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Collins translates for Disney

Studio to localize 'Tarzan'

SYDNEY — For a man of many talents, Phil Collins hasn’t been renowned as a linguist. Yet the British singer has just mastered enough Spanish (two dialects), French, German and Italian to croon five songs in those languages for the soundtrack of Disney’s upcoming animated release “Tarzan.”

The unprecedented move of asking a major star to record multiple versions of tunes for an animated film soundtrack is a key element in Buena Vista Intl.’s campaign to localize “Tarzan” to a far greater extent than any previous toon feature.

The aim is to ensure that the saga of the loin-clothed hero reaches the widest audience possible in foreign territories — and to propel the international B.O. receipts way beyond “Mulan,” which did $182.8 million.

That strategy also is typified by the first-time initiative of dubbing “Tarzan” into Bahasa Malay for Malaysia, where it bows June 17 (the day before the domestic launch). Traditionally, Disney animated titles have been subtitled for Malaysian auds.

Worthwhile cost

Disney won’t say how much it has shelled out on Collins’ multilingual recording sessions or for the Malaysian dubbing — but execs are convinced the extra investment will pay off handsomely.

BVI president Mark Zoradi forecasts “Tarzan” will gross north of $200 million abroad, which would put it in the realm of “Pocahontas” ($204.3 million) and perhaps even “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” ($225.4 million).

Dubbing the film for as many as 35 markets (the company did 34 for “Mulan”) isn’t a cheap exercise, but as Zoradi points out, this creates localized versions that can later be exploited on television and homevideo and in consumer products.

Zoradi says Collins was happy to extend his repertoire.

“He did a test, then he learned how to sing (the five songs) in Latin American Spanish, Castilian Spanish, French, German and Italian,” Zoradi tells Variety. “It was more expensive, but not outrageously more expensive.” (For territories beyond those languages, local talent will be used to dub Collins’ vocal tracks.)

“This gives us a tremendous promotional and publicity tool, and it’s another step in localizing our product. It means we can take our movies around the world and make them sound like local movies.” The soundtrack album will still feature Collins singing in English.

Zoradi agrees there are incremental costs in dubbing the pic for Malaysia, but says, “We’ve run all the numbers, and it makes business sense.” He’s sure it will make “Tarzan” more accessible to young children who can’t read subtitles and to adults who don’t like doing so. That gambit also helps to more firmly establish the Disney brand, he believes.

Sinking pirates

Featuring the voices of Tony Goldwyn, Nigel Hawthorne, Glenn Close, Minnie Driver and Rosie O’Donnell (and Collins as something of a narrator), the pic is being released this week in Malaysia and Singapore to foil pirates, who usually flood both markets with video compact discs of U.S. films within a day or two of their domestic bow.

Following the typical pattern for the Disney animated canon, “Tarzan” rolls out in other Asian markets and in Latin America in June/July, in September in Australia, October in the U.K. and November/December in continental Europe.

But in a departure from the norm, the human-among-apes tale is being dated for December in Japan, moving away from the usual fall berth.

Zoradi explains that switch by noting he wants valuable holiday playing time in Japan, plus a long lead time for marketing.

BVI had three months to prime Japan (usually a problematic territory for Western animation) for “A Bug’s Life,” which hit paydirt by generating film rentals of 1.15 billion yen (about $9.5 million).