Saturday, March 25, 2017

Clearing Something Up...


Coincidentally, this ties into a video I uploaded recently...

It concerns a particular Disney animated film... The Black Cauldron...

Rumor has it... Walt Disney Home Video intended to release The Black Cauldron on video sometime around 1989/1990, and even mastered the videotape for this planned release... but because of the success of The Little Mermaid, they decided against releasing it.

Here's a bombshell. I am the reason why people pass that claim around.

In 2005, I became a full-fledged Disney VHS collector. Though I had several 90s Classics, Masterpiece, and Mini-Classics tapes growing up, I began expanding my collection that year. At the time, I didn't have all the information we have today on these video releases. Here's some context. Back then, I mistakenly thought that the Classics edition of Dumbo, housed in the "pink" cover, was released in 1980.

That was then.

For a long time, there was a simple website that listed all of the Disney animated classics and their release dates. It was my go-to site when I was much younger, and when using it that same summer, there was a passage under the Black Cauldron that said...

"It was scheduled to video, and even mastered on tape a couple of years ago, but didn't make it because of the success of The Little Mermaid."

The website was last modified in January 2002. Over 15 years ago...

Back in 2005, I read that as... "They were going to release The Black Cauldron on VHS in 1989/1990, but after The Little Mermaid came out, they decided against it."

I missed the fine print that was right in front of me. "... and even mastered on tape a couple of years ago..."

I think the person who made this website was referring to the 1998 VHS of The Black Cauldron. That was the first ever American home video release of the feature, and that was 13 years after the film first debuted theatrically. 1998 was also the same year that The Little Mermaid returned to home video after being in the vault for roughly seven years.

So in 2005, when I still thought that "Black Cauldron 1989 VHS" was a thing, I submitted that false information to IMDb's Trivia page for the movie. It has stuck ever since, and ever since I figured out the truth (a decade ago) I've been trying so hard to undo what I have started, haha!

My custom-made VHS cover for this film.

So, hopefully this post somehow makes the rounds... Disney, to my knowledge, never intended to release The Black Cauldron on VHS sometime in 1989 or 1990. One more time for the world: Disney, to my knowledge, never intended to release The Black Cauldron on VHS sometime in 1989 or 1990.

The Walt Disney Company buried The Black Cauldron after its release. The film was in development and production during a time when the Walt-less studio was without a strong guiding voice, and when the company was a ship without a rudder. In 1984, when the movie was in physical production, things changed. CEO Ron Miller, after a brief two-year tenure, was out the door. A corporate raider named Saul Steinberg tried to buy the whole company and dismantle it. Lots was going on in 1984... Finally, Roy E. Disney brought in Paramount executive Michael Eisner, alongside Frank Wells and later, Jeffrey Katzenberg.

The new Disney was solidified by the time The Black Cauldron was finished. A rather messy movie made even worse by Katzenberg's last-minute edits, it was clear that the new heads of Disney wanted to clean their hands of it. They treated it as toxic spillover from the previous administration, a sort of band-aid that needed to be ripped. The Black Cauldron, costing $25 million to make (NOT $44 million, a number Waking Sleeping Beauty erroneously stated), ended up losing money at the box office. This was the first Disney animated movie to flop in over two decades. Reviews were mixed at best.

The two ensuing features, The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver & Company, were successful. So with that, the company treated Cauldron like it was an unspeakably bad failure. They buried it. By 1988, Disney was focusing on getting the older films out on videocassette. They were behind because the house spent most of the early 1980s refusing to let their animated classics hit home video. The old guard was against that, thinking Walt would not have wanted his movies released on such a format. During Miller's final years as CEO, that was slowly changing. The Classics line was launched in late 1984, and every year at least one animated film was released on video. Nothing contemporary, though...

Disney's plan was to theatrically re-release the contemporary animated movies in the future, even though the tech world was in the home video age. The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver & Company didn't get video releases in the 1980s because of this. Competitor Don Bluth's features, by contrast, hit video right after they hit theaters. For example: An American Tail was a big hit in 1986, but Universal and Bluth didn't plan on theatrically re-releasing it, so it hit home video in the spring of 1987 and sold almost as many units as Sleeping Beauty did a few months back. Disney didn't do that, they wanted to hold off on their newest animated features, and instead wanted to get the most requested ones out first... The Sleeping Beautys, the Cinderellas, the Bambis...

They held onto this "rule" until The Little Mermaid was released theatrically in November 1989. Their biggest hit in years and the highest grossing animated feature at the time, Disney did some exit-polling and realized that consumers would buy The Little Mermaid if it were to come out on video during the spring/summer. So, they broke the tradition, and released The Little Mermaid on video in May 1990. This was the first contemporary Disney animated movie to get a home video release, and fortunately, it really paid off.

By late 1990, Disney was pretty much done with The Black Cauldron, but they did test a recut version of the movie called Taran and the Magic Cauldron. Merchandise and a poster for a planned re-release using the recut title were made in roughly 1991, but this re-release never materialized. However, the re-release occurred in Europe in 1992, and that re-release's campaign used the poster. Disney's European arm had more sympathy for the feature, and in fact, the movie debuted on video in Europe first.

So for the other contemporary features...

The Great Mouse Detective was theatrically re-released in February 1992, mustered up little at the box office, and then it came to video that following July. Oliver & Company received a relatively unsuccessful theatrical re-release in March 1996, and then the video release debuted six months later. The Black Cauldron still didn't get a re-release, and then Disney finally released the film on video in August 1998. Despite the heads' attitudes towards the film, 5 million units were moved.

With that information on hand, I don't know what that blurb means... What did the author - Frank Pilhofer - mean by "didn't make it"? The 1998 VHS was indeed released, and it was followed by a DVD release in 2000, two years before the website was published. Did he mean that it wasn't successful? Did he mean that the Little Mermaid's 1998 VHS release overshadowed it? Maybe, maybe not. Mermaid's second VHS release came in March 1998, Cauldron's came in August 1998...

It's a rather confusing sentence.

So with everything I've dug up over the last ten years (and believe me, I'm obsessed with The Black Cauldron's history, regardless of how I feel about the movie itself), I have no found evidence of a planned 1989/1990 video release of The Black Cauldron...

I hope this clears everything up.

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