Friday, January 5, 2018

The General Release Title

Well, I hope you all transitioned into the new year quite nicely...

As of now, Blu-ray Disc is thankfully still a thing. So much so that Disney finds the time to make new covers for films already released on Blu-ray, and release them as Movie Club exclusives...

Out now is new Blu-ray packaging for The Fox and the Hound (first released on Blu-ray in summer 2011) and The Aristocats (first released on Blu-ray in summer 2012)... I just got the email confirmation the other day, the promo image erroneously says these two films are arriving on Blu-ray for the first time, and I'm pretty sure digital copies of both were available to buy on Movies Anywhere (formerly, of course, Disney Movies Anywhere).

Disney's actually been doing this kind of thing for a little while. Not too long ago, Pocahontas and Mulan got new Blu-ray covers. Both of those 90s films came packaged with their direct-to-video sequels, and their original noisy covers let you know that... The newer covers thankfully downplayed the DTV sequels.

In fact, the above Pocahontas cover was actually previously released in spring 2016 as a DMC exclusive. I mean, there's not much to the cover itself, but at least it contains the characters from the first movie in it. Same goes for Mulan, also kind of a lazy-looking cover. The only other thing I don't dig is how they integrated the sequel mentions... Just the titles in some plain, italicized font... Looks kinda cheap. Why not have it be a badge on the side that says "also includes" and then put the sequel logo next to it?

So now The Fox and the Hound has followed this route...

The Fox and the Hound has had a weird Blu-ray history.

The original release occurred in August 2011, and the cover was a plain image of Tod and Copper when they were young, like all the previous covers for the movie. However, both film titles are integrated into the cover.

While I was never a fan of these covers making any mention of the DTV sequels, at least the logo for the movie is placed nicely on the artwork.

Then in 2014, this really weird edition came out... A 3-movie collection containing The Fox and the Hound, The Fox and the Hound 2, and Oliver & Company...

Why make this set? I guess the rationale was "The Fox and the Hound and Oliver & Company are both talking dog movies that were made in the 80s." Weird that Oliver, the later release, is on the top half of the front cover... But the front cover as a whole is just slapped together and not really nice to look at. It uses pre-existing cover artwork and adds a split-frame border. The edits made to the Fox and the Hound artwork are baffling... In the original, Tod is of course looking down at Copper, who's looking up at him. With them in different spots, what even are they looking at? The front cover as a whole looks just like the Blu-ray cover of The Emperor's New Groove, that set paired the 2000 comedy with its DTV sequel Kronk's New Groove. That front cover, too, was not nice to look at.

Then earlier in 2017, The Fox and the Hound got a DMC exclusive cover...

It's just an altered version of the much-nicer 2006 DVD cover. Gone are the bear, Amos Slade, and Chief.

And now here we are... This new 2018 cover is a breakaway. Why's that?

This is the first-ever American home video front cover for The Fox and the Hound that shows Todd and Copper as adults... When do you ever see that?

The original theatrical poster for the movie didn't show adult Tod and Copper, nor did the 1988 re-release poster.

Some international posters, however, showed the main characters as adults...

Quite something...

But in America, Disney's always marketed The Fox and the Hound through the young versions of the main characters. It comes as no surprise, for the film was made during the Mouse's confused transitional period. During its tumultuous production, the Disney animation wing lost the ambitious Don Bluth and several other animators who were at odd ends with the risk-averse management. The Fox and the Hound may have its moments and some strong animation from the young "punks" who would later change the studio, but it's also a picture that was watered down. The people calling the shots on U.S.S. Walt Disney Productions were too concerned about toddlers and potential angry letters from parents. They were too chicken to make The Fox and the Hound the next Bambi...

So ever since... The Fox and the Hound has always been promoted as a fluffy, cutesy-wootsy movie about a fox kit and a puppy. Those who have seen the film or remember it very well will of course know that, like Bambi, they are only young in the film's first half. This is why I find the new cover to be fascinating. It may not be a great work of cover artwork, but it at least does something new for once! Usually with Disney animated feature front-covers in general, nothing really new is done with the content. With every new release of Dumbo, you expect an image of Dumbo flying and/or a circus backdrop. With Bambi, you expect to see him as a fawn with Thumper and Flower and a butterfly. With Lady and the Tramp, you expect the spaghetti sequence. The new Signature Edition front-cover for Lady and the Tramp is, you guessed it, the spaghetti sequence! You get my drift?

So props to the designer or group for choosing to make a home video cover for The Fox and the Hound that didn't show the main characters as kids.

