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Company Town | THE BIZ / CLAUDIA ELLER

Draw and Fire : Disney Flexes Financial Muscle to Protect Its Animation Turf

October 10, 1997|CLAUDIA ELLER

Others, including Fox, have succeeded there too. In fact, when Roth was the movie chairman at Fox, he booked the 1990 comedy hit "Home Alone" and its 1992 sequel (against Disney's "Aladdin"), and "Mrs. Doubtfire" the following year into the November holiday slot to great results.

While some Hollywood observers are quick to characterize the Disney-Fox rivalry as a war between its animated movies, it's the live-action "Flubber" that poses a potentially far greater threat to "Anastasia." Unlike "Mermaid," an 8-year-old film that's already been seen in movie theaters, on TV and on video, "Flubber"--though a remake of Disney's 1961 Jerry Lewis comedy "The Absent Minded Professor"--is a brand-new potential franchise headlined by one of Hollywood's most popular comedy stars.

This is not lost on Fox.

"I'm more worried about 'Flubber' " admits Sherak. "Its a fresh idea coming to the marketplace."

There's plenty of reason for concern. In November 1994, Fox's holiday remake "Miracle on 34th Street" was creamed by Disney's family comedy "The Santa Clause," with respective openings of $2.7 million and $19.3 million and ultimate grosses of $17 million versus $145 million.

Disney knows the re-release of "Little Mermaid," which will have a limited 17-day-run (from Nov. 14 to 30), can bring in only so many millions. Its most successful reissues are the animated "101 Dalmatians," which grossed $60 million in 1991; "Snow White," which brought in $46.6 million in 1987; and "Jungle Book," which collected $44.6 million in 1990. The studio has long planned the re-release of "Mermaid," as it does each of its classics every seven or eight years. The November release is timed to coincide with a consumer products push leading into Christmas and the film's upcoming home video release in March.

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The "Mermaid" marketing campaign, while substantial, doesn't come close to what Disney and Fox each have planned for "Anastasia" and "Flubber."

Fox officials have been quoted as saying Fox will spend "35% more" on "Anastasia" than it did on its 1996 blockbuster "Independence Day."

That makes sense since Fox has to reach a wider audience demographic--not only kids but their parents--and is selling more than a movie. It's selling a message to the world that it plans to be in the animation game in a big way. The studio invested more than $100 million to build a 60,000-square-foot animation facility in Phoenix.

Sources say Fox will spend around $35 million to open "Anastasia," a figure that could easily mushroom to $50 million--$60 million if the movie hits big. Disney, it's said, spent that extravagantly on its most recent animated movie, "Hercules," and is also spending $35 million to $40 million to open "Flubber."

Besides what Fox is spending on "Anastasia," the film's biggest advertising partner, Burger King, will shoulder about $25 million in media costs, according to a Fox executive.

"Flubber's" major partners, McDonald's, Cheerios and Dr Pepper, are shelling out a combined media spend in excess of $30 million, a Disney source confirmed. (McDonald's is also pumping $20-million worth of media dollars into "Little Mermaid.")

Disney and Fox will hit consumers in the face with major TV advertising blitz, a huge outdoor campaign (billboards, bus sides and bus shelters) and merchandise galore. Each studio is planning major premieres for the respective movies. On Nov. 9, Fox will take over the Opera House in New York's Lincoln Square and convert it into a movie theater for thousands of invited guests. A week later, Disney will throw a thematic premiere for "Flubber" in Manhattan.

Disney has only itself to blame for others wanting to duplicate its success. Both Fox's movie chairman, Bill Mechanic, and DreamWorks' Katzenberg spent enough years at Disney to know the blueprint for making, selling and distributing animated blockbusters.

As Disney and Fox executives all agree, it's now up to the consumer to decide whether what they've produced will be successes in their own right.

'Anastasia' and Her Rivals

Fox's animated feature "Anastasia," due out Nov. 21, will be sandwiched between some tough competition. Disney is reissuing "The Little Mermaid" a week before the debut and releasing "Flubber," starring Robin Williams, a week afterward. Starting on debut day, Disney will offer "George of the Jungle" and "Hercules" as a double bill at 400 discount theaters.

Fox's Threat, Nov. 21: "Anastasia"

Disney's Challenge, Nov. 14: "The Little Mermaid"

"George of the Jungle"

"Hercules"

Disney's Challenge, Nov. 26: "Flubber"

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