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It Looks Like Bad ‘Newsies’ for Disney

Luckily for Walt Disney Pictures, the debut of the Euro Disney theme park near Paris last weekend overshadowed the opening of “Newsies,” which had this year’s worst opening weekend for a major-studio movie.

“Newsies” is a musical set in the streets of New York City during the 1899 newspaperboys’ strike. The $25-million film was the first traditional, live-action “book musical” from a major studio in years. It was, in fact, Disney’s first live-action musical since 1977’s moderately successful “Pete’s Dragon,” and represented an acknowledged gamble by Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg to test the musical waters.

But “Newsies” grossed only $1.2 million in 1,223 theaters, for a per-screen average of $981, according to Exhibitor Relations Inc., a company that tracks box-office data. By comparison, two notable failures this year, Columbia Pictures’ “Radio Flyer” and “Gladiators,” opened with $1.9 million and $3.3 million, respectively.

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An emergency session of the studio’s marketing department was called Sunday morning. A source close to Disney described the tone as that of “a prayer meeting.”

Some theater-chain operators, who agreed to speak anonymously, complained that “Newsies” ads showed only a little of the dancing and music, and none of Ann-Margret, who has a small role. Exhibitor sources said that Disney is releasing them from the contractual obligation that sets the number of times the movie will be shown each day, which would allow theaters to present other movies.

A Disney spokesman declined comment.

The “Newsies” opening was a marked contrast to the success that other Disney films have had this year, including “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” and “Medicine Man,” not to mention “Beauty and the Beast” and “Father of the Bride” from 1991.


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