Saturday, November 1, 2014

Classics Confusion

The Classics line is full of questions, more so than any other line reserved for Disney animated features in the company's home video history…

Now, when The Classics line first debuted nearly 30 years ago, the plan was simple: Just release the Disney animated classics on home video, one by one. Ron Miller reportedly had some sort of long-term plan, but did this plan include a slate and when titles would be released? Who knows… Anyways, why was Robin Hood the first out of all the "don't show them on TV" classics?

Robin Hood wasn't one of Disney's most respect animated features, it wasn't regarded as special as say… Snow White or Pinocchio or Cinderella. Robin Hood was no doubt a box office success back in 1973, but it had received mixed reviews. Its 1982 re-release took in a fair amount, from what I can gather. But it was never regarded as one of Disney's all-time animated achievements, but rather just a fun little film.

So naturally, since Disney was still somewhat hesitant to release their animated classics on video by 1984, the company put that out first to test the waters. It did well, so the Classics line would continue. The Sword in the Stone was intended to be the next Classics release, being another film that was regarded as a "lesser" film in the studio's animated library. This is can also explain why Robin Hood and The Sword in the Stone have 228 and 229 as stock numbers, respectively. However, Disney halted their plans to release The Sword in the Stone as Classics title #2. The new regime at Disney saw opportunities in home video, but compromised with the veterans who weren't keen on releasing those grand classics on such formats. The new people wanted to go for the Classics, the really bankable films!

Pinocchio, which was Classics release #2, would be treated the way any Disney animated film would be when theatrically re-released. Get it before it's gone for a good 6-10 years! But here's the thing: You own the video or LaserDisc, and you can watch it whenever! Future theatrical re-releases would probably be out of the question, and also it seemed like this would be a short-term kind of thing. But Pinocchio sold a good 500,000 copies from 1985 to early 1986, and another estimated 250,000 in fall 1986/early 1987 (when the white case/removable artwork version was available).

Out of all the big-time classics, why the new executives opt to pick Pinocchio? Why was that the first one to get the home video treatment?

Pinocchio enjoyed a moderately successful theatrical re-release during the holiday season of 1984. The video release followed in the summer of 1985.

Classics title #3 was Dumbo, which made sense since that was already on video before the Classics line even began. (Shown on TV by Walt himself in the 50s, so Disney didn't consider it an "untouchable" film.) The Sword in the Stone was Classics title #4, since that was supposed to be released earlier. Alice in Wonderland was #5, being another film that was already on home video prior to 1984 since that was also shown on television by Walt himself. So what would Classic #6 be? What film out of all the beloved classics would be picked? Sleeping Beauty. It came fresh off of its spring 1986 theatrical re-release. From here, a pattern began…

  • Lady and the Tramp - Christmas 1986 re-release, fall 1987 video premiere.
  • Cinderella - Thanksgiving 1987 re-release, fall 1988 video premiere.
  • Bambi - Summer 1988 re-release, fall 1989 video premiere.
  • Peter Pan - Summer 1989 re-release, fall 1990 video premiere.
  • The Jungle Book - Summer 1990 re-release, spring 1991 video premiere.
  • Fantasia - Fall 1990 re-release, fall 1991 video premiere.
  • 101 Dalmatians - Summer 1991 re-release, spring 1992 video premiere.
  • The Great Mouse Detective - Spring 1992 re-release, summer 1992 video premiere.

By mid-1992, we started to see some deviating from the pattern.

In September 1992, Disney released The Rescuers on home video. Now this is strange for a number of reasons…

The Rescuers was last theatrically re-released in the spring of 1989. Disney did not give it a video release in 1989 or 1990. Not even with the sequel coming to theaters in fall 1990. In Europe, however, The Rescuers was on home media sometime around 1990/1991…

Now I understand why Disney didn't release it on video in 1989. They were starting to ease into a one-a-year plan, which began in 1987. Lady and the Tramp was the sole new Classics title of 1987, Cinderella was 1988's only new Classics release, Bambi was 1989's only new Classics title. All three of those films were autumn releases, holiday season home video events.

