It’s no secret that I’m a Disney fan. This is my 141st article for this column, in fact, meaning we’re getting quite close to three years of it. I’m one of those people who can speak with equal eloquence on Frozen and The Horse in the Grey Flannel Suit, “Steamboat Mickey” and “Paperman.” I can’t speak conclusively on the varying incarnations of The Wonderful World of Disney, but I can tell you about such obscure delights as Gallagher in addition to the actually well-known Ludwig Von Drake. And part of my Disney fandom is a large collection of DVDs and Blu-Rays of what Disney works I can get my hands on and afford at any given time, and I make no secret of the fact that one of the reasons my collection is incomplete by my standards is that Disney simply hasn’t released everything I would buy.
I can hear some of you death-of-physical-media types gearing up to say “but Disney+.” I will tell you simply—that isn’t the right answer. What I want, what I have wanted for years now, is for Disney to do what Warners has done and institute an archive program, where they’ll burn you a no-frills disc of the weirder stuff in their back catalogue that isn’t in enough demand to justify a full-on release. And I also want an expansion of the Vault Disney collection—I own a few of them, and they are quite frankly Disney’s answer to the Criterion Collection, and there should be more releases in it.
Why not streaming? For one thing, streaming isn’t forever. It’s not Disney, but we used to watch Leverage on Netflix all the time, and it’s been gone for years now. We really need to buy the DVDs, though, because it was a show we loved. Similarly, I’m pretty sure Netflix used to have Kim Possible, years ago, and they don’t now. And the difference there is that seasons of Kim Possible have never been available on DVD. I own four discs of the show—two movies and two collections of three or four episodes each. And while Irene loves “Pahkeebah,” as she calls it (she’s two, okay?), I would really like my kids to be able to sit down and watch the whole series.
It’s somewhat ironic to me that, as my actual streaming experience has improved, the streaming catalogues have gotten smaller. When I first started streaming online, I couldn’t get captioning. That isn’t true anymore, goodness knows, but now that it is, I don’t have the wide array of streaming possibilities for older movies that I’ve always meant to see. There are plenty of new releases on Netflix and Amazon Prime, but the deep catalogs are not as extensive. I’m less likely to be able to see old screwball comedies, for example. Even if Disney starts with their pledge to put every single live-action movie in their catalogue on the system, I don’t entirely trust them to keep that forever.
What’s more, why do people lay out the money for Criterion? Because they want the quality release. I talked earlier about the Vault Disney editions. These were not merely remastered editions that came with a cartoon before the movie, which I put to you as a bare minimum for a Disney release. These were two-disc sets which included things like a timeline of Disney events from the movie’s year of release. Commentary tracks—I know of no streaming service with access to commentary tracks. Any materials from the Vault about the making of those movies and new documentaries including interviews with anyone they could find who had been involved with making the movies. No, you didn’t get the booklet of essays, and you didn’t get new cover art—but wouldn’t that be a great set? The pride of any collector’s shelf.
When trying to find exactly what was on these discs as special features (without having to, you know, get up and go to the other room and actually look at my copies), I came across several articles claiming that Disney+ was going to be the end of the Vault, and I see no reason to believe that’s true. Because the Disney Vault is so much more than those movies. So far as I know, they still control the DVD rights to the Muppets, and we’ve never gotten seasons four and five of The Muppet Show on DVD. Will that be on Disney+? Who knows? Some years ago, they released a collectible tin that had what they claimed was Swamp Fox and Elfego Baca but was only a few episodes of each. Will they be available in full on Disney+? All the shorts? There’s a vast wealth of material in the Disney Vault, and while some of it has trickled into availability, I would wager that almost every hardcore Disney fan can speak wistfully about some piece of media that hasn’t seen a rerelease yet.
For many years, I defended the concept of the Disney Vault in part on the grounds that Disney has thousands, probably tens of thousands, of hours of material to be released. No store in the world would have space for all of Disney’s releases unless that was pretty much all they sold—you could get a fun store actually in a Disney park, but that’s about it. However, that store can exist now, and most people carry it around in their pocket. So most people won’t want to own Bayou Boy. But for the person who does—a serious Michael Ontkean fan?—such availability would be the stuff of dreams. I’ve always felt it unjust of Disney not to provide it for them.