'Anastasia' anesthesia

Last week, 20th Century Fox lamented to the Wall Street Journal that it had been treated unfairly by Walt Disney-owned ABC because the network refused to accept advertising for Fox’s animated “Anastasia” during “The Wonderful World of Disney” family hour.

How naive of Fox and its marketers to complain about this and try to plant more articles with various media out-lets about their (hand across the forehead) ill treatment. Grow up.

There are numerous other outlets to reach that demographic, including the Walt Disney/ABC ratings-winner “Home Improvement.”

If the studio had produced “The Wonderful World of Fox,” would the network decline to air spots for Disney’s animated films? You bet.

Networks have the right to reject spots and have no obligation to accept any ad. Networks also have the right to give a company the chance to become the exclusive advertiser in their product category.

In the past, advertisers have solely sponsored programs and even produced special programming where they were the exclusive advertiser in their product category. If Nike, General Motors or Hallmark sponsored (or produced) a program, would they open the doors for competitors Reebok, Ford and American Greetings to air spots during its program?

Everyone knows that Disney is fiercely competitive when it comes to protecting its animation kingdom. They go after competitors all the time. For instance, they took aim at indie Nest Entertainment’s “The Swan Princess” in 1994 by re-releasing “The Lion King” against it. More recently, the studio got Kodak (which is a sponsor in Dis-ney’s theme parks) to rethink a possible promotional commitment to the animated DreamWorks project “Small Soldiers.”

Disney is no angel, but it’s not the devil either. It’s just a supremely competitive entity.

Disney’s no Dopey

Competition is the name of the game. Lest we forget, Disney’s former homevideo chief, Bill Mechanic (who helped steer Disney’s successful video business), left Disney for Fox, and (in the name of competition) started Fox Searchlight to go head-to-head with Disney’s Miramax Films.

To get to No. 1 in anything, a company must compete aggressively. Even though other entertainment companies point to the lackluster performance of “Hercules,” Disney is still the No. 1 brand name in family entertainment. Still No. 1 in animation. Still the envy of the town.

Disney and ABC’s explanation to Fox is that airing spots for “Anastasia” would cause confusion among the pub-lic. So Disney is afraid that a Don Bluth film would be confused with one of its own?! Fox should be jumping up and down with glee.

A Don Bluth film has never been able to compete with — let alone be confused with — the quality of a Disney film. And the box office track record of Bluth films tells the tale. In the consumer marketplace, the Disney name equates with quality. The Bluth name equates with flat images that sends audiences scurrying the other way.

The question Fox should be asking itself is why it got into business with Bluth in the first place? Why did it sink multimillions into an animation facility in Phoenix when the Bluth name has the reputation it has?

Animation aneurysms

Also, why did Fox — and for that matter DreamWorks and Warner Bros. — choose as their big forays into animation, subjects that are extremely difficult to market? Why pick stories that have little to no merchandising potential? The whole point in choosing animated properties is to propel that very lucrative ancillary revenue stream. It’s common sense.

“Anastasia” is targeted to that vast audience of what? Teenage girls? A Fox marketing exec says it’s actually tar-geted to families: “It’s a very adult story, and that’s why kids like it.” The exec said that from a marketing stand-point, “Anastasia” has a broader campaign than “Independence Day.”

DreamWorks is hoping to pull in the “Toy Story” and “The Lion King” family of moviegoers with “Prince of Egypt,” a story about Moses to be released during the Easter holiday. Think of the merchandising potential. A Moses doll whose hair parts when you pull the string?

And Warner Bros. is hoping little boys and girls will flock to “Quest for Camelot,” a tried-and-true snoozer story even for adult audiences. So WB is banking its animation business on little boys wanting to run around in tights and mesh tunics brandishing swords?

As Disney’s competitors sit and spin stories about how Disney is losing its luster because “Hercules” isn’t going to make it past $100 million, they should only pray that their films gross even half of that.

Fox should stop whining and concentrate on becoming as fierce a competitor as Disney. Or even better, focus on how to sell kids and their parents a Don Bluth film about a teenage girl who may or may not be the missing Rus-sian heiress.

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