However, this one-a-year plan was derailed in 1990 when Disney decided to release The Little Mermaid - huge at the box office - on video, hot off of its theatrical run. They didn't wait until autumn to release it, they released it in May… That was 7 months after it had opened! Unheard of before for Disney! But that wasn't the only new Classics title, Disney then squeezed Peter Pan in since that got a re-release the previous year, sticking to that tradition. So, new film and an older one fresh off of a recent re-release. That seemed like a good game plan, but the next year…

The Rescuers Down Under was the newest Disney film by spring 1991. Unlike The Little Mermaid, it wasn't much of a success at the box office. The demand must not have been high for an immediate video release, so they held it off. The Jungle Book was the spring 1991 Classics release instead, as that film's 1990 theatrical re-release actually took in almost double the amount Rescuers Down Under took in!

So The Jungle Book landed in spring 1991 instead of the new film, but the tape had a preview for The Rescuers Down Under on it, announcing that the film was going to be the fall 1991 release. Cool, but what about the original Rescuers?

In July 1991, Disney then went against the grain yet again and re-released Robin Hood on home video. This was their first ever full-on re-release of a Classics title, rather than a mere packaging alteration. It sported a brand new cover (that was basically a stylistic remake of the original cover), a cleaner print of the film on the cassettes/discs; it was a re-release in every sense. Then that was followed by The Rescuers Down Under, an autumn release…

But I have to ask… Why Robin Hood?

What if Disney instead gave The Rescuers the home video treatment in July 1991, putting it right before the home video premiere of Rescuers Down Under? It's no big deal, but it's just fascinating how Disney released a sequel to a classic on video before the classic itself came to video…

Robin Hood was apparently re-released in summer 1991 because Disney wanted to take advantage of the live-action Kevin Costner Robin Hood pic Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which was a box office hit that year. Even the commercial for the video release billed it as the "summer's best Robin Hood adventure!" Clever counter programming, I guess…

"Yeah! Take that Kevin Costner!"

Also, the re-release seemed like a last-minute decision. The cover is pretty much the same as the original, and there is no preview for this release on any Disney videos released in early 1991. Jungle Book doesn't have a preview of it, and I haven't seen anything other than that TV spot I posted above.

Anyways, I'm guessing that Disney wanted to give The Rescuers a video release for a long while, but other films got in the way…

After The Rescuers Down Under came the home video premiere of Fantasia, which was a big… No, scratch that, HUGE deal. Fantasia went on to become the best-selling home video release of all-time. It held the record for about a year!

So next up… Okay, maybe spring 1992? Nope, 101 Dalmatians, fresh off of a pretty successful 1991 theatrical re-release. Okay, maybe the next one? Nope, The Great Mouse Detective! Right off its early 1992 re-release.

Now the Mouse Detective release was unusual because usually there was usually a lengthy wait between the theatrical release of a Disney classic and the video release. The Great Mouse Detective was re-released in February 1992, the video came in July. A pretty small 6-month window. Even smaller than Little Mermaid's 7-month window… Why the rush to get it out, though? It didn't do especially well when re-released, and Disney had a still-unreleased Rescuers sitting around while its sequel was already out on video.

The Rescuers finally received a September 1992 release, three years after its last theatrical re-release…

So we can understand the hold-up for that one…

But now let's jump ahead. Spring 1994…

The Classics line came to a quiet close with The Fox and the Hound, which hit the video stores in March 1994. Now I'm not sure if the Masterpiece Collection was talked about at the company as far back as 1993, but I'm going to assume - based on my Fox and the Hound demo tape - that Disney didn't know that the 1981 film would be their final Classics release. The tapes for these things are usually mastered many months in advance.

For a good indicator (aside from just the print dates), just look at the 1992 Beauty and the Beast VHS. The video was released in October 1992, and it contains a preview for a 1993 theatrical re-release of Sleeping Beauty that never happened. Now why was that re-release canceled? The fully-restored Pinocchio didn't meet expectations when re-released theatrically in June 1992. After it underperformed, Disney cancelled the Sleeping Beauty re-release. This was around mid-July 1992.

This indicates that the tape mastering is done a while before the actual release. The printing probably comes a while afterwards, or maybe not. It's the same with DVDs and Blu-rays, too. Pixar's Monsters University came to theaters in June 2013, the home media release followed in October. In August 2013, Pixar delayed upcoming film The Good Dinosaur to 2015. The Monsters U short that was meant to be attached to it now had to find a new home, and it was too late to put it on the MU Blu-ray/DVD. Anyways, the tape master for the 1992 Beauty and the Beast VHS must've been finalized sometime before July 1992.

Let's just say it was mastered in June, mere months away from October. With that, The Fox and the Hound's VHS was probably mastered sometime around November/December 1993. Keep in mind that the Lion King trailer on the tape shows a lot of unfinished versions of key sequences, and also contains an early version of 'Can You Feel The Love Tonight' that sounds more like a demo recording than anything.

