Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Non-Classic Confusion

Prior to The Walt Disney Company's realization that releasing the animated classics on home video would usher in a successful era for both Walt Disney Home Video and the home media industry, the company kept certain animated classics out of reach from the American public. To wit, the animated classics that were always theatrically re-released every 7-10 years and never shown on television. Classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Bambi, Cinderella, Peter PanSleeping Beauty and many more...

Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland were exceptions, though while Disney theatrically re-released them after the 1950s, both films were televised on Walt Disney's groundbreaking anthology series Disneyland, albeit in edited form and in black-and-white. These films were simply not part of this particular canon of Disney animated films. What else was absent from this "canon"? The package features...

In the 1950s, many of the omnibus package features were cut up and the different segments were used elsewhere from television programs to shorts needed to accompany theatrical releases, though The Three Caballeros happened to get a theatrical re-release in 1977, given the psychedelic audiences of the time and the fact that they made the 1969 re-release of Fantasia and the 1974 re-release of Alice in Wonderland successful... In fact, both films finally turned a profit thanks to these re-issues. Though I think by 1977, Disney was a little too late to keep cashing in on this.

That all being said, this is the reason why Dumbo, The Three Caballeros, Fun & Fancy FreeAlice in Wonderland and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh were the first of the canon animated classics released on home video.

I don't have this edition... Yet!

Then of course, in 1984, Walt Disney Home Video launched The Classics. The very brand that was set up to give the Disney animated classics the prestigious treatment on home video whilst differentiating the releases of those films from the rest of their titles. At a time when everything came in a thick white clamshell and would have Sorcerer Mickey and the Walt Disney Home Video logo take up the top half of the front cover artwork...

Disney had finally started experimenting with full cover artwork in 1983 with the Cartoon Classics, which paved the way for The Classics and all of the animated films being released on home media. Dumbo became the first of the 1981-1982 releases to get the Classics treatment, which would ultimately replace the previous release with full cover artwork and the Classics diamond was all over the packaging. This would street just in time for Disney's "Making Your Dreams Come True" holiday sell-through promotion which included 20 other titles all priced at $29.95. A move that also rocketed Walt Disney Home Video's profits in the coming years. Alice in Wonderland then got the Classics treatment months later, in May of 1986 as the centerpiece of the summer-long Wonderland Sale promotion. But what happened to the other three films?

The Three Caballeros' only home video release at the time was in November 1982. Walt Disney Home Video didn't re-release the title on home video until late 1987... But was it a Classics edition? By 1987, the canon had changed. The package features were now part of the official line-up, in addition to films shown on television such as Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland, but... Caballeros' 1987 release was not a Classics edition, oddly enough!

So you've got the Walt Disney's heading. Check. Full, lovely detailed artwork? Check. Donald Duck's head is in a diamond frame on the spine of the tape? Check. No Classics Diamond to be seen, it's just a regular Walt Disney Home Video release that opens with the 1986 Walt Disney Home Video logo. (The "Sorcerer Mickey" one, if you don't know.) Also, prior to 1988, all Classics editions of pre-1970 Disney animated films would have the heading "Walt Disney's" or "Disney's" (only used for The Sword in the Stone's first two packages).

So how come this package feature wasn't given the Classics treatment?

A year after The Three Caballeros was re-issued with very fully detailed packaging, Mary Poppins was re-issued and got the nice full artwork treatment!

In 1989, Bedknobs and Broomsticks also got the same treatment. Pete's Dragon was next in 1991, followed by So Dear to My Heart in 1992. Maybe Disney still considered something like Caballeros, with its live action portions, a separate entity from the other classics thus it wasn't deserving of that black diamond. Maybe they felt it was more in line with their live action films that contained animation.

Fun & Fancy Free wasn't re-released on video at all between 1984 and the mid-to-late 1990s, ditto The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. In fact, none of the other package features got released on home video. No Classics editions for those, nor any standalone editions that didn't bear the Classics name. Why was that?

