ORLANDO, Fla. -- Walt Disney Co. will release its most treasured animated classic, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," to the home video market this fall, supported by its biggest marketing campaign yet.
The company has long said that it might never offer "Snow White" -- the film that launched Walt Disney's career -- on video. Reflecting the reverence with which the title is held at the company, the surprise announcement of its video release was made here at Disney's annual meeting by Roy Disney, vice chairman and brother of the founder.
The company's decision to bring the title out on video is due in part to its success selling other animated classic movies and to an awareness that a release on video does not undermine a title's future marketability.
"As we have seen over the years, [a video release] actually increases the value of these titles and increases their specialness in the eyes of the consumers," Ann Daly, president of Buena Vista Home Video, Burbank, Calif., told SN. Buena Vista is Disney's video marketing and distribution subsidiary.
"Snow White" will be central to most supermarket's video strategy in the fourth quarter. "It is a huge piece of business for supermarkets, which are the fastest growing segment for video sell-through. It is a tremendous opportunity for them to establish Disney sections and make a real video statement with a very strong piece of product," said Daly.
Like other Disney products, "Snow White" is "a perfect match demographically for supermarkets," she said.
Although no details of the marketing plan have been announced, "Snow White" will be sold in the same manner as "Aladdin," "Beauty and the Beast," "Fantasia" and "Pinocchio," said Daly.
That means a limited time on the market, a probable suggested retail price of under $25, tie-ins with packaged goods companies and a massive advertising campaign.
"It will be the biggest promotion that we have ever done. But it will be different from any other video release because 'Snow White' itself is different," said Daly. Details of the plan will be announced in late March, she said.
Buena Vista hopes this will result in sales of over 20 million units, she said. "The timing is absolutely right. It has the chance to be one of the most successful video releases of all time, alongside 'Aladdin' and 'Beauty and the Beast,' " she said.
"Aladdin," which goes on moratorium on April 1, has sold 24 million units so far, said Daly. "Beauty and the Beast" sold 22 million and is now off the market.
Those numbers are possible "given the special place that 'Snow White' has in the hearts of our consumers. Last year, we received over 15,000 letters requesting its release on video," said Daly.
The company's research has shown that "people do understand this is the movie that started it all for Walt Disney and that it is one of the greatest films ever made," she said.
"Snow White" will be Disney's big sell-through title for the fourth quarter. There is no chance that "The Lion King," an animated feature due in theaters this summer, will be released to video this year, she said.
Its marketing will include different packaging configurations, such as deluxe editions and special children's gift sets, said Daly. In a departure from usual Disney sell-through campaigns, most of the company's other divisions will participate in the marketing of "Snow White."
The company is undecided as to whether the title will carry a minimum advertised price, like "The Fox and the Hound" and "The Return of Jafar," she said. "We are watching very closely to see what happens on 'The Fox and the Hound,' " she said.
With minimum advertised prices, retailers can be denied co-op dollars if they advertise the title at a lower price. Many supermarket executives and video retailers support this approach as a way to discourage other classes of trade from using major sell-through titles purely as loss leaders.
The marketing effort behind "Snow White" also will emphasize other Disney products. "There will be a tremendous marketing effort behind owning a Disney Classic collection in addition to 'Snow White,' " said Daly.
"So I would encourage supermarket retailers to not only look at what is behind the 'Snow White' program, but what is behind all of the other titles that are alongside it. This can mean a tremendous amount of incremental volume and it can greatly enhance the profit story for retailers," she said.
"We are really the only company that can provide that. Since Disney is a brand, collecting Disney titles isn't just a marketing hook, but it is something that consumers actually believe," she said.
"Snow White" is the highest grossing animated movie of all time. "When 'Snow White' made its world premiere, it represented a major milestone for the world of animation, a giant leap forward for the Disney company and worldwide renown for the Disney family name," said Roy Disney, in making the announcement at the annual shareholders meeting.
"Thanks to new technologies it is now possible to reconstruct the film, frame by frame, vastly improving the sound and the picture to its original beauty . . . in fact, better than new," he said. The title went through a major restoration process prior to its theatrical re-release last year.
"Over a half a century ago, 'Snow White' set the standard and permanently established Disney as the leader in the field of animation," said Jeffrey Katzenberg, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, at the meeting.
"This landmark film remains a source of tremendous pride and inspiration for our company. For years, families and film collectors have looked forward to the day they could take 'Snow White' home on video to have as their own. Now we are pleased to announce that this day has finally arrived," said Katzenberg.