Walt Disney Home Video (aka Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment) is the home video branch of The Walt Disney Company.
Disney first released its library into the home market in 1978, through a distribution agreement with MCA DiscoVision to release live-action Disney movies and animated episodes of Walt Disney Presents onto LaserDisc. The agreement would expire in December 1981, but Disney would later begin supplying films and programs on the revamped version of LD by Pioneer Entertainment and Philips (the latter of whom helped develop DVD) along with Image Entertainment.
In March 1980, Disney would form its own home video arm, a division of Walt Disney Telecommunications And Non Theatrical Company (renamed Buena Vista Home Video in 1987), with Jim Jimirro as its first president. A list of 13 titlesnote were released on the VHS and Betamax magnetic tape formats in March 1980 note licensed to Fotomat for rental, with a four-city test (in Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia and San Francisco) before a planned nationwide expansion by the end of the year. During 1981-1984, Disney expanded its reach by having video stores sign up to be "authorized rental dealers".
In 1981, Dumbo became the first Disney Animated Canon movie to hit home video; Alice in Wonderland and the anthology movies The Three Caballeros, Fun and Fancy Free, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh shortly followed. The Disney management at the time were initially reluctant to release the rest of the Canon anywhere but in theaters out of concern that they would lose their value if they were to be released on tape. They marked the Canon's 15 most lucrative moviesnote off-limits from WDHV by compiling them into a list of "Untouchables". However, this was during the Dork Age of the studio that saw the Disney brand being associated with children's fluff and attempts to create Darker and Edgier fare failed miserably at the box office, so the idea to unleash the Untouchables for home use eventually caught on with some if not all of the executives.
The idea for giving the Disney Animated Canon its own video line, the Walt Disney Classics, from then-studio head Ron Miller, and subsequently adopted by Michael Eisner after the former was ousted in a boardroom takeover. The first title in the Classics line was Robin Hood in 1984, followed by Pinocchio, in 1985. As a compromise to the more conservative members of the board, both titles were priced at $79.95 (not an uncommon price for pre-recorded videocassettes, but enough to ensure that most people would simply rent the film as opposed to buying a copy), and would only be available for a limited time. After a few years, the tapes would go on moratorium, before re-releasing the most popular films to theaters. The price for Pinocchio would eventually be lowered to $29.95, eventually breaking records in the video market, and Disney would subsequently debut new releases in the collection in that range or slightly lower. Also in 1984, Disney launched another home video branch, Buena Vista Home Video (later Buena Vista Home Entertainment), to release productions without Disney's name.
For the first few years of the Walt Disney Classics collection, Disney would traditionally re-release an "Untouchable" in theaters, then make it available to own on home video shortly afterwards. Brand-new entries to the Disney Animated Canon wouldn't come to home video, in hopes that their theatrical re-releases would still make money. However, after 1989's The Little Mermaid became Disney's biggest success in years, it reached video stores in 1990, only six months after its theatrical premiere. Canon entries following Mermaid would have progressively shorter gaps between their theatrical premieres, and their first home video release dates. Throughout the early 1990s, Disney vowed that their crown jewels, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Fantasia, would never be released on video, though they relented (Fantasia was released in 1991, Snow White in 1994 as the first in the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection line). Some time after this, the term "Untouchable" apparently became abandoned at Disney.note With VHS sales eating up revenue from theatrical reissues, Disney would eventually only hold the latter on special occasions.
Towards the end of 1997, Disney began releasing their movies on Toshiba/Philips/Panasonic/Sony's DVD (Digital Versatile Disc), starting with Mary Poppins. Within the next couple of years, the studio kicked off their efforts to make the Disney Animated Canon available on the format, beginning with Pinocchio. In lieu of the Untouchables, Disney would compile the 14 movies that sold the most videotapesnote into a collection of films that would each remain available for only a limited time, before going into moratorium for many years. They initially referred to these films as the "Platinum" collection, but would proceed to change the name whenever the DAC's oldest entry, Snow White, would enter a new media format. Other Disney movies would only disappear from stores if the studio decided to re-release them with more bonus features. (Meanwhile, LaserDisc releases quietly ceased with the final Disney LD, Inspector Gadget, released in 1999.)
In 2004, Disney announced that they became one of the first studios to support the high definition Blu-ray Disc format note , poised at the time to enter a format war with (the ultimately short-lived) HD-DVD from Toshiba. They officially started releasing Blu-ray Discs in 2006, with Dinosaur becoming the Canon's first movie sold on BD. Eight Below became the first live-action Disney movie available on Blu-ray, and The Haunted Mansion the first catalog title.note After Blu-ray won the HD format war, in 2008, Disney began releasing their traditionally-animated movies on BD, starting with Sleeping Beauty.
