VIDEOS : Strong Demand for 'The Little Mermaid'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

You won't have to wait until the next decade to see Disney's smash-hit animated feature, "The Little Mermaid," on videocassette. Its home-video debut will be considerably sooner--May 18.

Like the other Disney animated features, it will be available at a price geared to sales: $26.99. The price will be slashed three dollars with a rebate from Disney. Discount stores, though, will probably sell it for $15 to $18.

Standard Disney policy has been to put its animated films through several theatrical releases over a period of years. In addition to increasing its exposure to young audiences, this extended release pattern also beefs up the gross, further enhancing the movie's appeal in the home-video market.

Since it came out last November, "Mermaid" has grossed more than $76 million, the most any animated film has earned in its initial release.

It seemed likely that "Little Mermaid" wouldn't come out on home video until long after the debuts of two other animated features, "The Great Mouse Detective" (1986) and "Oliver and Co." (1988). Why did "Mermaid" leap-frog over them in the home-video release line?

The reason was spectacular marketing research results, explained Richard Cohen, senior vice president of Buena Vista Home Video, the parent company of Disney Home Video.

"The initial exit (from theaters) research was astounding," he said. "People said they were anxious to buy it and that they'd buy it any time of the year. The intent-to-purchase figures were so high and so much in favor of putting it out as soon as possible that we eventually decided to put it out for the summer market."

Cohen also said that there would be no commercial on "Little Mermaid." Some potential sponsors wanted to buy a spot on the cassette, but ads on animated features are against company policy, he explained.

Part of the decision to put "Mermaid" out so soon has to do with the notion, which surfaced last year, that the home-video sales market is lucrative year-round, not only in the Christmas-holiday gift-buying season. The release in early February of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and "Lethal Weapon 2"--both at $24.98, geared to the sales market--tested the sales market outside the holiday season, with mixed results.

According to various industry estimates, Disney should ship between 6 million and 10 million copies of "Mermaid." Eventually it may surpass "Bambi," Disney's best-seller at 10.5 million copies.

Traditionally, Disney pulls a feature-length animated feature from its vaults for Christmas home-video release. Earlier in the year, that movie gets its final theatrical re-release, partly to reacquaint audiences with the title. But Cohen said that the release of "Little Mermaid" didn't preclude the company putting out another animated feature on home video this fall.

The most likely candidate for fall release is "Peter Pan," with "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" also a strong possibility.

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