Now, the other thing... It seems as if some Disney titles on Blu-ray are general releases. Films not really destined for the Vault, or a long stay in the Vault... If the Vault is even really much of a thing anymore. With some features, we're seeing packaging updates, not so much new releases of them.

Dumbo is a good example. The original Blu-ray release from 2011 is on the left, a newer cover - released April 2016 - is on the right.

Same thing happened with Alice in Wonderland. Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland have usually been general-release/non-Vault titles, so this isn't surprising. Alice's newer cover was released the same day as Dumbo's.

So in a way, it's the modern day equivalent of how Disney Home Entertainment handled general-release titles during the Classics and Masterpiece Collection eras...

Prior to the Classics line's launch in 1984, two feature-length, single-story Disney animated features were available on home video: Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland. (My copies pictured below. Just want to add: Folks have taken these photos around without crediting me, these were taken by me in 2012.)

Eventually, they got Classics make-overs, so the speak.

Dumbo was re-packaged as a Classics title in time for Disney's holiday 1985 "Making Your Dreams Come True" promotion, where all titles were $29.95. (Imagine that, $29.95 being the discount price.) Unlike the previous cover, which appears to have cut-and-paste Dumbo himself from the 1976 re-release poster, it's fully-detailed and features more characters. This is the only time a front cover for this movie featured the crows.

Alice in Wonderland was inducted into the Classics line in May 1986, with a cover that was pretty much the same as the previous one, just a little more painterly and detailed. Looked less like a publicity still for the film.

Now unlike Classics releases like Robin Hood and Pinocchio, these didn't go into the vault. Prior to the Classics line, Dumbo was always available. Alice in Wonderland for some reason disappeared from shelves around 1983 or early 1984. After its Classics release in 1986, it barely ever vaulted. It had become a general release title.

So did The Sword in the Stone, which hit video two months prior to Alice's Classics edition.

In the autumn of 1989, Dumbo and The Sword in the Stone got all-new Classics covers.

Alice in Wonderland, for whatever reason, didn't get a new cover... But its LaserDisc (apparently released the same day as the original Classics VHS counterpart) had an alternate version of the Tea Party scene...

Why they didn't use this for a new cover in 1989 is beyond me.

Robin Hood, after being in the vault since roughly 1987, was released for the second time as a Classics title in summer 1991. The artwork is a redone version of the 1984 original...

While the original is more painterly and detailed, this one is a little closer to the film's minimalist, cartoonier look. The back cover, however, is completely different - the easy way of telling whether you have the 80s release or the early 90s release.

From here on out, Robin Hood was a general release title. This 1991 Classics edition never vaulted.

The Classics line ended in March 1994. Replacing it was the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection, which was kicked off by the home video premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs... Alongside re-issues of then in-print Classics titles: Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, The Sword in the Stone, and Robin Hood...

As you can see, the Masterpiece Editions of Dumbo, Alice, and Sword use their Classics covers. Alice in Wonderland uses the LaserDisc art, showing that Disney could've very well used it in 1989 for the second Classics VHS cover... But they opted to keep using the same cover for Alice up until the mid-90s.

Interestingly enough, the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection's other kick-off titles were live-action/animation hybrids: So Dear to My Heart, Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and Pete's Dragon...

Now, these films aren't part of the Disney Animated Classics "canon," never really have been given that they are - at their base - live-action pictures. They were never part of The Classics video line, though they got the full cover artwork treatment in the late 80s and early 90s - once Disney stopped doing their Sorcerer Mickey covers.

Their late 80s/early 90s VHS jackets did have some Classics-ish elements on them, such as the characters' heads being in diamond-shaped frames.

40s package feature The Three Caballeros, on the other hand, is part of the canon. Was part of it since 1985, anyways. The Three Caballeros got its second video release in 1987, and despite having full artwork and Donald's head in a diamond frame on the spine, it wasn't under The Classics banner.

But it too was a general release title. The Masterpiece Edition uses the same cover art.

As far as single-story features go, Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, The Sword in the Stone, and Robin Hood remained in print.

Dumbo was set to get a new Masterpiece release, and presumably a new cover, in 1998. A "fully restored" edition, no less. That never materialized. A promo leaflet shown below shows the 1989 cover, probably as a placeholder.

My friend Mac found this in his copy of
the 1997 Jungle Book VHS release...

Two titles got new Masterpiece covers in 1999, when the line was nearing its end:

In 2000, the Masterpiece Collection was sorta-kinda replaced by the Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection. It lasted until early 2001.

