CRITICAL CHILDREN : Maybe They Should Ask Princess Di's Kids Too

The critics love "The Princess and the Goblin."

Well, at least the children of critics do.

Convinced that some movie reviewers render harsher criticism at animated films that don't come from the legendary Walt Disney Co., one small movie company is fighting back with a clever marketing scheme.

Instead of quoting adult critics, Hemdale Communications, the distributor of "The Princess and the Goblin," is featuring movie ads with pull quotes by children of various critics.

"I absolutely loved it!" said Sarah Medved, the 7-year-old daughter of critic Michael Medved of TV's "Sneak Previews" and the New York Post.

"It gets 91 stars!" said 4-year-old Anna Regine Campbell, daughter of Bob Campbell of Newhouse News Service/Newark Star-Ledger.

Hemdale executives say they just want adult critics to see the film as children might and not presume that only Disney makes quality animated features.

"We are not looking to pick a fight with critics over this film," said Tom Ortenberg, president of marketing and distribution at Hemdale. "However, there is a perception within the industry that critics do favor a Disney animated film over others and refuse to look at non-Disney animated films on their own merits. Whether that is true, I'm not sure."

"The Princess and the Goblin" opened Friday in about 800 theaters. In two weeks, Disney will open its latest animated film, "The Lion King," in New York and Los Angeles. Expected to be one of the year's biggest hits, "The Lion King" will be released nationwide on June 24.

Made at a cost of $10 million, "The Princess and the Goblin" was created by writer-producer Robin Lyons and European animators, and is based on the fable by George MacDonald about a princess who must overcome her fears in order to save her kingdom.

To get the kids'-eye view, Hemdale sent screening cassettes to some critics around the country with a request that they sit and watch the movie with their children.

Hemdale also held a number of advance screenings for reviewers with one proviso: Children had to be in the audience with them.

"It's the first time we've invited critics to screenings where we had children in attendance," Ortenberg said. "Our unscientific research showed that we got more favorable reviews from critics who saw the film in the presence of children than those who saw it in a stale, dark screening room all by themselves."

Michael Medved discounted criticism that adult critics like himself are more harsh on non-Disney animation, but conceded that Disney's recent animated features like "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin" have reached a standard that make them special and enduring.

"I think recent Disney animated films are just better," he said. "However, I gave a very enthusiastic 3 1/2 stars (four is maximum) to 'Thumbelina,' which was released by Warner Bros."

Some other recent animated films, he noted, have not been so worthy.

"I thought 'FernGully' was dreadful," he said. "But the worst animated movie of recent times was 'Freddie as 'F.R.O.7' in which a frog was a secret agent. It had countless jokes about frogs and Frenchmen. And then there was 'Rock-a-Doodle.' That was a big budget bombarino. It had the voice of Glen Campbell and was about a rooster who thought he was Elvis."

Medved said he attended an advance screening of "The Princess and the Gobblin" with his two daughters--Sarah and 5-year-old Shayna--and two of their friends.

"After it was over," he recalled, "a woman who works for Hemdale came out and asked the children to rate the movie by stars."

Both his daughters and one of their friends, 8-year-old Natanya Weiss, gave the movie four stars, he said, but 4-year-old Elizabeth Lieber went even further, giving it "1,000 stars."

"As you go down the age spectrum," Medved said, "this movie is more and more pleasing."

Medved himself gave it a mere 2 1/2 stars.

"It is possible," he said, "that my daughters will force me to upgrade it to three stars."

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