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Disney welcomes its 'Oz' as biggest 2013 debut

March 10, 2013|By Daniel Miller
  • "Oz: The Great and Powerful" star James Franco at the film's Feb. 13 premiere in Hollywood.
"Oz: The Great and Powerful" star James Franco at the film's… (Jason Kempin / Getty Images )

What a difference a year makes.

On March 9, 2012, Walt Disney Pictures released "John Carter," the sci-fi adventure film that promptly bombed, taking in about $40 million en route to a $73-million domestic gross that precipitated the resignation of Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross.

But with the $80.3-million domestic opening of Disney's "Oz: The Great and Powerful," which unfurled Friday, the studio has a hit that appears to have plenty of life left in it.

"We are happy that the movie seemed to land with audiences -- and a broad spectrum of the audience," Sean Bailey, head of production at Walt Disney Studios, said in an interview Sunday morning. "We are pleased families seemed to turn out and the general audience seemed to turn out and enjoy the movie.”

PHOTOS: Scenes from 'Oz the Great and Powerful'

Costing roughly $235 million -- slightly less than "John Carter," which had a budget of $250 million -- the 3-D film is billed as a prequel to "The Wizard of Oz," the beloved 1939 film made at MGM and now owned by Disney's rival Warner Bros.

Bringing the story by screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire to the big screen required some finesse. The Disney film, adapted from public domain "Oz" books by L. Frank Baum, does not include familiar elements of the 1939 film such as Dorothy and her famous ruby slippers.

"On this one, we know there were these iconic Baum books and there is the iconic musical and the iconic movie -- certainly we talked a lot about that in terms of what angle and what direction we would take," Bailey said. "It is encouraging to see those decisions line up with an audience.”

In recent years, several of Disney's biggest hits, such as Marvel Studios' $1.5-billion-grossing "The Avengers" and animated Pixar fare, have been generated by production companies acquired by the studio. But in"Oz" Disney has an important homegrown hit, just a few months before the studio's big-budget remake of "The Lone Ranger" opens in July.

VIDEO REVIEW: 'Oz the Great and Powerful'

So far, "Oz," which stars James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz, has opened in 81% of international markets. It has not yet started playing in the potentially lucrative markets of China and France.

Disney also will look to extend "Oz's" success with lines of branded toys, makeup and apparel available at a variety of stores, including Toys R Us, Sephora and Bloomingdale's.

When asked whether an "Oz" theme park ride or other projects could be in the offing, Bailey would say only that the company will look to expand the film's brand in ways "that are appropriate and beneficial to Disney and our audience" and that "there are no concrete plans at this time."

There is, however, a sequel in the works. Disney has already begun preliminary work on the "Oz" follow-up with Kapner, Bailey said. "We are trying to expand the world again."


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Daniel Miller

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