My Fox and the Hound demo tape was printed in October 1993, ditto fellow collector Aubrey's copy, so that's that. Later printed copies of the video release would include a trailer for The Return of Jafar, that film was released in May 1994, so by - say, March 1994 - they had enough finished footage of it to show. It was probably all completed by that point!

So when mastering The Fox and the Hound's videotape contents around late 1993-ish, was Disney thinking of starting their new video line? Or did they not know yet? I'm going to say yes to the latter…

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first Masterpiece Collection title, and it was released alongside titles like Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, The Sword in the Stone, et al, which were now sporting Masterpiece Collection packaging. These were all released in October 1994, and the earliest printings of the original WDMC titles I've come across are from July 1994.

The early Masterpiece Edition printings open with the 1986 Walt Disney Home Video logo. At the time (again, July 1994), there was no animated Masterpiece intro. That didn't come about until late 1994, my copy of Snow White that has it was printed in September 1994. I assume those copies containing the WDMC logo hit the shelves in December 1994 or January 1995.

So the question is, when did Disney decide to reboot the video line for their animated classics? When did they say, "Retire the Classics logo, Masterpiece Collection is now the name of the game!"

I guess May/June 1994.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was probably already penciled in for a holiday 1994 video release as far back as early 1994, maybe even before that. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was once considered unreleasable on home video. Disney made it clear around 1990 that Snow White and Fantasia would NEVER be released on home video. Those were truly special classics, the ones they wanted to keep locked up. No video, just theatrical re-releases…

As late as early 1991 they were still saying "no" to a possible Fantasia video release, but then they caved. Fantasia came out in fall 1991, printings must've been made as far back as the summer. With that film out on video, Snow White would only come once a theatrical re-release came, and one did in the summer of 1993. I think since that re-release, Disney said, "That's going to hit video next year."

My best guess is that when Snow White was being prepped for video in May/June 1994, the company decided that the release would be a really huge deal. Not just "another Classics release".


When Fantasia hit video, the Classics diamond was nowhere to be seen on the packaging. Not on the spine, not on the tape label… But the tape itself opened with the 1989 Classics intro. The deluxe edition box set contains a "Making Of" special, the tape for that opens with the 1988 Classics intro. Why is that?

My theory: Fantasia tapes were printed in summer 1991, right? Well then, I think the original intention was to make Fantasia a Classics release. But someone said at the eleventh hour, "No, this should be a special release." But the tapes were already printed, so it was too late to replace the Classics logo with something else. So the packaging scheme changed, but the tape master itself contains the Classics intro. Why else would it have the logo at the beginning of the tape when it could've easily used the 1986 Walt Disney Home Video logo?

The same goes for the 1993 video release of Pinocchio. The 1985 video release of Pinocchio sported the Classics logo on its packaging; the Classics line and logo were heavily emphasized in the film's advertising campaign back then. Look no further than the demo tape that I have, look no further than the print ads!

The 1993 release, like the Fantasia video, has a cover that doesn't have the Classics diamond on it (by 1992, the diamond was left off of tape labels and never shown in ads - except Fox and the Hound's tape label, but that's another story for another day)… But the tape opens with the 1992 Classics intro, so…

But, we have proof that the 1993 Pinocchio video release was going to be a full-on Classics edition! My collector comrade Nick (NWB1989 on YouTube) has the demo tape! The spine has the Classics diamond in its full glory!

So now we have to track down a demo VHS of Fantasia, if one was made. I'm sure Disney made one…

But it's possible that the Fantasia demo tapes were distributed in those red sleeves that had no artwork, rather than clamshells with artwork, so the tape contents alone might end up being an indicator… But then again, demo tapes are inconsistent! Jungle Book and Fox and the Hound's demo tapes have the 1986 WDHV logo, while The Rescuers' demo tape has the 1988 Classics logo!

The only way to find out? Someone who worked at Walt Disney Home Video who remembers if Fantasia was intended to be a Classics edition early on…

So finally… Why was The Fox and the Hound the last Classics release? Why was Pinocchio re-released in 1993? Why did 1993 only hold two Classics releases? (Or one, if you don't count Pinocchio!)

The Fox and the Hound received only one theatrical re-release in North America. Why? Because it was a very recent film when Disney began releasing their animated classics on home video. It was only three years old when Robin Hood hit video, kicking off the Classics line. The theatrical re-release came in 1988, and no way would Disney give it the video treatment in 1989.

