For an entire generation of fans, mere mention of the words “The Disney Vault” conjures happy memories of the rare occasions when classic Disney movies were released from said vault for a limited home video or DVD release — but, as The Walt Disney Company prepares to delete dozens of shows and movies from not only Disney+, but Hulu as well, it looks as if the Disney Vault is getting an unexpected, and entirely unwelcome, revival for the streaming era.
When we talk about The Disney Vault, we’re not talking about the literal storage space where artifacts from past Disney projects are stored; instead, we’re talking about the artificial “Vault” created in the 1980s as a way to reprobate and reissue classic Disney movies for the home market every decade. The idea was simple: in order to prevent market saturation — and also create a scarcity and demand that would fuel purchases — movies would only be available for a limited time before being withdrawn from sale for the next ten years. Instead of characterizing such a movie in its bare bones, capitalistic terms, Disney marketing came up with something far softer and friendly sounding: movies were either released from, or put back into, The Disney Vault. There was even an animated vault that appeared in commercials, with a door in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head. How fun!
The launch of Disney+ in 2019, however, was hyped by Disney as being fans’ chance to visit the Vault themselves, with CEO Bob Iger specifically calling that idea out in an investor call at the time: “At some point fairly soon after launch [Disney+] will house the entire Disney motion picture library,” he explained, “so the movies that you speak of that traditionally have been kept in a ‘vault’ and brought out basically every few years will be on the service.”
Sounds like a great idea, right…?
Not according to Disney itself, it seems: the company is set to remove at least 58 titles from it’s Disney+ and Hulu streaming services on May 26, including such high profile projects as Lucasfilm’s Willow — which only debuted in November 2022 — and The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney+, as well as Hulu/FX’s Y: The Last Man, Pistol, and Little Demon, launched with much marketing hype last summer.
The Vault, it seems, is back… and no-one’s happy about it, least of all the people who made the shows themselves. “They gave us six months. Not even. This business has become absolutely cruel,” tweeted John Bickerstaff, who worked on Willow. “Well, you work on something for years, pour your heart and soul into it, as do hundreds of other artists. You make it during a global pandemic, far from home. Then it is canceled before it even has a chance to finish airing. Then, it is disappeared…” posted Y: The Last Man showrunner Eliza Clark. Earth to Ned’s Eliza Skinner shared, “Really trying not to get melodramatic or broken-hearted about this, but if you like me at all and you’ve never watched Earth To Ned, please watch it this week. That won’t save it, but you will get to see the thing I’m most proud of - what we made, and the way we made it.”
One of the most common questions fans have asked on social media in the wake of the news that Disney is removing so many titles is, will there be any physical releases for these projects, or ways for fans to buy them outside of the streaming service? There’s no shortage of irony here if the answer turns out to be yes — if it turns out that, far from being the service that killed the concept of The Disney Vault altogether, Disney+ has merely become a service that reinforced and created new content for The Disney Vault 2.0.
Disney’s content cutbacks aren’t a first; HBO Max went through something similar last year, which included fan favorite shows like Titans and Doom Patrol both coming to a close.