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The Disney Vault is the repository of the company’s classics where the films take 7-year sleeps before being re-released. Disney historian Lella Smith came to Australia to explain the needs for the Vault and what the Animation Research Library does. Andrew L. Urban reports.

From July 30, 2008, three re-mastered Disney DVD Classics, Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), and Lady and the Tramp (1955), are being placed back into the Disney Vault. This means that no new copies are being produced, so once stocks are sold, these titles will no longer be available to buy – for seven years. Just as Sleeping Beauty (1958) will be re-released from the Disney Vault - on DVD and Blu-ray formats - on October 15, 2008, after a seven year rest.

Walt Disney was the original custodian of the Disney Vault, and began the Vault practice by re-releasing Disney classics theatrically every seven years. The 1937 classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was discovered by another generation of fans when it was re-released in 1944 to a new audience, and grew in popularity with each and every release from the Vault. Walt’s time-honoured tradition continues today, as animated titles which once entered the Vault in VHS format now emerge in re-mastered and technically superior DVD and Blu-ray technology.

This is typical of the philosophy behind the Vault; the films don’t just sit gathering dust on a shelf, but are examined, assessed, repaired and when relevant new technology is available – reissued in the best possible form, with new bonus materials.

That’s where the Walt Disney Animation Research Library (ARL) comes in. Lella Smith, Creative Director of ARL, visited Australia to spread the word about the work of the ARL and the Vault.

"often our materials will inspire new books"

“We provide lots of material to the home entertainment division,” says Lella, “and often our materials will inspire new books and the like.” Lella guides the staff in research, exhibits, and archiving of the library’s collections. The repository for more than 60 million pieces of Disney animation art, the collection spans 80 years of Disney animation history and includes artwork used to create the original Disney shorts, featurettes, and full-length animated feature films. Over the last two years, exhibitions from the ARL have travelled to Japan, Denmark, France, Canada, Italy, and the U.S.

Lella started with the Walt Disney Company in 1992 at WDI and joined Walt Disney Feature Animation in January of 1995. After nearly twenty years as a registrar of art and museum collections, Lella, came to Disney well versed in the documentation, presentation, and preservation of priceless objects. Prior to joining Disney, Lella served as chief registrar at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, where she organised incoming and travelling exhibitions.

“I was very happy at the Natural History Museum,” says Lella, “and I thought I’d probably retire there. But I got a call one day from Disney asking if I’d like to go and talk about this job … I really didn’t know if I’d like it and I really didn’t know a lot about Disney art. But I’m very happy here.” Lella’s husband retired last year but not so Lella. “I love it too much … so does my grandson,” she adds laughing.

The best part of the job? “I love taking Disney art to the museum world. People think its’ all just pop art, but most of these early artists were classically trained, and the talent is amazing. So I love seeing huge queues outside the museum where we have an exhibition – it brings tears to my eyes that people appreciate it. It’s very rewarding. And these items are not just beautiful – they’re fun!”


The first Disney classic ever to be released to High Definition Blu-ray, Sleeping Beauty 50th Anniversary Platinum Edition boasts “spectacular” music, says Smith. “They went back to the original sound masters they found in Berlin – I don’t know why in Berlin,” she adds laughing, “but it’s phenomenal and so beautiful to look at.”

A family favourite, Sleeping Beauty tells the tale of Princess Aurora, betrothed at birth to Prince Phillip, and cursed to die by the prick of a spinning wheel spindle before her 16th birthday by the evil Maleficent. Determined to prevent this catastrophe, Aurora is hidden in the forest where she blossoms into a young woman unaware of her real name and birthright. On her 16th birthday, she meets and falls in love with a peasant boy who is unknowingly her betrothed.

Once her birthright is revealed, Princess Aurora is overcome with sadness at losing her true love to marry a prince who she believes she has never met. On the brink of discovering that the two are one and the same, Aurora is stricken by Maleficent’s terrible curse. All seems lost but for one glimmer of hope – only true love’s kiss can wake this sleeping beauty from an eternal slumber.

In addition to enhanced sound and vision, Sleeping Beauty 50th Anniversary Platinum Edition on Disney DVD and Blu-ray is adorned with bonus features which include an alternative opening; deleted songs; picture perfect, the making of Sleeping Beauty; art gallery; Sleeping Beauty castle walk-through attraction; and Briar Rose’s waltz game.

The first Disney 3-Disc Blu-ray collection comprises: • 2-disc Blu-ray with the full length feature film, all the DVD bonus features plus Dungeon Escape; Maleficent’s Challenge, and • A standard DVD containing the full-length feature film. (2 Disc DVD rrp $39.95, 3 Disc Blu-ray rrp $49.95)

Published August 7, 2008

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Lella Smith


Alice in Wonderland

Lady and the Tramp

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