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Disney Black Diamond VHS Releases

By Lindsay Mayer · August 9, 2004

For some reason, one facet of Disney’s home video history seems to be garnering an increasing amount of attention—the first release of their animated feature films to VHS format in the U.S., under a release type named “The Classics.” These videos, packaged in clamshell cases and sporting a uniform style (a rare thing amongst Disney DVDs today), are the elusive “Black Diamonds” (or BDs) referred to among Disney fans, so named because of the black diamond-shaped “Classics” logo on the spine of the case.

Many of them are also distinguished by the “peel-away” bottom corner that proudly proclaimed that these films were “The Original Animated Classic!” Starting with Dumbo, the “Classics” collection spanned 18 titles from about 1988 to 1993—with Aladdin as the last video to ever be released under the “Classics” logo.

These videos have a unique place in Disney history, as they turned a whole new generation on to the vast library of quality films. Instead of waiting for a theatrical re-release, as was custom, one could now choose from any number of films and view them as many times as they wished at home. Thus was the birth of the now-common Disney enthusiast! Though the tapes now have only a collector’s value, they should be be rightfully regarded as a landmark in Disney’s film history.

“Black Diamond” Classics Collection

This was the name bestowed upon 18 animated features when they were first released to VHS format. Initially for old favorites such as Bambi or Cinderella, the label moved on to cover contemporary new releases, such as The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast.

The Black Diamond covers are often commended by fans for their uniform style; they also had some of the best art created for Disney home video - at the very least, the composition was halfway decent and the characters are on-model, which is more than can be said for some of the Disney covers of today.

Dumbo, Disney's Black Diamond Collection
Alice in Wonderland, Disney's Black Diamond Collection
Peter Pan
Lady and the Tramp
Sleeping Beauty
101 Dalmatians
The Sword in the Stone
The Jungle Book
Robin Hood
The Rescuers
The Fox and the Hound
The Great Mouse Detective
The Little Mermaid
The Rescuers Down Under
Beauty and the Beast

“Walt Disney’s” Plain Label

Several films - animated and live action - were initially released to VHS with a plain “Walt Disney’s” heading above the title. These included Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and The Three Caballeros.

They shared the same spine design as the “Classics” collection, though - a diamond logo with a character profile on the bottom of the cases’spine. An early “pink” cover of Dumbo - likely the cover Disney used in their early experimentation with the Betamax format - also sports this style, though the VHS tape has a black diamond “Classics” logo on the top of the spine.

Mary Poppins Dumbo (Pink) The Three Caballeros

The Original “Masterpiece”

Long before Disney’s “Masterpiece Collection” VHS series (the line that took over after the “Classics” ended - starting with The Lion King in 1995), and even longer before the confusing new “Masterpiece Edition” DVD line - Disney used the word “masterpiece” with a bit more reverence. In the early VHS days, only two animated films were ever dubbed “Masterpiece” when they came to home video: Pinocchio and Fantasia. Like the plain “Walt Disney’s” labels, they still held a resemblence to the “Classics” series with their spine design; otherwise, they had simple and elegant covers all to their own. Fantasia even came in a black clamshell with its title in gold lettering. Of all the potential lost for continuing great cover designs, the “Masterpiece” moniker may have been it.

Fantasia Pinocchio

This page is a work-in-progress. All cover scans were provided by the author.

Email the author at Lindsay Mayer <[email protected]> with questions or comments.

The information on this page was created on August 9, 2004. It’s content was last updated on September 6, 2004.