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A FAIRY-TALE ENDING? : 'Princess' to Try a Comeback

July 23, 1995|Kathleen O'Steen | Kathleen O'Steen is an occasional contributor to Calendar.

On Aug. 4, Warner Bros. will put back into wider release its film adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel "A Little Princess." Such relaunch campaigns are seldom attempted in Hollywood, because they usually don't work.

"Anytime you try to reintroduce a picture into the marketplace after it has had a national release, that is an extraordinarily difficult and tricky thing," said Charles Glenn, a veteran marketing executive who is president of marketing at Bregman/Baer Productions. "The first thing you have to do is sit back and analyze why it didn't work in the first place."

Just about everyone has an opinion as to why the film, lauded by critics, failed to ignite interest at the box office. Some criticize Warner Bros.' decision to release the film in May--just ahead of the release of Universal's "Casper"--when it was better suited to a Christmas release. Others fault the minimal advertising campaign directed only at girls.

"The title of the film probably hurt the picture," said John Krier, president of Exhibitor Re lations Co. "Anything that tends to say it's a girls' picture usually hurts the movie. There was the case of 'Pollyanna' starring Hayley Mills [in 1960], which was certainly one of the better films of that year but didn't do good business. I think those titles scare away the boys and the dating crowd."

Others say the studio was more interested in pushing "Batman Forever" and "The Bridges of Madison County" than "A Little Princess."

"The travesty is that 'A Little Princess' is one of the best movies of the year," says one Hollywood executive. "But Warners dumped the movie. You can tell when a studio is really putting their money behind a product and frankly I don't think they marketed it to anyone."

The studio believes that the film, which will continue to play in a few dozen theaters until the relaunch, was a difficult sell from the beginning. "My own interpretation is that the movie was not appealing to kids," says Rob Friedman, president of advertising and publicity for Warner Bros. "It had no special effects, it was not a well-known property, it wasn't required reading in schools, it had no product tie-ins."

To date the film has earned a little more than $8.7 million, which barely covers marketing costs (the film's budget was around $17 million) and is a far cry from the $88 million that "Casper" has pulled in or the $106 million taken in by Disney's animated "Pocahontas."

So why attempt the near impossible? After all, while Friedman couldn't recall the last time the studio tried a re-release (it could well date to 1979 with "The Great Santini," which failed to revive interest in the film), conventional wisdom in Hollywood is that rereleases of this nature rarely work.

"There are two reasons why you would even contemplate a rerelease," says one executive. "First is if the original campaign did not work. The second is if you have a movie that is beloved enough to count on repeat business."

An example of the former was Miramax's attempt to re-release "Into the West," the 1993 Mike Newell-directed film that was initially marketed as a children's film. When reviewers proved reluctant to recommend the somewhat dark story for children, Miramax took the unusual step of running full-page advertisements saying they had made a mistake. They tried to re-market it as an art house film--a ploy that failed.

An example of the latter would be the re-releases last year of Disney's "The Lion King" and Paramount's "Forrest Gump." Gump, though, was still in release and just expanded its run as Oscar nominations came out.

Warners plans to re-release "A Little Princess" in 17 cities nationwide with a revised advertising campaign that will accentuate the film's glowing reviews.

"We were all very upset that the movie didn't work," Friedman said. "Often you just chalk it up to whatever and then move on. But this one we all loved and truly believed it didn't get a big enough response."

T here may be even more rea sons to buck conventional wis dom and try to sell the movie again.

Time Warner has received a lot of political heat lately for sexually explicit and violent rap lyrics on albums released by the company's music division. What better way to combat that kind of criticism than to put out a campaign urging people to go see a film that offers the kind of family entertainment politicians love to endorse?

"I say good for them [Warners]," says Larry Kasanoff, who produced the upcoming New Line film "Mortal Kombat." "It's a tough thing to do, and I think everyone is going to watch this re-release closely to see if it works."

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