Disney's The `King' Again Among Animated Releases

It wasn't true 10 years ago, but the safest bet in video in the 1990s is a Disney cartoon. And that extends to the straight-to-video variety, which now sell millions of copies every year.

In the next few months, Disney Home Video will release direct-to-tape sequels to two of its biggest hits: "Pocahontas: Journey to a New World" and "The Lion King: Simba's Pride." Both are expected to be blockbusters, no matter what the quality's like.

"Toy Story 2," which was originally scheduled for a cassette release in early October, is now considered strong enough to be released first to theaters, where it will probably appear in December 1999. John Lasseter, the director of the first "Toy Story," is executive-producing this one while directing "A Bug's Life," which Disney will release to theaters in November.

Starting with the theatrical release of "The Little Mermaid" nine years ago, Disney has revived its reputation as the world's most successful animation studio, turning out so many hits that when the studio's latest release earns "only" $300 million, it's considered a disappointment. The non-Disney competition, including the recent "Anastasia," is lucky to earn half that.

It's a little scary how complete this takeover has become. In the new show-biz satire "The Real Blonde," a dizzy New York model bases her philosophy on Disney films, especially "The Little Mermaid" - which earned an additional $30 million when it was reissued to compete with "Anastasia" in theaters last fall. The March 31 re-release of the tape is scheduled to beat "Anastasia" to the video market.

And the reissues keep on coming. Earlier this week, Disney brought out a restored, THX-certified, 45th-anniversary tape of its 1953 cartoon version of "Peter Pan." It will be pulled from the market after 45 days, thereby assuring demand for a 50th anniversary version.

Also coming from Disney: "Mummies Alive! The Legend Begins" (April 7), an animated feature based on the television series; another straight-to-video sequel called "The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars" (May 19); the video debut of Disney's 1948 collection of cartoon shorts, "Melody Time" (June 2); a "definitive" collection of Mickey Mouse shorts called "The Spirit of Mickey" (July 14); and "Mulan Singalong Songs" (July 28), which includes two song numbers from Disney's summer theatrical release, "Mulan."

The "Pocahontas" sequel, described as a "fish-out-of-water adventure" that takes Pocahontas to 17th-century England, is coming Aug. 4. The "Lion King" sequel is due Oct. 27. Prices range from $27 for the features to $13 for the sing-along tape. None will be rental-priced.

Warner Home Video is fighting back with a 98-minute collection of Looney Tunes highlights, "The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Movie" ($15), and next month's release of "The Flintstones: I Yabba Dabba Do!" ($15), a 92-minute account of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble's schemes to pay for their children's wedding.

Brand new from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment are "The Easter Storykeepers" ($15), which weaves together the story of Jesus and the persecution of Christians in Nero's Rome, and "Ferngully 2: The Magical Rescue" ($20), a 75-minute sequel to the 1992 theatrical cartoon that was seen by most children on video and cable. The original characters - Crysta, Pips, The Beetle Boys and Batty - are back in a storyline about humans capturing three baby animals under Crysta's care.

It will be released in mid-March, along with Universal Home Video's reissue of the 1987 cartoon, "The Chipmunk Adventure" ($20), on the occasion of the Chipmunks' 40th anniversary. They made their LP debut in 1958.

For adult animation fans, Columbia TriStar Home Video will release Ralph Bakshi's R-rated 1981 cartoon, "American Pop" ($14), which has never been on videotape before. It's taken more than a decade to clear the musical rights to the many pop songs that make up this story of four generations in one American family.