I think that a certain video line introduced the same year as Caballeros' second video release was the reason you didn't see something like Fun & Fancy Free or The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad in their full complete form at the time...

The Mini-Classics line was launched in 1987 alongside the next wave of Cartoon Classics editions (or the "2nd Wave"), a line where featurettes and longer short subjects would get a video edition of their own. Mickey and the Beanstalk was one of the premiere titles, Bongo got the Mini-Classics treatment two years later in fall 1989. The versions of the short subjects were different; Beanstalk was presented in its 1962 form that Ludwig von Drake narrated for the anthology television series, which was by that time was called Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. In the original 1947 feature film, it's narrated by Edgar Bergen along with Luana Patten, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd.

Bongo is narrated by Jiminy Cricket, as this version was televised in 1955 on the anthology series. In fact, the back cover of the VHS mentions that the program consists of "Jiminy Cricket presents Bongo" and Fun & Fancy Free! The original was narrated by Dinah Shore, a pop singer and actress from the era. Another version (with the original narration) would later be attached to Disney's live action film The Wild Country in 1971. (More on this short subject on Jerry Beck's Cartoon Research, a very interesting read that includes the press kit from the short film's 1971 theatrical release!)

Maybe Disney just felt that having the two shorts out was all they needed, instead of restoring and re-releasing the full film. Maybe they just felt in 1989-1990, "Who wants Fun & Fancy Free when we can give them Bambi?" Also, Mickey and the Beanstalk was always the main attraction anyways, as the original 1982 of the film cover totally stresses. Another possible reason is that Disney felt like milking the cash cow with the individual shorts that made up the films, selling 2-3 short subjects from each film for a good price.

So with Bongo and Mickey and the Beanstalk available separately on home video in the late 1980s, when did Fun & Fancy Free finally get it's second ever home video release? 1997.

Notice it was part of a line that included the other canon animated classics? Well by the mid-1990s, things were different. Disney retired the Classics brand in 1994 and replaced it with the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection, which would not only include package features, but also live action films that contained animation. So Dear to My Heart, Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Pete's Dragon were among the nine premiere titles. All four of those films hadn't been retired to the vault, so Disney just updated the packaging for each film, ditto all the Classics editions that were still in print at the time. (i.e. Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland.) Oh, and the cover totally leaves poor Bongo out. It's all about Mickey and the Beanstalk... Sheesh, the cover almost implies that this film is just about Mickey, Donald and Goofy. Well hopefully a full-length film about Mickey is coming... You know... That one that Burny Mattinson confirmed a couple years ago.

Anyways, to get back on topic, the VHS was a 50th Anniversary release so Disney did give it the treatment it deserved. The VHS even had a behind-the-scenes special at the end, like most other VHS releases of Disney classics in the late 1990s. Fun & Fancy Free got one more home media release 3 years later as a Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection, on both VHS and DVD. The fact that it hasn't seen a new release in over 13 years is kind of upsetting, but hopefully it'll get the Blu-ray treatment soon. (Along with the other package features!)

Now we get to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Disney didn't update the packaging in the mid 1980s like they did to several of their in-print films, so I'm assuming Winnie went into the vault sometime in 1983 or 1984, much like Alice in Wonderland. In the mid 1980s, Disney gave a lot of their films slight packaging makeovers. In late 1984/early 1985, clamshell covers would replace the EPCOT-style font for "HOME VIDEO" with a less 1980s-styled one.

In late 1985, Disney began using bigger cover images surrounded by a white border with the Mickey and WDHV logo at the top of the artwork, albeit a lot smaller. This style stuck until 1987, though it didn't apply to every release.

Yet The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was never re-issued or updated with cover artwork like that. But we did get the individual shorts, some way or another!

In 1984, Disney released Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore on a VHS and Laserdisc called Winnie the Pooh and Friends...

