'Lion King' success spurs 3D theatrical stints for 'Nemo,' 'Mermaid,' 'Beast'

Prompted by the unexpected success of “The Lion King” 3D retrofit, Disney will re-release 3D versions of animated pics including “Beauty and the Beast,” “Finding Nemo,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “The Little Mermaid.”

Studio has dated the pics to bow over the next two years.

Up first, “Beauty and the Beast” unspools on Jan. 13, followed by “Finding Nemo” on Sept. 14. The 2013 pair, “Monsters, Inc.” and “The Little Mermaid,” will bow on Jan. 18 and June 21, respectively.

Pixar’s “Monsters University,” a prequel to “Monsters, Inc.,” is due to hit theaters in 3D June 21, 2013.”The Lion King” 3D retread surprised B.O. observers when it opened three weeks ago to a chart-topping $30 million, followed by a notably resilient sophomore sesh. So far, the pic has totaled nearly $80 million at the domestic B.O., with an extra $20 million in overseas grosses.

It’s not surprising that Disney slotted “Beauty and the Beast” first, given that a 3D version of the toon is already completed.

The Mouse originally planned to release “Beauty” in 3D before “The Lion King,” but decided instead to release “Beauty” for a two-week trial run at Hollywood’s El Capitan theater that ended Sept. 15.

In general, 3D conversions take about five-to-eight months to complete, depending on complexity and length of the film.

“Great stories and great characters are timeless, and at Disney we’re fortunate to have a treasure trove of both,” Walt Disney Studios prexy Alan Bergman said in a statement.

Disney has the deepest toon catalog to draw from, though other studios likely will be looking to past live-action product and a few hit toons for potential 3D retreads.

Paramount and James Cameron expect “Titanic” to bring in ample 3D coin when it docks April 6 — just three months after Fox and George Lucas’ “Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace” re-launches in 3D.

And while B.O. figures for “Lion King” are promising (even in 3D, which contributed 92% of the pic’s domestic total), many bizzers still debate how much of a boost 3D upcharges bring to studios’ bottom lines.

In 2010, 3D’s contribution to a pic’s overall B.O. ranged from about 50% to as high as 80%. This year, the domestic figure is down to roughly 45%.

But pics are still seeing more formidable 3D returns overseas, where the format accounts for about 60% to 70% of a film’s international take. That’s even in territories where the upcharge is a bigger percentage of ticket prices than domestically.

With “The Lion King,” Disney benefited from marketing the film as a 3D event, with only a few 2D showtimes each day.

And according to investment consulting group Clear Scope Partners’ most recent quarterly report, animated films cost significantly less to convert to 3D than live action pics, and higher ticket prices more than help cover the cost of conversion.

“The 3D ticket price … made it profitable to offer films in 3D for all but a few titles since 2007, which on average earned $17 million in excess of the cost of conversion,” the report stated.

That makes future 3D conversions viable, particularly for films like “Lion King,” which already have a worldwide familiarty.

Of the titles to be converted, 2003’s “Finding Nemo” has earned the most, with $867.6 million worldwide, followed by “Monsters, Inc.,” which grossed $526.9 million globally and sold 11 million home video units during its first week. But the Mouse’s hand-drawn pics were major B.O. hits of their time: “Beauty” totaled $380.4 million worldwide in 1991; “Little Mermaid,” $228.9 million in 1989.

With new generations discovering the toons, these pics continue to expand their fanbase long after their theatrical release, thanks to merchandising and ancilliaries. Last year, Disney reported a total $28.6 billion in consumer product revenues — far more than any other studio.

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