Buena Vista Pictures Distribution rolled out the heavy artillery with a healthy sampling of its animated summer release “The Lion King” to conclude the second day of NATO/ShoWest ’94.
Tuesday night at the Aladdin Hotel’s Theatre for the Performing Arts, “The Lion King” fronted a BV spectacle that surpassed many of Las Vegas’ floor shows.
Hosted by BV Pictures Distribution president Richard Cook, the event featured appearances by many Disney characters, pyrotechnics, giant dancing broomsticks, behemoth sets and 50 dancers doing the cancan to the tune “Be Our Guest.”
“There’s Disney and there are the also-rans,” said Mann Theatres head film buyer Mike Pade. “We just saw an exclamation point to what Disney does best.”
Keeping up with James Earl
To whet exhibitor appetites for its June 24 wide release of “Lion,” the distributor brought out James Earl Jones (one of the voices in the film) to narrate a series of segments from the feature.
Jones was seated next to a full-size movie screen, as BV showed storyboard, line drawings and finished color from its 32nd full-length animated feature.
The Disney event, which cost more than $ 1 million, departed dramatically from the typical product reels that most distributors present during the luncheon and dinner events.
Top Disney executives, which included Walt Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, BV’s Cook, president of worldwide marketing Bob Levin and veepee of national publicity Terry Press, explained that the studio prefers to reinforce the Disney family-film image during its NATO/ShoWest dinner, as opposed to presenting its slate.
“We don’t do a typical product reel because we feel it is difficult to put together clips from movies that have just started production and try to make them totally representative,” said Cook. He added that lavish stage events are different from the NATO/ShoWest norm, and something the Disney corporation does well.
Disney only showed segs from the cartoon offering, with nothing from its live-action pix — which in recent years has grossed significantly less than the studio’s animated releases.
The event segued from the theater to massive tents surrounded by African wildlife, where exhibs confirmed that the sneak had beaten the jungle drums for “Lion.”
Many exhibs speculated that at least one of the competing June 24 openers — Paramount’s “Milk Money,” 20th Century Fox’s “Airheads” and Columbia’s “Wolf”– would move off the date. Others predicted BV will be be able to name the prices and places for the “Lion” debut.
“Disney doesn’t ask,” Pade said. “They’ll show you just enough to knock you on the seat of your pants, and let you come to them. Half of my job the rest of the night will be begging to get the largest number of screens I can get for the Mann circuit.”
Don Harris, AMC president of film marketing, was also ebullient about prospects for the pic in a crowded summer marketplace. “Disney seems to top itself each time they put on an event,” he said, adding that BV will be able to “select the theaters in each market that will deliver the largest film rental.”
The strong showing for BV is particularly important for Disney as it attempts to fill its pipeline with in excess of 50 movies, and following a 1993 schedule that lacked a major summer hit.
Cook said the NATO/ShoWest event is important “not just for the large circuits, but also as a way to thank the independent exhibitors for their support throughout the year.”