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Word of mouth key for ‘Help’

Disney carefully orchestrating campaign

“It starts with a whisper” is a promo tagline for “The Help,” and a whisper campaign is what Disney hopes to achieve by launching DreamWorks’ femme-targeted pic wide today at 2,511 domestic engagements.

Budgeted at a reported $25 million, “The Help” is positioned as this year’s late-summer entry based on popular femme fodder — much like “Eat Pray Love” in 2010 and “Julie and Julia” in 2009. “Eat Pray Love” opened with more ($23.1 million) than “Julie and Julia” ($20 million), though the latter pic had a higher multiple (thanks to better word of mouth), with a domestic cume of $94 million vs. $80 million for “Eat Pray Love.”

It’s hard to predict how “The Help’s” mid-week bow will translate through the weekend. The most recent comparable Wednesday opening, 2008’s “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2,” drew a mostly tween aud with $19.6 million in five days.

Disney is predicting a similar opening perf for “The Help” through Sunday, but the pic could see more like $25 million, according to B.O. pundits.

Pic led Tuesday’s ticket sales for online ticketing service Fandango, with 31% (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” trailed with 15%).”The Help,” based on the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett, bows two days before the weekend’s other wide releases — “30 Minutes or Less,” “Final Destination 5” and “Glee: The 3D Concert Movie.” Disney looks to ignite word of mouth, led by fans of the novel.

In advance of today’s launch, Disney orchestrated approximately 300 advance screenings of “The Help,” most aimed at African-Americans and faith-based crowds, as well as various book clubs and libraries. Disney bumped up the pic’s launch date to Wednesday based on positive reactions from those screenings.

The film’s cast, including Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Bryce Dallas Howard, also spent the last two weeks on an 11-city junket that included Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia and Jackson, Miss.

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