The other three bear-themed shorts included are two classics with Humphrey the Bear - Hooked Bear and In the Bag - and the 1950 Goofy cartoon Hold That Pose, a funny entry in the "How To" series where he attempts to photograph a bear... Or essentially an early version of Humphrey. I never really considered that bear in question to be Humphrey. With over 43 minutes of content on the program, it seemed like a suitable release.

In 1986, all four Winnie the Pooh shorts got their own editions, which came in cardboard slipcover cases. This made sense, since the Classics line was just getting warmed up. Maybe the full feature would be released sometime later? The possibility of that happening was shot down in 1990, when all four of the shorts were re-released as Walt Disney Mini-Classics editions. Fans and consumers had to wait until 1996 to get the full feature again, but Disney didn't slack off on giving it good treatment!

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh hit home video again as a Masterpiece Collection edition on March 27, 1996. 

A deluxe edition was released alongside it, so Disney gave the film the treatment it deserved. Gone were the days where you had to find the out-of-print 1981 VHS or watch all the shorts in order without the tacked on ending. Man, did the Masterpiece Collection fulfill fans' wishes or what?

The other package features weren't ever released on home video in the United States and Canada during the 1980s and early 1990s. Disney only opted to release The Three Caballeros and Fun & Fancy Free in 1982, re-releasing the former in 1987 while leaving the latter one to sit in the vault. Individual segments from the films did, however, appear on video. Melody Time's Little Toot segment was on the 1982 compilation Storybook Classics. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow segment from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad was the main attraction of its own spooky-themed compilation tape in 1983. With the advent of the Mini-Classics line a few years later, more segments were released on video between 1987 and 1991: Peter and the Wolf and Willie the Operatic Whale from Make Mine Music, and finally The Wind in the Willows segment from Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

It seemed like Disney knew something was going to work out for them. They couldn't cut The Three Caballeros up, since the sequences were mostly under 10 minutes in length or weren't really stories per se, unlike some of the segments from other package features. With them being over 10-15 minutes, Disney saw some opportunities there. With the Mini-Classics line, Disney could easily make a good amount off of 2-3 segments on their own VHS tapes from a package film rather than a single VHS containing the full film. Smart strategy, and they continued this with the Favorite Stories line in the 1990s until calling it quits and finally releasing the full films (well, almost all of them) in the Masterpiece Collection. It didn't matter whether it was a package feature or a live action film containing animation, they'd find a home in this line.

About the Masterpiece Collection... Well, two particular home video releases from the early 1990s were always rather... Strange. What are they?

The 1991 video release of Fantasia and the 1993 video release of Pinocchio...

Remember, the Classics line was retired in 1994... But these two releases don't have the Classics diamond anywhere on the packaging, though the characters' heads are in a diamond. Both have a "Walt Disney's Masterpiece" heading. Oddly enough, however, they both open with the Walt Disney Classics logo!

Fantasia was one of two films that Walt Disney Home Video didn't plan on ever releasing on any home media formats. The other one was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this was probably due to their popularity (they always did well in re-releases, even after the video boom starting firing up) or their status as two of Walt's finest. Anyways, Fantasia seemed like it would never come out. Even in 1991, the year it was released, it seemed like it wouldn't be released. Some early plans supposedly had One Hundred and One Dalmatians pegged as the holiday 1991 tape release (following its very successful summer 1991 re-release that grossed $24 million less than The Little Mermaid on its initial release!), since everything else was set in stone... The Jungle Book in spring, Robin Hood and The Rescuers Down Under in the summer.

Other rumors suggested that Dalmatians would compete with Down Under or Fantasia for the holiday spot. All three ended up being released within the same timeframe: Down Under was a very late summer release (as in three days away from the first day of autumn in 1991), Fantasia was the holiday release and Dalmatians appeared in spring 1992.

Fantasia wasn't given the Classics treatment in the packaging department. In fact, this would be the first time Disney released a lavish deluxe set for an animated film. Maybe because it was given such grand treatment, Disney didn't feel the need to make it part of a line... Maybe they just wanted it to be its own special entity.

