Friday, May 26, 2017

'Bambi' in the Summer: Is the Vault Disappearing?


Whenever I talk to casual fans or casual moviegoers about Disney's home video system, I often get this as a response... "I hate the Vault."

I always have to explain that it's a business thing, something that is similar to Walt Disney's model during the first half of the 20th century. In the early 1940s, television wasn't quite widespread, there was no "home video." Though Walt Disney and his studio enjoyed tremendous success with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, World War II effectively brought the budding studio's ambitions to a grinding halt. With most of the European market cut off, expensive features like Pinocchio and Bambi failed to recoup their costs on their initial releases.

Walt's solution was to re-release these classics every 5-10 years. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was re-released in 1944, and was a much-needed success for the studio. Re-releases of Pinocchio and Bambi brought the once-flops into the black. When television became widespread, Walt didn't want to show his event films on the small screen, where people could watch them for free and in inferior quality. By the mid-1950s, Disney's studio was in good standing, but he chose to re-release almost all of his animated features. Only Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland were shown - in truncated form - on television, the package features of the 1940s were carved up.

The studio continued to re-release the classics and then lock them away in the years after Walt's passing. Home video slowly bubbled in the mid-1970s, and by the end of the decade, a lot of the old guard absolutely did not want to release any of the classics on videocassette and videodisc. Of course, that all changed towards the end of Ron Miller's brief tenure as CEO of the company (1983-1984), and even after the decision was made to release the "untouchable" classics on video, the old system remained.

The Vault stayed...

Robin Hood, the first of the "untouchable"/"not-shown-on-TV" classics to hit home video in December 1984, and went on moratorium a little over two years after its release - spring 1987. Pinocchio was available from the summer of 1985 to the late winter of 1986, but then came back that following fall for the "Bring Disney Home for Good" promotion, then it went back into the vault in early 1987. These two titles are fine examples...

Robin Hood returned to home video in 1991, Pinocchio returned in 1993. Robin Hood, however, wasn't vaulted after that. By this time, Disney started to designate what was a Vault-title and what wasn't. Huge hit sellers were the limited-time events, films like Robin Hood - which had sold moderately well - were not.

That all got muddled up during the DVD days, but the launch of the Walt Disney Platinum Collection established the difference between films like - say - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and films like Robin Hood. It was also realized that diminishing returns might've been in order. When some films were re-released during the VHS era, they didn't sell as well as the previous releases. Take The Jungle Book, for instance. The 1991 home video release sold over 10 million units, and vaulted in early 1992. The 1997 release was successful, but didn't sell as well... Because I guess some buyers said, "We already own it!" No restoration or behind-the-scenes special after the movie was a good enough incentive for the average consumer.

DVD was new, though, so it seemed like things were okay. The Platinum releases of Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King each sold over one million copies on their respective street dates. With Blu-ray, however, things didn't quite change. Over the years, less and less folk seemed to buy physical media, so the concept of the vault might be dying.

The Signature Collection edition of Bambi is hitting stores on June 6th, and this is an indicator that big chance is in order. It indicates that the vault as we know it... May not be a thing in the coming years, something a lot of people have clamored for.

Why is that? Well...

A pattern for the Platinum Collection was established in 2005, four years into the line's existence. Instead of one title getting the treatment every calendar year, two titles would get the treatment. The Platinum editions of Bambi and Cinderella came out in 2005, the former hit in the late winter/early spring and the latter was released during the autumn.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat... The line ended in early 2009 with the release of Pinocchio.

Rather than waiting a full year to relaunch the Platinum Collection as the Diamond Collection, Disney started the replacement line in the fall of 2009 with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. 2010 gave us two Diamond editions, and even though one of those of two - Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 - wasn't called a "Diamond Edition" on the packaging and advertising, it actually was a Diamond edition. At last minute, it was decided that the two-film set would be a standalone release. Boot it up in your Blu-ray player and it'll read it as "Fantasia Diamond Edition."

So yes, the pattern has been the same since 2005. We saw the shift happen again last year. Aladdin closed out the Diamond Collection in October 2015, then Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs started the Signature Collection in February 2016, Beauty and the Beast followed in the autumn, and then Pinocchio debuted this past January. Pinocchio, if they really followed that pattern, would've been released on Blu-ray in Spring 2016 as a Diamond Edition, closing out the line. They didn't do that.

We all assumed the next Signature Collection title would be a fall release. It is not. Bambi is coming to stores on June 6th, and the digital-only version is out now.

Over on Blu-ray.com's forums, user GoofyStitch brought this up...


Perhaps it is true. Perhaps Disney is banging out all the Signature titles so they can get them out, and end this vault system because nowadays... It means little. Sales aren't what they used to be, people bootleg movies that they can't get (and it doesn't help that Disney's "vault" titles are iconic and highly-requested), and little by little digital is beginning to hold up.

I think the time is high... The film line-up of the Signature Collection needs to change. While Disney's marketing and PR stunts may lead you to believe that it's a line for Walt's classics and post-Walt films inspired by Walt Disney's work, it's always been a line for the best-selling Disney animated films. Not necessarily the best of the best, they just didn't go with "Titanium Collection" or "Super Collection" or whatever.

Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland, two monumental Walt Disney-era animated classics, have never been part of this prestigious line because they were barely ever vaulted. Always general-release titles, but I don't care about that... Dumbo is one Walt's big five and a cinema classic, Alice in Wonderland is iconic, well-written, experimental, and it's all over the parks, they should be in an upper echelon.

My desired line-up would be...

1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (#1)
2. Pinocchio (#2)
3-5. Fantasia (#3), Fantasia 2000 (#38), and the unreleased Fantasia 2006
6. Dumbo (#4)
7. Bambi (#5)
8. The Three Caballeros (#7)
9. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (#11)
10. Cinderella (#12)
11. Alice in Wonderland (#13)
12. Peter Pan (#14)
13. Lady and the Tramp (#15)
14. Sleeping Beauty (#16)
15. One Hundred and One Dalmatians (#17)
16. The Jungle Book (#19)
17-18. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (#22) and Winnie the Pooh (#51), but the Blu-ray set would give owners the option of watching the feature-length MAOWTP, or the three individual shorts in their original theatrical release form...
19. The Rescuers (#23) 
20. The Little Mermaid (#28)
21. The Rescuers Down Under (#29)
22. Beauty and the Beast (#30)
23. Aladdin (#31)
24. The Lion King (#32)
25. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (#34)
26. Tarzan (#37)
27. The Emperor's New Groove (#40)
28. Lilo & Stitch (#42)
29. The Princess and the Frog (#49)
30. Tangled (#50)
31. Wreck-It Ralph (#52)
32. Frozen (#53), I'd personally leave it out myself, but its sales and popularity would say otherwise
33. Big Hero 6 (#54)
34. Zootopia (#55)
35. Moana (#56)

Thirty-five big ones... I think that would make for a fine line-up/hall of fame.

What would your line-up be?

2 comments:

  1. I would include all Disney animated films produced by Walt Disney, including The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, as well as some live-action films like Mary Poppins, Old Yeller and Swiss Familt Robinson.

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  2. Personally, my line-up would be the same as yours, only I'd add The Great Mouse Detective, Mulan, Treasure Planet, Fun and Fancy Free and maybe Bolt or Pocahontas. Even though I know a lot of people don't really like it, I think it's fine just the way it is.

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