“Time is running out!
Soon your favorite Disney movie will be placed back into the Disney vault FOREVER!”
Well no, not really! Forever is a very strong word, and luckily Disney is smart enough to realize that permanent disappearance isn’t a great marketing strategy. If Disney actually locked films away to never be seen again, it would defeat the entire purpose of the vault, which was created so that its films would not be forgotten!
But why exactly did the vault strategy start? Well it all started with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Snow White was released in 1937, and became a huge hit. Because of its popularity, Disney re-released the film seven years later in 1944. One needs to remember that in the 1940’s, there was no VHS’s, no DVDs, and no online streaming. If you missed the film in theaters, you might never get to see it again. By re-releasing it in theaters seven years later, a whole new, younger generation of children were exposed to Snow White all over again. Because the re-release was wildly successful, and a dependent source of revenue for Disney during war time, they continued the practice of opening the vault for many years to come.
With the 1980’s came the VCR, and with it, the opportunity for a marketing change. Releasing a film to VHS sales was a bit of a risk, and the first movie to be sold was Pinocchio. Though Disney was worried people would only buy the tape once and would pass it down, many people bought and kept their own and Disney decided to continue to release films from the vault not through theatres, but onto VHS tapes. This Vulture article talks more about Disney’s struggle to decide whether or not to release onto VHS.
The brilliance behind the vault-release strategy is the ability to avoid the cheapening of videos as time goes on. Normally, the longer a video is out on store shelves, the more the price drops. By Disney choosing to “lock up” and release from the vault every 7-10 years (per movie), Disney can charge full price for an older film!
Though making money is an important part of the vault strategy, it is not the only thing Disney is focused on. In order to maintain its popularity as time goes on, Disney realized they needed to find a way to stay relevant as new generations were born and previous generations aged. Besides continuing to create new content, they needed to find a way to keep older films recognizable to the new generations as well. The vault strategy has allowed them to do this, by re-releasing films to newer younger generations who had not been exposed to the films in previous years. This E! News article explains the generational strategy of the vault a bit further.
But what does it take for a film to be allowed into the vault? Though there are no set criteria, generally there are no live action films, no Pixar films (with the exception of Toy Story 1 & 2). Some sequels are allowed in the vault, but not all of them.
As time goes on, Disney may have to rethink its strategy for releasing films from the vault as more and more movies become available for streaming. This should not be a problem for Disney, based on their history of changing from theatrical film to VHS tapes, to DVD/BluRay rather seamlessly. For a more extensive look at the vaults history and the entire list of films in the vault, check out this Disney fandom article.