But why does the Classics logo precede the film? Mistake, maybe? Or was this release going to be a Classics edition? A long time ago (I want to say mid-2006), I saw a scan of the cover artwork that actually had the "Walt Disney's Classic" heading... Haven't seen it since, but it's possible that it was a fake. If it's real, then it's proof that it was going to be a Classics edition with the diamond and all. But the logo's inclusion already tells me that it in fact was going to be a Classics edition. Do you think so?

Pinocchio was first released as a Classics edition in 1985 (the second, the first being Robin Hood), and that film went on moratorium in 1987 (not counting it's brief stay in the vault from early to late 1986). It wouldn't be released on home video again until March 1993, following its final theatrical re-release. This re-release presented a fully restored version of the film to audiences, but it didn't really gross much at the box office, probably because many people already had the VHS. On an interesting side note, a fully restored Sleeping Beauty was supposed to re-released in spring 1993... But those plans fell through, probably because the Pinocchio re-release didn't do so well. Have a look at the trailer for this scrapped re-release, which came from the Beauty and the Beast VHS...

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' fully restored print that was first re-released in 1987 would be re-released in fall 1993, but this re-release happened because the last one did well and it wasn't ever released on home video at the time. Pinocchio, again, most likely did poorly in 1992 because it was already on video. Disney probably figured that the same would've happened to Sleeping Beauty, since it was released on home video before and sold very well.

Back to the Pinocchio VHS...

Like the Fantasia VHS, the diamond is nowhere to be found nor any mention of "The Classics". The tape opens up with the Classics logo... But unlike Fantasia's VHS, there is firm evidence that this was in fact a Classics release at one point.

A good friend of mine and fellow Disney VHS collector Nick William (YouTube) found a demo/sales/in-store tape VHS for this release (from late 1992) back in September...

As you can see, the spine has the Classics and WDHV logo scheme that the other Classics editions from 1986-onwards have... But the heading says "Walt Disney's Masterpiece". Strange indeed. For some reason, Disney instead made it a standalone edition and also gave it a lavish box set edition.

But why for this film? It had been released on home video before, unlike Fantasia. Maybe Disney was getting ready to retire the Classics line early on? It couldn't have been for films that got box set editions, because Beauty and the Beast also had a box set and that was an actual Classics edition. (The film was released on video in October 1992, between Fantasia and Pinocchio.) Aladdin, the second-to-last Classics edition, also got a box set edition.

Us collectors might not have cracked this nut yet (has anyone ever viewed a Fantasia demo tape, by the way?), but this is a rather interesting tidbit in Walt Disney Home Video's history. In fact, it kind of repeated itself in 2010. Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 were going to be a two-movie collection Blu-ray in the Diamond Edition collection line. The trailer touted it as a Diamond Edition, and when you insert the disc into a PlayStation 3 (or any BD player that shows you the name of the content), it says "Diamond Edition". But the packaging doesn't mention "Diamond Edition" anywhere, it's just a standalone release. 1991 all over again?

So package features didn't get the Classics treatment, yet they could've. (This calls for an alternate Walt Disney Home Video history!) A few titles were going to be Classics editions, but then became weird hybrid editions... Looking into these things is a daily thing for us collectors, because the many VHS tapes released from the 1980s to the mid 1990s have their oddities and errors. These cases are just one of many!

1 comment:

  1. Lovin' your blog! As for that "alternate" Walt Disney Home Video history, mine would be that they DIDN'T discontinue the Classics line in 1994, and continue today into the DVD age. This would also include the "Platinum" and "Diamond" editions, and a new WETA Digital-animated CGI remake of the 1988-1994 Classics logo at the start of each movie.
    I even imagined "Mary Poppins" would still be a plain "Walt Disney's" title until the 2004 DVD release when it is finally released in Classics packaging for the 40th anniversary edition (which also unfortunately included the redubbed "Enhanced Home Theater Mix" soundtrack.)