| Lilo (right) and her sister Nani with their “dog” Stitch in the animation film Lilo & Stitch. (Reuters)
Does the idea of animation start and stop with cartoons for you' Do you think cartoons are only for kids' Most of India does. Disney, the Hollywood-based big daddy of animation, is determined to change that perception. Work has already started, and come October, the studio’s latest animation venture Lilo & Stitch will hit the market amidst a publicity blitz.
“Animation films do big business across the world. But the market response in India has not been so enthusiastic. We have done a survey covering viewers, exhibitors and other trade people,” says Divya Pathak, marketing manager, Columbia Tristar, distributors of Disney films in India.
The Indian audience, according to the research, has two problems of perception. First, there is no concept of family films here. “Children watch the same Bollywood products that their parents do. As a result, they are taking in much more than they are supposed to at their age.”
Second, Indian viewers tend to dismiss animation films as child’s play. “People think that since cartoons are regularly on beam on TV, going to see an animation film would mean unnecessary expenditure for the same thing. We have to change this mindset. All animation films are not cartoons and they are for everybody.”
Recalls Pathak: “Last year, The Emperor’s New Groove was released. The film is about a teenage king who’s turned into a llama by his scheming adviser, who wants the crown for himself. We arranged a screening for teenagers in Mumbai. They walked in full of doubts but rolled with laughter all through the show.”
Pathak points out that Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report opened on the same day in the US as Lilo & Stitch. But the story of the naughty alien outstripped the Tom Cruise-starrer in its weekend collections. “Of course, kids are still important targets because of the pester-power factor,” she adds.
Disney, which already has a significant presence in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Japan, has “big hopes” for India. Pathak, who “aims to take animation to the people”, feels that the market is opening up.
“It is helpful to have multiplexes coming up in the metros. Animation films usually have low openings and depend largely on word-of-mouth publicity. The 1,000-seater halls are likely to go empty the first week,” says Pathak.
Exhibitors, used to the high initials of Bollywood potboilers, usually withdraw the film rightaway. This is where they go wrong, insists Pathak, as animation films, being family entertainers, have long staying power. In multiplexes, there is scope to keep a film running in a small theatre. Monsters Inc, released in summer, is still running across the country, she points out.
Convenient time slots are also important to attract audiences. Disney plans festivals where different animation films will be screened on weekend mornings. “We have tried it out in Pune and Mum-bai. It has proved a success,” says Pathak.
Disney is also trying to get big companies involved with promotions of its films. A Bug’s Life was supported by BPL. “We are also synergising with our branches in merchandise, music, TV, apparels and DVDs. So when Lilo & Stitch releases in October, there will be a host of associated products available. Roadshows are being planned, as are teasers on TV,” informed Pathak.
Alongside Operation Promote-animation, a host of Disney films is lined up for release in 2003 — Treasure Planet, Finding Nemo, Jungle Book 2 … Time to think beyond Mickey & Donald.