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COMPANY TOWN | THE BIZ

Bridled Optimism

Disney Resists Giving 'Mulan' 'King'-Size Hype

June 12, 1998|CLAUDIA ELLER and JAMES BATES

"They don't want another round of 'What's wrong with Disney animation?' stories," said one executive close to Disney.

Krutick believes Disney is wise not to over-hype the movie with the kind of splashy buildup that accompanied some of the past animated films.

"I think Disney is being prudent in not building up expectations," she said.

Disney isn't throwing the kind of marketing dollars at "Mulan" that it has at past releases and has in fact toned down the kind of glitzy, hard-sell tactics it typically enlists to get moviegoers' attention.

"All we're trying to do with the marketing is say, 'This is not what you're expecting,' " Schneider said.

The studio will spend a still hefty $30 million or more to market "Mulan" domestically, compared with estimates as high as $60 million for "Hercules."

Instead of the kind of extravagant, costly premieres that accompanied "Pocahontas" (in Central Park), "Hercules" (a $4-million electric light parade down Fifth Avenue in New York) and "Hunchback" (screened at the Super Dome in New Orleans after a televised parade in the French Quarter), "Mulan" had its public debut at the Hollywood Bowl with little fanfare.

"It was better to let the movie lead the way," said Richard Cook, chairman of Disney's Motion Picture Group.

Where Disney's promotional tie-ins with big corporate sponsors such as McDonald's are usually launched weeks in advance of an animated movie, on "Mulan" the company's partnership advertising won't kick in until two days before its release.

"We wanted to get the message of the movie out there first, before you start selling it as an ancillary product," said Schneider, admitting that all that promotional hoopla "can sell the wrong message."

Schneider and Schumacher are quick to say that doesn't mean "Mulan" will receive any less support from Disney's other business units in promoting the movie.

"The Disney Stores will have tons of merchandise, and the parks are doing a parade," said Schneider, insisting, "It will be as well-integrated into the company as our previous movies."

Merchandise and licensers have reason to be wary. After reaping a bonanza on "Lion King," results were more disappointing for "Hunchback" and "Hercules."

Cook said the go-slow approach was needed because most people in the U.S. are unfamiliar with the story. "Until people have had a chance to experience and learn about 'Mulan' and the character of Mulan, it was inappropriate to have all of the tie-ins and promotions ahead of it," he said.

Disney also chose a much different kind of image for its one-sheet ads than ever before. Rather than feature the film's six main characters, the poster art is an intensely serious looking Mulan on her horse posed in profile against a moody deep-scarlet background.

The film's ad campaign was initially very sophisticated, clearly an attempt to reach adults. For instance, it wasn't until the last two weeks that the character of Mushu (voice of Eddie Murphy), a lovable, wisecracking dragon sidekick, was introduced into the campaign.

Perhaps given the backlash Sony executives are feeling after "Godzilla" failed to live up to the kind of hype lavished on the summer hopeful, Disney's animation chiefs are reluctant to play up their expectations for "Mulan."

Said Schumacher: "You're honestly not going to know about this movie until after it opens."

He recalls very clearly sitting at lunch on a Monday at a favorite Glendale restaurant in the middle of summer in 1994 with his colleagues, reading the box-office reports on "Lion King" and saying, "We're not going to hit 'Aladdin,' and we were kind of depressed. Then 'The Lion King' caught a wave."

In a couple of weeks, Schumacher said he can envision sitting at that same Glendale restaurant with Schneider reviewing the box-office results on "Mulan," wondering, " 'Is it going to hit whatever?' At some point with these movies, you just can't tell."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Less Than Animated

Profits and revenues on Walt Disney's animated films have steadily declined since "The Lion King" was released in 1994, but nonetheless remain a major source of income at the company. Estimated figures, in millions:

"The Lion King," 1994

"Pocahontas," 1995

"Hunchback of Notre Dame," 1996

"Hercules," 1997

Total Box-Office Revenue

Lion King: $751

Pocahontas: $342

Hunchback of Notre Dame: $320

Hercules: $250

*

Home Video Operating Income

Lion King: $500

Pocahontas: $250

Hunchback of Notre Dame: $200

Hercules: $165

*

Consumer Products Operating Income

Lion King: $250

Pocahontas: $180

Hunchback of Notre Dame: $160

Hercules: $100

*

Total Operating Income

Lion King: $1,010

Pocahontas: $534

Hunchback of Notre Dame: $435

Hercules: $3300

Source: Jill S. Krutick, Salomon Smith Barney.

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