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Disney's 'Peter Pan' Flies Back to Theaters for 'Return to Neverland' Sequel in February, Pacing Q1 Video Campaign

16 Nov, 2001 By: Joan Villa

Disney is taking its Peter Pan franchise to the big screen this February with the animated sequel Return to Neverland, while loading up retail with five major video releases for the first quarter.

The slate includes the direct-to-video sequels Cinderella 2: Dreams Come True (Feb. 26) and Hunchback of Notre Dame 2 (Mar. 19), coupled with the new-to-video Atlantis the Lost Empire (Jan. 29), the classic Peter Pan in a special edition (Feb. 12), and a mix of new and old shorts from the theatrical animation division packaged as American Legends. (Feb. 12).

Disney's plan is to release four video premieres a year generated by the television animation unit headed by executive v.p. Sharon Morrill. But Disney is choosing to bypass the sellthrough-heavy holidays and frontload the release schedule with two of the four in the first quarter — a time frame the studio sees as particularly receptive to family fare.

“This February time slot has really proven successful for our type of movies,” contends Morrill, whose division produced Return to Neverland, due in theaters Feb. 15, after its past two February successes Recess the Movie this year and The Tigger Movie in 2000.

“Whereas feature animation will create a whole new story with new characters, [in the television animation division] we're building franchises,” she explains. “We'll do Return to Neverland building on Peter Pan and we'll do Winnie the Pooh building off characters that already exist. It's a different kind of business and a different type of decision as to which films go out theatrically.”

Although Disney's theatrical animation division has not always hit the mark in creating high box office returns or enduring franchises, few companies have had Disney's success at leveraging its multitude of properties and characters into a dizzying array of cross-promotional opportunities, says Disney analyst Jeffrey Logsdon with Gerard Klauer Mattison & Co.

“The magnitude of revenues from Atlantis is not going to match some of its more recent releases and pale in comparison to its more prominent titles of the ‘90s, The Lion King being the poster boy,” Logsdon says.

However, Disney's home video strategies of rereleasing classics and extending brands with direct-to-video sequels help the studio dominate market share, he says.

“Whether it's Mickey's Christmas Snowed In or Christmas Recess to Little Mermaid 2, these titles sell anywhere from a million to 10 million units, which is clearly outclassing everyone else,” he adds. “Nobody else is hitting the kind of units Disney is hitting. On the aggregate, Disney still seems to be the king of the home video marketplace, whether VHS or DVD.”

This year, for example, the Peter Pan franchise weaves the theatrical sequel into the home video classic by attaching a movie ticket to the Special Edition, priced at $29.99 for the DVD ($19.95 minimum advertised price) and $24.99 for VHS ($15.95 MAP). Both formats offer a restored film with THX sound and contain a “making-of” featurette and “sneak peek” at Return to Neverland, while the DVD adds games, puzzles and audio commentary from Walt Disney and veteran animators, says Gordon Ho, v.p. of brand marketing for Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

The movie ticket is only the second time Disney has tried the tie-in, following a Monsters, Inc. ticket this month attached to a Pixar three-pack of Toy Story, Toy Story 2 and A Bug's Life. But this offer is “much more directly tied to the movie,” concedes Ho.

“This is definitely a way for retailers to participate in the excitement,” he notes. Plus, to further increase awareness, a Happy Meal toy promotion at McDonald's is set for opening weekend through March 3.

And if families want more, Disney is poised to deliver with American Legends, a series of four theatrical shorts on characters Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, Casey Jones and the new John Henry as the “anchor” story, to theaters before Return to Neverland. American Legends will have the same VHS and DVD dates and prices as Peter Pan.

Disney has high hopes for its sequels, especially Cinderella 2, Ho says.“We expect it to be every bit as successful as Little Mermaid 2 and Lady and the Tramp 2,” he notes. “Kids get to see what happens after ‘happily ever after.’

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