Alice in Wonderland and Robin Hood were part of this line. The GCC covers just re-used the 1999 Masterpiece artworks.

Early 2001 saw a new release of The Sword in the Stone, with a new cover.

Makes me wonder if that cover artwork was around in 1998-99, for a potential 2nd Masterpiece release.

Dumbo never got a Gold Classic Collection release. Later in 2001, however, it got a 60th Anniversary Edition with a new cover.

This remained in print until 2006, when a DVD edition called the "Big Top Edition" was released... This, to my knowledge, actually went out of print. Years later, we'd get the 2011 Blu-ray release.

Post-Gold Classic Collection, Alice in Wonderland got an expanded 2-disc DVD edition in fall 2004. Called "The Masterpiece Edition," that actually vaulted.

To promote the Tim Burton-directed adaptation that Disney put out in spring 2010, a new DVD edition called the "Un-Anniversary Edition" was released.

This was replaced by the 2011 Blu-ray release, which was ultimately the 60th Anniversary Edition.

Now... This brings me back to The Fox and the Hound. That title was the final Classics release, in spring 1994. It, however, was not a general release title back then. This release vaulted in spring 1995.

In 2000, it returned, as part of the Gold Classic Collection...

I'm not sure if the GCC edition was ever vaulted or not, but the 25th Anniversary Edition came in fall 2006. That, too, might've vaulted. I don't remember it being available when the Blu-ray was coming out in 2011.

Then I guess after 2011, The Fox and the Hound was no longer a vault title. Hence the 2014 re-issue w/ Oliver & Company, and the new DMC-exclusive covers...

The Aristocats, too, appears to now be a general release Disney title. Previous releases of that film have vaulted. Its "Special Edition" Blu-ray came out back in 2012, and I don't recall that ever being vaulted.

I think, eventually, all of the Disney animated classics will become general releases... As the concept of the Vault just makes less and less sense in the home video world of today.

How Disney will adapt will be interesting to watch, but we may be seeing shades of that now... While films like The Aristocats and The Fox and the Hound were never quite "Quick! Get 'em before they go!" titles, they still were limited-time releases in the past. Films like those, I think, will be the first to go. In the coming years, you might not have to worry about waiting to own them...


  1. It's so odd how WDHE works. If your predictions are correct I'd be more than thrilled; the Vault has always been a pain in the butt. I totally remember that 94' issue of Fox and the Hound, think I was only about three or four, but it came in this huge box along with a Copper plush.

    1. I, too, have the feeling that Disney may be doing away with the Vault practice with this new Signature Collection. I have yet to see an announcement of "Snow White" being vaulted, and it's been out for maybe two years now. I'm also certain that promotion in fall 2016 when Disney temporarily brought out a few other vaulted princess titles to promote the "Beauty and the Beast" Signature Edition was a test-the-waters experiment to see what the consumer public would think about having so many Vault titles out at once, sort of like when they chose "Robin Hood" as their first Classics Collection title way back in 1984.

  2. I'm not sure if you had mentioned this but the 2016 Pocahontas and Mulan DMC discs were actually newly pressed discs (strangly enough, only Mulan's 2016 DMC release is a combo pack that includes a DVD copy - the 2013 disc - as well as a digital HD copy flier). The Blu-Ray discs of each film - from what I've heard - are essentially the 2012 and 2013 release discs respectively, but (appropiately) drops the sequel films, making the discs a one-movie deal now instead of being double features. What is odd though, is that the 2017 releases of the two films are essentially repackagings of the older discs, with sequels included but minus the individual DVD copies that were previously sold along with the Blu-Ray discs as well. The 2017 discs have the 2016 packaging as well, but altered to add mentions of the direct to video sequel films

    1. My mistake, Pocahontas was the release that was a combo pack
      (, not Mulan which is just a "Blu-Ray+Digital HD"

      Also, as for the cover images of Disney movies it does seem as though it is a rule-of-thumb as to how the company promotes it's films: "Sleeping Beauty" often has a photo of Aurora being kissed by Phillip, "Jungle Book's" covers usually have Mowgli and Baloo dancing, "Beauty and the Beast" have Belle and Beast in their ballroom attire, so on and so forth.
      Also, I find it baffling that they re-package the ones Disney advertises as "kiddie fodder"-type movies (Dumbo, Fox&Hound etc) plus the two aformentioned Princess movies, but they couldn't do this for the other Disney animated movies that aren't "Vaulted" anymore but are less advertised; I would've liked to see alternate covers for Great Mouse Detective, Hunchback, Hercules etc.

  3. The JPN poster for FATH makes it look like a horror movie.