The "Disney Vault" was a term formerly used by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment for its policy of putting home video releases of Walt Disney Animation Studios' features on moratorium. Each Disney film was available for purchase for a while, after which it was put "in the vault" and not made available in stores for several years until its re-release.
The term is also by used by journalists in reference to Walt Disney Studios' separate practices in relation to restricting availability of theatrical releases from Disney's back-catalogue for screenings at certain cinemas.
This is the modern version of Disney's practice of re-releasing its animated films in theaters every several years, which began with the 1944 reissue of 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. During the 1980s and 1990s, when the home video market was dominated by VHS systems, Disney films would be reissued every ten years (a time gap equal to that of their theatrical reissues). The moratorium period was continued with the evolution of home media delivery mechanisms, including DVD, Blu-ray, and digital streaming, which Disney itself mainly markets through its own Movies Anywhere initiative. Television commercials for Disney home video releases will alert customers that certain films will be placed on moratorium soon, urging them to purchase these films before they "go back into the Disney Vault", in the words often spoken by voiceover actor Mark Elliot. Some direct-to-video Disney films, among them Bambi II, have also been released with a pre-established window of availability.
Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo were among the first movies to be released on home video. Earlier, they were among the first Disney films aired on television. They had been chosen to premiere as part of ABC's Walt Disney's Disneyland to promote Disneyland and its two prominent rides based on these films. Disney has kept this "tradition" by having them permanently released to the public. Disney has never vaulted these two films because they have become so saturated in the market that vaulting them would have been meaningless. Nonetheless they have been very successful on home video, equivalent to that of the Disney Vault movies. Near the end of the 2000s they were both announced to be released in on Platinum/Diamond edition. They were only released on a special edition with similar marketing to the Disney Vault movies. They are available on digital and occasionally on certain streaming devices but are hard to find in stores. Most recently, Disney has released a Blu-ray/digital copy combo pack of the films but only as a Disney Movie Club exclusive, which was not released to the public. As of June 2018, Disney ceased to sell these editions to DMC members, and instead offers the regular Blu-rays as an option.
With the release of the Signature Collection, Disney has released three movies per year instead of two. As of August 2019, no films have been vaulted.
When Disney's streaming service Disney+ (launched in the United States on November 12, 2019) was announced, Disney CEO Bob Iger revealed that the service will contain Disney's entire film library, which would de facto retire the concept of the Disney Vault as a home video control device for good. However, a separate practice restricting repertory screenings of films from the Disney back-catalogue remains in effect. Following Disney's purchase of 21st Century Fox for its entertainment assets (including 20th Century Fox) in March 2019, Disney withdrew the Fox film library from distribution to theaters, effectively placing the Fox back-catalog in the Vault.
The Walt Disney Company itself stated that this process was done to both control their market and to allow Disney films to be fresh for new generations of young children. A side-effect of the moratorium process was the fact that videos and DVDs of Disney films placed on moratorium become collectibles, sold in stores and at auction websites such as eBay for sums in excess of their original suggested retail price. The practice also had made the Disney films a prime target for counterfeit DVD manufacturers.
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
- Pinocchio (1940)
- Fantasia (1940)
- Dumbo (1941)
- Bambi (1942)
- Cinderella (1950)
- Alice in Wonderland (1951)
- Peter Pan (1953)
- Lady and the Tramp (1955)
- Sleeping Beauty (1959)
- 101 Dalmatians (1961)
- The Jungle Book (1967)
- The Little Mermaid (1989)
- Beauty and the Beast (1991)
- Aladdin (1992)
- The Lion King (1994)
Follow-ups and movie remakes
These were movies that Disney released as a commercial tie in to their major vault release though despite not given the standards of a Vault release as most are not critically acclaimed and none make the amount of money that their respective vault releases make, some are considered favorites among fans. As of 2017, sequels and remakes to vault films are kept in general release despite the original returning to the vault.
- The Return of Jafar (1994)
- Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996)
- 101 Dalmatians (1996)
- Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997)
- Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World (1998)
- The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (1998)
- Fantasia 2000 (1999)
- The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (2000)
- 102 Dalmatians (2000)
- Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure (2001)
- Return to Never Land (2002)
- Cinderella II: Dreams Come True (2002)
- 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure (2003)
- The Jungle Book 2 (2003)
- The Lion King 1½ (2004)
- Bambi II (2006)
- Cinderella III: A Twist in Time (2007)
- The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning (2008)
- Alice in Wonderland (2010)
- Maleficent (2014)
- Cinderella (2015)
- The Jungle Book (2016)
- Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)
- Beauty and the Beast (2017)
- Dumbo (2019)
- Aladdin (2019)
- The Lion King (2019)
- Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)
- Lady and the Tramp (2019)
- Mulan (2020)
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- "Return to Neverland". reelfilm.com. February 13, 2002.