Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Lost Re-release


This is an interesting bit of Disney history that seems to be overlooked... One that concerns a re-release of one of their classic animated films...

Theatrical re-releases would prove to be a very smart strategy for Disney over the decades...

The outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939 had caused many problems for the rising Disney studio. Nearly all of the European market - a vital source of income for the studio - had been cut off. Pinocchio could not recoup its huge budget, and Fantasia didn't do any better on top of not being understood by audiences. Dumbo was profitable thanks to its shoestring budget, but its chances at grossing more revenue than it did were cut off mere weeks after the film's debut - the attack on Pearl Harbor happened.


Bambi was also a box office bomb, and was also greeted with indifference from critics and audiences alike (complaints that it was too realistic to be a "cartoon"), and it drove Disney to produce the omnibus package features for the remainder of the decade since they were cost-efficient and years later, the different segments could be snipped from the films and be re-used in other places: Television, theatrical short subjects, educational films...

A 1944 re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs did well, and it prompted Disney to simply theatrically re-release their animated classics and not show them on television. Walt Disney saw these films as events, not things you could just show on a small screen or for free (this also explains Walt Disney Home Video's original reluctance to release the animated classics on home video). Re-releases would also save Pinocchio and Bambi by the early 1950s, once the European market began to open back up and domestic revenue would only put the films in the black.


When Disney began releasing their animated classics on home video in the mid-1980s (Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland appeared in the early 1980s, they were both shown on television prior to that), re-releases were still a thing. But after the home video releases... Well...

The first Disney animated film to be theatrically re-released after debuting on home video was Pinocchio. The film was released on video in 1985 and it was withdrawn in early 1987. 1987 was also the year that the expensive, painstakingly, digitally restored Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was re-released in time for the film's 50th anniversary. That re-release took in a solid $46 million (that translates to $97 million today), so logically, Disney decided to digitally restore Pinocchio next since that was the second animated film.


This restored version of Pinocchio was released on June 26, 1992; it sadly didn't do too well. It grossed a paltry $18 million, but the following video release in March 1993 was a big success. But when Pinocchio was being restored, Disney was also restoring Sleeping Beauty for a re-release to follow Pinocchio...

Beauty and the Beast's videocassette - released on October 30, 1992 - contains a trailer for this very re-release.



Now of course, when I looked up the film's re-release history many years back, I didn't see a North American 1993 date anywhere...

My guess is that after Pinocchio's re-issue lost money, Disney cancelled Sleeping Beauty's re-issue. Snow White's digital restoration cost a whopping $25 million, Pinocchio's must've cost around the same amount, ditto this. This leads me to believe that the Beauty and the Beast videocassette was mastered and edited prior to the opening of the restored Pinocchio in late June. Seems likely, since that was just a few months ahead of Beauty and the Beast's video release. This could also explain why no poster exists for this re-release. It must've been immediately cancelled sometime in the summer of 1992, when Pinocchio's re-release failed to meet expectations at the box office. Beauty and the Beast's tape master - trailers and all - was probably already in the can.

Sleeping Beauty, like Pinocchio, was also already released on home video prior to the 1990s. That film hit stores in the fall of 1986, and it was withdrawn in 1988. That film's video release was record-breaking hit at the time, too! It sold a then-whopping one million units. Put two and two together, and you can see why this re-release didn't come to fruition. They didn't even give the restored version a video release at the time, something you think they would've done since the theatrical re-release fell through.

Disney instead opted to give Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs one last re-release in 1993, since that film wasn't ever released on video at the time. After that re-issue did very well ($41 million), they finally released the film on home video... Something they said they would never do a few years prior to that.

Had Pinocchio never hit home video in 1985, the re-release probably would've grossed somewhere close to $40 million. Sleeping Beauty probably would've done the same had there been no video release of the title in 1986. Disney probably figured that Pinocchio's 1992 re-release did poorly because many Americans owned the videotape or were able to rent it from their local Blockbuster. They knew Sleeping Beauty was also released on video, so they decided to avoid a big loss altogether.

Oddly enough, two years later, the restored Sleeping Beauty got a limited release on September 10, 1995...

Did a video release for the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection follow in 1996? Nope, 1997 instead! There were two versions of the release, a pan-and-scan version and a widescreen version. This was released alongside fully restored versions of Bambi and The Jungle Book.

An interesting tidbit of Disney history...

2 comments:

  1. I'm sure Sleeping Beauty's 1993 re-release was cancelled simply because Disney chose Snow White to be re-released instead, and as Walt himself once said, he didn't like singing heads.

    However Sleeping Beauty did get a video release, utilizing the 1995 digital restoration that was done possibly for the limited release (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-z0o26HD40). However other countries got a video release first (with Europe and Australia as the first English speaking countries), making the USA one of the last countries to have a video release, in 1997.

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  2. The decision to can the '93 Sleeping Beauty reissue must have been very late. There exists a printing of Beauty and the Beast that has trailers for Sleeping Beauty and the upcoming VHS release of Pinocchio.

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