Madeline may be celebrating her 60th birthday this year, but the Parisian schoolgirl is entering new territory in the video business. She will debut in her first feature-length, direct-to-video (DTV) title, Madeline: Lost in Paris, on August 3.
Produced by DIC Entertainment, maker of the Madeline animated series on Disney Channel, the DTV title will be distributed by Buena Vista Home Entertainment. Like the series, the animated film is based on the Ludwig Bemelman book series, which has sold more than nine million copies worldwide.
Buena Vista will release the title as part of the Disney Video Premieres line. According to Bob Chapek, senior VP of marketing for Buena Vista Home Entertainment, videos in this line are marketed in ways that mirror theatrical releases. For example, Disney typically spends US$30 million to US$40 million to market a family feature film. The marketing budget of a top-rated DTV title, such as The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, is ‘comparable,’ says a Buena Vista spokesperson, noting, however, that Madeline is a smaller, more specialized release than The Lion King II, and thus will command a smaller marketing budget. Top Buena Vista DTV titles-like Disney’s theatrical releases-typically land a McDonald’s QSR deal, whereas Madeline: Lost in Paris is considered a smaller, upscale-oriented title for which a fast-food partnership is less appropriate.
The decision to bring this film to DTV was made in the earliest development meetings, which started in January `98, says exec producer Andy Heyward, president of DIC, and was due in part to the fact that the feature-film release window for the franchise was recently occupied by the July `98 release of the live-action Madeline movie from Columbia TriStar Pictures. However, since the property has proven ‘legs,’ Heyward sees the production of an animated theatrical feature as a distinct possibility for the future.
The scarcity of feature-film release windows in general is a disadvantage when choosing to release a property theatrically versus going DTV, says Chapek. Since Disney releases so many kids movies, this makes finding a free slot even tougher. ‘The decision whether Madeline would go to theaters or video was [based on] the availability of theatrical or video windows,’ says Chapek. ‘It was not a function of [the film's] quality.’
Selecting the right moment for a DTV title’s release involves looking at when other Buena Vista videos are scheduled to come out, as well as the release dates of any similarly themed theatrical releases. For example, marketers made sure that the release of the live-action Madeline feature and its release on video were well in advance of Madeline: Lost in Paris. In addition, August is considered an excellent kidvid release window, due to the back-to-school rush at retail.
Heyward says the high production values that are demanded by consumers in the DTV medium today are an advantage for the Madeline property. ‘Madeline lends itself well [to high-quality production] as it is an upscale-type property,’ he says. Heyward adds that today’s DTV releases are of comparable quality to that of animated features just three years ago.
Madeline: Lost in Paris underwent an 18-month production schedule, says Heyward. During that period, much more time was spent on every aspect, including scripting, storyboard and musical score, than on the TV product, notes Heyward. Top-drawer voice talent Christopher Plummer returned from the series as the narrator, and other well-known talent was added, including Lauren Bacall and Jason Alexander.
Buena Vista’s ‘core strategy’ in marketing the video is to tie in with Madeline’s 60th anniversary, says Chapek. At the retail level, the studio will stage hundreds of Birthday Party events in the summer and through the end of the year. Since the Birthday Party theme is franchise-wide, Buena Vista has tied in with retailers carrying the Madeline toy line to include the video in Birthday Party toy displays.
The studio is pursuing TV, radio and print campaigns highlighting the 60th anniversary theme. Trailers will be featured on 15 million BVHE videos this summer.
Buena Vista is also pursuing cross-promotions with additional Madeline licensees, including publisher Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, and top-tier retail partners, such as Noodle Kidoodle, Zany Brainy, Learningsmith, FAO Schwarz and Imaginarium.
The video’s U.S. launch in August will be followed by a fall DTV release in international markets. The marketing of the release internationally will highlight the French flavor of the property and the universal appeal of the book series. The title is 74 minutes long, and will carry a suggested retail price of US$24.99 in the U.S.