‘Pocahontas’ Bows In The Park

One hundred thousand New Yorkers will catch the first public glimpse of the Walt Disney Co.’s “Pocahontas” on four giant screens in Central Park on June 10, Disney execs confirmed on Jan. 31.

Disney execs also disclosed plans for an updated version of “Fantasia,” to be released in 1998, as well as future legit shows at the company’s theater in Manhattan (see box).

The free “Premiere in the Park,” as the “Pocahontas” event is being called, falls two weeks before the June 23 opening of the animated feature, and marks at least two firsts for Central Park’s Great Lawn. Although concerts and rallies are routine on the Lawn, “Pocahontas” will be the first film event there, a project made technologically possible by state-of-the-art sound and projection equipment.

The premiere also will be the Lawn’s first limited-access event, with attendance confined to 100,000. Tickets will be distributed through a random mail-in program, with request forms available in newspapers and tickets limited to four per request.

A spokesman for the city’s parks department said security logistics are still being worked out, but that fences and guards will be used to keep out gatecrashers.

What the security measures might not keep away is criticism from New Yorkers used to open access to virtually all park events, from summertime Metropolitan Opera performances to massively attended gatherings for Paul Simon, Diana Ross and others.

Neither Disney CEO Michael Eisner nor New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani – both present at a press conference in the park Jan. 31 – would disclose the cost of the event. Giuliani said figures will be made public closer to the event, when the tally sheet can be “more accurate.”

Eisner said the city will provide services – apparently security and maintenance measures – and that Disney will make a “sizable donation” to the city in return. Giuliani would say only that the event will be a “big net plus” for the city.

The bulk of the cost is expected to be the screening itself, with four eight-story-tall screens erected to cover the 13-acre viewing area. Eight projectors will be used – two per screen – to run 70mm prints made just for the park screening.

The premiere will employ Disney’s CircleVision technology, similar to the 360-degree systems used in the company’s theme parks, along with a new system designed by the studio’s projection engineers. More than 150 sound speakers will be used, which Disney claims equals five amphitheater concert audio systems.

Following the general press conference, editors and writers from selected entertainment publications were invited to view clips (in both storyboard and finished form) from “Pocahontas” and Disney’s Thanksgiving 1995 release, “Toy Story.”

Broadway vet Judy Kuhn, the singing voice of Pocahontas, performed what will likely be the standout ballad from the film, “Colors of the Wind.” Composer Alan Menken accompanied Kuhn on piano.