994 Walt Disney Home Video finally would decide to release the film with a multi-million dollar campaign and a $5 rebate from Nabisco.

    That's all I have so far, I will say it's a tad difficult creating fake screenshots and the cover itself but the covers that were perfect references were the 1991 cover for Dumbo and the 1992 prototype cover of the Rescuers seen on the original demo VHS of the movie.

  4. I have a blog with stories about the first old Swedish puliceringade rent-video cassettes of Walt Disney Home Video in the 1980s. And the first buy-video cassettes too from 1989 to 1991,so you all are welcome to look at.

    General info:


  5. Can you do A Walt Disney Home Video What-If? - Ep 2 please?