Disney reels back on family fare

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The Independent Online
Young Americans - that maddening band of consumers whose tastes dominate all our lives - are so turned off by cosy Disney films that the corporation has decided to halve its annual film production.

Instead, Disney will channel all its energy into the kind of high-budget blockbusters that would leave Bambi bleating far behind.

Joe Roth, Disney's chairman, indicated that the company will shed formulaic and often unprofitable family fare for "event" films that carry bigger stars and touch on more adult themes.

Even its own stock-in-trade are up for re-invention: a 101 Dalmatians remake scheduled for release this autumn will feature Glenn Close as Cruella de Ville (she, of course, is best remembered for boiling pet rabbits, rather than cuddling them).

Disney's hand appears to have been forced by Hollywood's love affair with "event" films this summer, such as Twister, and Mission Impossible, where massive promotion and star power is used to turn pictures of questionable quality into must-see extravaganzas.

While Disney's animation department has produced a string of huge blockbusters in the 1990s, its live-action films have fared poorly. Studio executives have been left looking jealously at big hits that have reached family audiences with a more modern feel - like the cross-dressing Mrs Doubtfire, or the anarchic Home Alone.

The Lion King, released in 1994, brought in $300m (about pounds 194m) at the box office alone and estimated profits of some $1bn. Other animated films, such as Aladdin and Toy Story, have been huge cash cows.

By contrast, Disney's live-action department is thought to have lost $200m between 1992 and 1994, and though it may have broken even last year is expected to sustain some expensive write-offs in 1996.

Mr Roth said that he did not see "the economics justifying 40 pictures a year".

Disney's biggest success of the summer has itself been an "event" film, The Rock, about an assault on Alcatraz, starring Sean Connery. Released by Disney's Hollywood Pictures, it's non-stop action is meaty stuff.

The corporation is also seeking to hire Robin Williams for another star vehicle, a remake of the 1960s film The Nutty Professor.