The practice is the modern version of Disney's practice of re-releasing its animated films in theaters every ten years, which began with the reissue of 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. During the 1980s and 1990s, when the home video market was dominated by VHS systems, Disney films would be reissued every ten years (a time gap equal to that of their theatrical reissues). With the transition to DVD technology, the moratorium period was continued. Television commercials for Disney home video releases will alert customers that certain films will be placed on moratorium soon, urging them to purchase these films before they "go back into the 'Disney Vault'", in the words often spoken by Mark Elliot. Some direct-to-video Disney films, among them Bambi II, have also been released with a pre-established window of availability.
The Walt Disney Company itself states that this process is done to both control their market and to allow Disney films to be fresh for new generations of young children. A side effect of the moratorium process is the fact that videos and DVDs of Disney films placed on moratorium become collectables, sold in stores and at auction websites such as eBay for sums in excess of their original suggested retail price. The practice also has made the Disney films a prime target for counterfeit DVD manufacturers.
Disney's live-action films, Pixar films, DisneyToon Studios flims, and films released by Disney's other film divisions/labels (Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Miramax Films, Dimension Films) are not held to this rule, generally only being discontinued when a newer edition is released (or in the cases of Doug's 1st Movie or Recess: School's Out, when the show the movie is based on is cancelled).
However, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 (which are from Pixar) were once in the "Disney Vault" until 2005 where newer editions were released for those particular films. A 10th anniversary edition for Toy Story and a special edition for Toy Story 2. Certain Disney animated sequels are part of this rule, though not all the time.
The following films are currently considered as being in the cycle of movies which are subject to the rules of the Disney Vault.
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
- Pinocchio (1940)
- Fantasia (1940)
- Dumbo (1941)
- Bambi (1942)
- Cinderella (1950)
- Alice in Wonderland (1951)
- Peter Pan (1953)
- Lady and the Tramp (1955)
- Sleeping Beauty (1959)
- 101 Dalmatians (1961)
- The Jungle Book (1967)
- The Little Mermaid (1989)
- Beauty and the Beast (1991)
- Aladdin (1992)
- The Lion King (1994)
In October 2001, with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney started releasing these films on DVD in "Platinum Edition" sets. This continued until 2005, when the release rate was increased to two films per year. The range, then containing Aladdin instead of Fantasia was completed in March 2009 when Pinocchio was released. This, and the previous release Sleeping Beauty, were also released on Blu-ray.
In October 2009, again beginning with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney relaunched the range for Blu-ray under the banner "Diamond Edition". These releases will be released alongside "Special Edition" DVD sets.
- Main article: Disney Special Editions
Disney Vault Princesses
Disney Vault Villains
Disney Vault Fairies
Disney Vault Characters
Mickey and Friends
- Walt Disney Platinum Editions - Disney's first "Disney Vault" DVD line
- Walt Disney Diamond Editions - Disney's last "Disney Vault" DVD line
- Disney Special Anniversary Editions
- Ultimate Disney - List of movies in the Disney Vault