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D’Works plans reign for ‘Joseph’ vid pic

Affleck, Hamill, Light voice characters

Just seven weeks after Disney introduces the made-for-video sequel to “The Little Mermaid” on Sept. 19, the voice of Ariel will be singing a different tune on DreamWorks’ first video premiere.

Jodi Benson joins David Campbell and Maureen McGovern in singing five of the songs in DreamWorks’ long-in-production made-for-video musical animated film “Joseph: King of Dreams,” which was completed in April and is being released on Nov. 7.

Ben Affleck, Mark Hamill, Steven Weber and Judith Light are among the voice talent in the 75-minute movie that the studio is hoping will generate the kind of success that Disney and Universal have enjoyed with video premieres of sequels to “The Lion King,” “Aladdin” and “The Land Before Time,” among others.

Kelley Avery, worldwide head of DreamWorks Home Entertainment, would not discuss the budget of the movie that has been in the works for three years — even before “The Prince of Egypt” — but said it was comparable to the highest quality made-for-video movies because it was produced by DreamWorks film animation studio and because it was produced by much of the same team that worked on “Prince of Egypt,” including “P.O.E.” director Steve Hickner, who serves as one of the executive producers on “Joseph.”

Budgets on an upswing

Budgets for some made-for-video titles such as “The Return of Jafar,” “Aladdin: King of Thieves” and “Casper, A Spirited Beginning” have exceeded $10 million, according to estimates by industry sources. Universal’s computer-animated video premiere title “Casper’s Haunted Christmas,” being released Oct. 31, has an estimated budget of between $6 million and $9 million.

Although DreamWorks is leveraging “Prince of Egypt” both thematically and production-wise, Avery said the movie is unique in the made-for-video market because it is not a direct sequel and is not connected to a TV series.

“Studios need to step up and continue to deliver high-quality original movies for this marketplace,” she said. “We have a real opportunity to bring creativity and originality to this format.”

Although Avery would not say if the studio has committed to any other productions to premiere on video yet, she did say it was possible that the studio would consider producing annual made-for-video productions that could be other Bible-related stories or extensions of studio films. In addition to “Prince of Egypt,” other DreamWorks’ family fare includes “Antz,” “The Road to El Dorado” and Chicken Run.”

Heavy competition

Avery believes that the quality of the movie and the theatrical-level marketing push being mounted by DreamWorks will make the movie stand out from the unprecedented 19 video premieres being released in the next 19 weeks, beginning this week with Universal’s “Beethoven’s 3rd” and including “The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea” on Sept. 19.

Other titles include Universal’s “Dragonheart: A New Beginning” on Aug. 8, Disney’s Aug. 8 feature-length precursor to its new animated TV series “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins,” the Nickelodeon/Paramount release on Oct. 3 called “Blue’s Big Musical Movie,” and the latest installment in Universal’s ongoing franchise “The Land Before Time VII: The Stone of Cold Fire” on Nov. 28.

Avery says the challenge will be to create a theatrical-release kind of buzz around “Joseph.” “It’s like launching a small motion picture into the video marketplace.”

The studio is targeting younger viewers and their parents with the movie, which will have extra components on the DVD version, including read-along and sing-along features as well as DVD-ROM accessible trivia games and downloadable activity and coloring sheets and holiday greeting cards.

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