Although only 30% of the film's coloring is completed and parts are still being sketched, the Walt Disney Co. is using two of its big holiday films to showcase a unique trailer for "The Lion King," an animated movie that won't even be out until next summer.
Instead of the usual type of trailer that previews a coming attraction by culling excerpts from a film, Disney has chosen to air the opening 4 minutes and 14 seconds of "The Lion King," which includes an Elton John-Tim Rice song called "The Circle of Life."
"It's the first time that we've ever done anything like this," said Dick Cook, president of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. "We were all so taken by the beauty and majesty of this piece that we felt like it was probably one of the best four minutes of film that we've seen."
The "featurette," as it is being called, has been screening prior to Disney's "The Three Musketeers" and will also be shown prior to "Sister Act 2" (from Disney's Touchstone division) throughout the holidays.
All studios use the holidays as a key time to show trailers to generate audience interest in films that won't be seen until far off in the future. Warner Bros., for instance, plans holiday trailers for its two big summer movies, "Wyatt Earp" (Kevin Costner) and "Maverick" (Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster), while 20th Century Fox is showing a trailer in front of "Mrs. Doubtfire" for next summer's John Hughes film "Baby's Day Out."
But some observers say it is particularly vital for Disney to show "The Lion King" now if the film is to approach the hefty financial returns of the recent Disney hits "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin."
"Aladdin," which was released last year, has grossed $217 million domestically and the 1991 hit "Beauty and the Beast" has taken in nearly $145 million at the domestic box office.
To achieve similar returns, "The Lion King" must appeal to a broad audience, not only children.
"Clearly, the audiences for 'Beauty and the Beast' and 'Aladdin' (showed they) were not kiddie movies," said one industry observer. "Those were date movies--movies that people of any age would go to just like they would other films out there.
"If you pitch something to kiddies, that is not going to be a big hit," he added. "Disney wants to make it clear that this is for general audiences, particularly young audiences, which traditionally buy the most tickets. It's an audience with money that doesn't always come to animated films in this country. We still have that awful stigma of animated films being a children's medium."
Animated films that do not attract adults are in for trouble. For example, "Once Upon a Forest" from Hanna-Barbera, which was released last June by 20th Century Fox, has taken in only $6.13 million.
In the opening sequence of "The Lion King," animals come from throughout the African plains to a spot where a proud lion and lioness have just given birth to a cub.
The scenes are dramatic in the way they depict vast herds of zebras and wildebeest running while birds soar high above the veldt.
There is one shot of a bull elephant walking toward the camera, kicking up dust and moving with the kind of weight and accurate rhythms not often depicted in animated films.
In the plot, the king is killed and the cub believes it is his fault. The cub leaves and the pride of lions come under the reign of the evil Scar. The cub grows up and must return to his rightful position.
The film is directed by Roger Allers and Robert Minkoff and is produced by Don Hahn, who produced "Beauty and the Beast." It features the voices of Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin, who play hyenas; James Earl Jones, who plays Mufasa, the father lion, and Jeremy Irons as Scar, Mufasa's evil brother.