1991 wasn't an option since Robin Hood occupied a slot it could've been released in. 1992? Rescuers was long overdue… So why not 1993? It could've easily been a July 1993 release.

This immediately brings us into third second question… 1993 gave us Aladdin and a re-release of a film that hit video the previous decade.

Pinocchio was obviously given a video re-release in 1993 because of the 1992 theatrical re-release. And also probably because it was one of the earliest Classics editions, and it had been 8 years since that release so they figured "let's release it again!" Disney's cycle was and is usually a 6 to 10-year cycle anyway.

So why no other titles? 1991 housed four new releases, ditto 1992. What happened in 1993?

Why didn't something like this happen?

Pinocchio - March 1993
The Fox and the Hound - July 1993
The Aristocats - September 1993
Aladdin - October 1993

Had that happened, the only titles left to release on video (barring Snow White and the package features, including Many Adventures/Winnie the Pooh) were The Black Cauldron and Oliver & Company. Okay, alternate history time!

Walt Disney Home Video releases The Fox and the Hound in July 1993 and The Aristocats in the following September, repeating their 1991/1992 release model. That leaves Cauldron and Oliver, right? Well, then, Oliver & Company gets a theatrical re-release in November 1993 and the video comes in March 1994. As for Cauldron, Disney continues to pretend it does not exist. The Classics line ends with Oliver & Company in March 1994, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs kicks off the Masterpiece Collection the following autumn.

Of course, in reality… We had to wait until 1996 to get The Aristocats and Oliver & Company on video, and we had to wait until 1998 for The Black Cauldron.

Why's that?

The Aristocats? I don't know. Oliver & Company was theatrically re-released in 1996 (and bombed because it was already dated by 1996), so the 1996 video release made sense. The Black Cauldron, again, was something Disney's management wanted to sweep under the rug. It was in its final stages of production when Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg took over the company in 1984, and they looked at it as a yucky leftover from the previous administration, and they buried it. Disney reportedly only gave it a release because many fans kept asking, "Where is The Black Cauldron???"

Oh, and coincidentally… Fantasia came out on home video this very day in 1991.


  1. This kinda reminds of how The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad was released on Laserdisc in 1994 but wasn't released on VHS until 1999. Since at that time the individual shorts that made up the movie were released separately in both the Mini Classics Collection and the follow up Favorite Stories Collection.

    What's also interesting to note is that in the inserts for the home video release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs one of them advertised that The Aristocats was set for a 1995 video release but came out on April 24, 1996 or how on the VHS of The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea ,Fantasia 2000 was set to be released on video September 26, 2000 but instead came out November 14 (one day after the 60th anniversary of the original Fantasia).

    Reading about The Rescuers Down Under got me thinking that Disney does have a problem with flying too close to the sun. These are my examples of how that is:

    DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp had little to no marketing outside of the Disney Channel and was released on the same weekend as Universal Pictures' Problem Child losing badly at the box office.

    The Rescuers Down Under suffered by going up against Fox's Home Alone and had it's ads unfairly pulled by Katzenberg after the first week in theaters.

    The Princess and the Frog was sandwiched betweenWarner Bros.'s Sherlock Holmes, James Cameron's Avatar, and Fox's Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakeland barely made back 200 million.

    But by far the worst contender was 2011's Winnie-the-Pooh, the marketing for this movie was almost non-existent except for word of mouth in the US and it horribly lost to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2. Now that right there was extremely unfair and probably one of the worst moves on Disney's part.

  2. "...and no way would Disney give it the video treatment in 1989." IF they did though Disney would've treated "The Fox and the Hound" as if it were one of the live action titles by releasing it without much fanfare to the point where there would've been no previews at all on the tape had the film been released in 1989 on video. That's my theory which I am basing on the fact that most of the previews on the other Disney VHS at the time releases were either made for the releases or originally produced as TV spots (the Lion King trailer on the 1994 Fox and the Hound tape wasn't seen on any other Disney releases on VHS as far as I know of), however most 1989 Disney video releases never had previews only having promos at the end of shorter animated releases (Sing Along Songs, Cartoon Classics etc)

  3. FYI, The CLASSICS is in Binner font. Look it up/

  4. My copy o fantasia say's 9/5/91-C on it. Just saying.

  5. My fantasia vhs has 9/5/91-C printed on it. Just saying.

  6. It really does. What does that mean?

  7. Would The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad comes out in 1994 for the 45th anniversary of commemorate movie.