Also in 2006, Disney ventured into releasing their library on non-physical formats, by becoming the first studio to make their movies available to download through Apple's iTunes (at the time, Apple was run by Pixar CEO and Disney shareholder Steve Jobs). Seven movies from the Animated Canon apparently share the title of its initial entry sold through them.note Other digital retailers also eventually obtained distribution rights to their works, and in 2014, Disney launched a website and mobile app especially for downloading and streaming their movies - Disney Movies Anywhere, which launched the same day that the Canon's highest-grossing movie, Frozen, hit digital platforms.
In 2017, Disney began releasing their library on 4K UltraHD Blu-ray and Digital formats, starting with Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales would become the first Disney-branded film with 4K home media releases, Pixar's Cars 3 the first Disney-owned animated film to receive such treatment, and Touchstone Pictures' The Prestigenote the first Disney-owned 4K catalog title. The same year, Disney Movies Anywhere became Movies Anywhere, and started offering other studios' works in addition to Disney's. The following year, Wreck-It Ralph became the Animated Canon's first UltraHD title (as a tie-in with Ralph Breaks the Internet), and The Lion King their first traditionally-animated UHD release. Meanwhile, Disney VHS tapes (particularly the animated ones) have become collectibles and part of a niche market.
Most Disney releases have been duplicated by Technicolor; however, the earliest non-Fotomat releases were also duplicated at US Video Corp, with a few releases afterwards, including Touchstone's Armageddon and at least a couple of short-form releases in the '80s, being duplicated at Bell & Howell/Columbia Pictures/Paramount Video Services and its successor entities from time to time.
List of Walt Disney Home Video lines:
Disney Animated Canon linesnote
- Walt Disney Classicsnote (1984-1994)
- Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection (1994-1999)note
- Walt Disney Limited Issues (1999)note
- Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection (2000-2001)note
- Walt Disney Platinum Editions (2001-2009)
- Walt Disney Diamond Editions (2009-2015)
- Walt Disney Signature Collection note (2016-present)
- Walt Disney Cartoon Classics (1983-1986; 1987-1992)
- Cartoon Classics: Limited Gold Edition (1984)
- Cartoon Classics: Limited Gold Edition II (1985)
- Walt Disney Mini-Classics (1988-1991)
- Disney Favorite Stories (1994-1996)
- Walt Disney's Classic Cartoon Favorites (2005-2006)
- Walt Disney's Funny Factory (2006)
Live-Action movie lines
- Walt Disney's Studio Film Collection (1991-1992)
- Walt Disney Family Film Collection (1994)
- Walt Disney Film Classics (1997-2006)
- Vault Disney Collection (2002-2003)
- Disney Generations Collection (2011-2012)
Limited stock lines
- Disney's Exclusive Archive Collection (1993-1995)
- Walt Disney Treasures (2001-2009)
Specific programming (in addition to Disney movies)
- Walt Disney Television shows and movies (1980-present)
- The Fabulous Fleischer Folio (1983-1987)
- Disney Sing-Along Songs (1986-2006)
- Rocky and Bullwinkle (early-to-mid 90's)note
- Pixar Filmography (1996-present)
- Studio Ghibli films (1998-2015)note
Buena Vista Home Entertainment Sub-Labels
- Touchstone Home Entertainment (1986-present)note
- Hollywood Pictures Home Entertainment (1989-present)note
- Jim Henson Video (1993-1996)note
- DiC Toon-Time Video (1991-2001)note
- Miramax Home Entertainment (1994-2010)note
- ABC Studios (1995-present)
- Lucasfilm (2014-present)
- 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (2019-present)note
In other languages
- Disney en Español: Spanish-dubbed cassettes in the United States
Walt Disney Home Video provides an example of
- Copy Protection: Ever since 1986 (at least for feature films; their other releases wouldn't get this treatment for a year or two).
- Digital Piracy Is Evil: They had different FBI Warning screens throughout the years.
- 1978-1983 - Blue Background
- 1983-1984 - Red/Blue Background
- 1984-1991 - Orange Red Background
- 1986-1987 - Dark Red Background
- 1991-2000 - Green Background
- 2000-present - Blue Background
- Sorcerer Mickey graced the original print logo, the 1986-2001 Walt Disney Home Video Vanity Plate, and the 1988-1994 Walt Disney Classics opening ident.
- Tinker Bell graced the 1994-1999 Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection Vanity Plate, the Disney DVD intros used from 2001-2014, and the Disney's FastPlay screen from 2004 on.