For the second year running, children’s animated movies have led the charge for video rentals and sell-throughs in 1994. Meantime, general movies made good gains in growth, and other categories stumbled.

According to a report from the Video Industry Distributors Assn. (VIDA), distributors’ sell-through revenues jumped to $A115.4 million ($88.4 million) from $A91.3 million ($69.9 million) in 1993. This year’s figure includes direct marketing products for the first time, partly accounting for the increase; without this addition, the 1994 figure is $A110.5 million ($84.6 million).

Sales of rental videos jumped to $A195 million ($149.4 million) from $A177 million ($135.6 million) in 1993, and the units rented increased to 2.6 million from 2.3 million.

Despite the bumper gain in sales figures, only three categories recorded significant increases: Movies, up to $A30.2 million ($23 million) from $A26.4 million ($20.2 million); music to $A6.5 million ($5 million) from $A5.9 million ($4.5 million); and a whopping jump in animated children’s features to $A35.3 million ($27 million) from $A19 million ($14.6 mil).

Those suffering decreases included sports, plunging to $A4.1 million ($3.2 million) from $A4.7 million ($3.6 million); general children’s, to $A17.6 million ($13.5 million) from $A18.6 million ($14.2 million); comedy, to $A6.7 million ($5.3 million) from $A7.4 million ($5.7 million); and health and fitness, to $A1.9 million ($1.5 million) from $A2.6 million ($2 million).

The two top sellers were Buena Vista Home Entertainment’s “Aladdin” and “Bambi,” while the Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s children’s television hit “Bananas in Pajamas” was also a hot seller, according to Video Trader magazine.

U.S. releases dominated the top 10 rental videos in 1994, including “The Firm,” “Cliffhanger,” “A Few Good Men,” “The Fugitive,” “Made in America,” “Malice,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “The Pelican Brief,” “Striking Distance” and “Tombstone.”

“Our business is significantly up, to the tune of 30% to 40%,” CIC Video managing director Trevor Francis told Variety.

Francis said CIC’s bestselling title in 1994 was children’s movie “We’re Back – a Dinosaurs Tale” on around 70,000 units, while die-hard Trekkies also swelled CIC’s coffers.

“The other big business item has been the ‘Star Trek – The Next Generation’ business; we are up in the hundreds of thousands on that one,” he claimed.

Buena Vista shipped 400,000 copies of “Aladdin” into Australia (rmital Variety, Aug. 1-7).

Another CIC blockbuster was the rise of gift packs of three or four videos, particularly classic packs like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

Francis said coming up to Christmas that gift sets had been very substantial sellers – especially the classics. “They have been around for a while, but this was the first year they have been heavily promoted.

“They are the way the market works; it is a gifting market.” He also said the apparent sales growth indicates “people are getting used to the idea of buying videos to keep at home.” Francis said 1995’s rental market also is expected to be strong.

Columbia TriStar Video marketing manager Michele Garra is also optimistic.

The group had the top rental videos in four months of last year: “Four Weddings and a Funeral” in February; “The Last Action Hero” in March; “In the Line of Fire” in May; and “Sleepless in Seattle” in June. The latter racked up 47,000 units, with the average for the four being 30,000, Garra said.

“The industry has reached a level of maturity after 14 years,” she said. Garra believes the bow of pay TV services will not eat into vid’s prosperity.