Creating a new classic

Frank Capra's directorial career spanned nearly 35 years. From a long list of acclaimed films, It's a Wonderful Life (1946)-without question-is not only one of the world's best-loved and most enduring classics, but is regarded as the cornerstone of this legendary...
December 1, 1997

Frank Capra’s directorial career spanned nearly 35 years. From a long list of acclaimed films, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)-without question-is not only one of the world’s best-loved and most enduring classics, but is regarded as the cornerstone of this legendary man’s legacy. Did he know the first time he read the script? Did he envision the film as a perennial favorite and best-seller more than 50 years later?

As talented as Capra was, probably not. In fact, in 1946, It’s a Wonderful Life was not a box-office hit, and although nominated for five Academy Awards, it went home empty-handed. It took years for the film to evolve into a classic.

So, how does a studio create a production that will come to be considered a classic? Ralph Edwards Films is hoping to do just that with its new animated holiday tale Annabelle’s Wish. On October 21, the home video was released by Hallmark Home Entertainment-initially shipping 2.5 million units, with substantial re-orders expected throughout the holiday selling season-and the soundtrack by Rising Tide/Blue Eye Records. Fox TV aired the production on November 30.

Many evergreen classics are holiday-oriented. Take, for example, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, based on the number-one hit song by Gene Autry in 1949 and first broadcast in 1964 (NBC), and Frosty the Snowman, also based on a 1950 song recorded by Gene Autry, Guy Lombardo and Nat King Cole, which aired in 1969 (CBS). These popular programs were first released on home video in 1989 as part of LIVE Home Video’s Christmas Classics collection. They continue to be best-sellers and network favorites. They have become classics because they embody the values of the holiday season: friendship, giving and sharing.

Other characteristics that make a story timeless include: durability-the message does not change from generation to generation; universality-the message translates to all ages, religions, races and cultures; and replayability-quality production, story and music. Most importantly, a classic has to reach the child, romantic or idealist in each of us. It’s a universal message of hope, love and aspirations.

In a cluttered marketplace, a new release must be supported by marketable elements that logically relate to the story, without contradicting or cheapening it. Annabelle’s Wish is based on a farm legend in which the barnyard animals are granted a voice each Christmas Eve. On that night, Annabelle, a lovable calf, is born. She encounters Santa and his majestic reindeer, and-through a selfless wish-brings magic to the little boy she loves. The fable takes place on a Tennessee farm, so it was logical, both to the story and to the marketing effort, to tie in the music and voice talent of country superstar Randy Travis.

The film also provided an opportunity to turn a good story into a good deed. Annabelle gives up her dreams to make her friend’s wish come true. Working with the Make-A-Wish Foundation was unplanned until the project was already in production. The natural partnership led to an extraordinary grassroots promotion. Annabelle’s Wish will fund 100 wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses by Christmas. With other donations through promotional partners, a minimum of US$1 million will be given to the foundation. Kevin Sharp, an award-winning country music star who sings in the film, is himself a former Make-A-Wish child.

Even the best story is a moot point without awareness. Promotions-in addition to traditional, broad-based trade and consumer publicity and advertising campaigns-have consisted of a nationwide, 144-shopping mall tour, tractor-trailer trucks emblazoned with Annabelle’s Wish that delivered displays and merchandise, a community ‘friendship awareness’ program in pre- and elementary schools throughout the U.S., and a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Promotional partners include NOVUS Services, Mrs. Fields Original Cookies, Golden Books and American Airlines.

While you must create an innovative and high-profile promotional plan, you must also respect the grassroots approach, the common denominator that has always been the benchmark of successful marketing. Don’t underestimate the power of what one mother tells another over a cup of coffee. Studies reveal word of mouth is a primary motivating factor for parents when purchasing children’s products.

Annabelle has taken flight, but only the test of time will prove her a classic.

Barbara Dunn-Leonard is the co-executive producer of Annabelle’s Wish at Ralph Edwards Films in Hollywood, California.

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