Disney officials 'walking on air' over 'Mulan' debut
Web posted on: Monday, June 22, 1998 3:23:50 PM EDT
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Despite facing tough competition from the much-hyped "The X-Files," and an audience unfamiliar with its plot line, Disney's animated feature "Mulan" fought its way to an impressive debut at the box office for the June 19-21 weekend.
While Fox's silver screen version of "The X-Files" rode the crest of a marketing wave to the top of the box office, raking in $31 million, "Mulan" scored a vigorous second-place showing at $23 million. It's the strongest start for a Disney film since "Toy Story" took in $29 million during its debut weekend in November of 1995.
"We're walking on air," said Phil Barlow, president of Disney's Buena Vista distribution unit.
"The Truman Show," last week's topper, held on at the No. 3 spot after taking in $12.4 million. "Six Days, Seven Nights" placed fourth with $10.5 million. "A Perfect Murder" was fifth with $7.3 million.
'Mulan' brings legend to life
The opening for "Mulan" represents only a 10 percent improvement over those of the studio's two most recent animated features -- "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Hercules" opened to $21.5 and $21 million, respectively.
But Barlow noted that in this case studio marketers had to overcome audiences' unfamiliarity with the subject matter -- the 2000-year-old Chinese legend of a courageous young women who disguises herself as a man to enter the National Chinese Army in order to save her ailing father from being drafted.
"Everyone's heard of 'Hercules,' 'Hunchback of Notre Dame,' 'Pocahontas' and 'Beauty and the Beast,"' he said. "This is about a centuries-old female Chinese warrior."
Actors who voiced characters in the story have told CNN they are excited to be a part of the Disney-ized legend.
"My mother used to tell me stories about Mulan when I was a little girl and its just one of those stories thats been passed on down from generation to generation for thousands of years," says Ming-Na Wen, who brings to life the character Mulan.
Just for girls?
"The great thing about Mulan is that she's not only a character that is from historical China," says Ming-Na Wen. "She has so many elements about her that is truly modern. It's the whole contemporary image of what a '90s woman would be."
Some observers had predicted "Mulan" would attract an all-girls audience, but based on anecdotal data from the Disney's college network, kids under 12 were evenly split between boys and girls over the weekend, Barlow said.
"The sense that the film is attracting only little girls is dissipating rapidly," said Barlow. "We're absolutely positive this is not going to be a quick burn movie."
'Files' went flat
Meanwhile, Fox officials are hoping "The X-Files" can hold on to its strong opening. The sci-fi thriller based on the popular TV show got off to a terrific start on Friday, taking in $12 million in ticket sales as fans of the show supported the effort en masse. However, on Saturday, instead of increasing or holding steady, attendance dropped a whopping 18 percent, calling into question the film's long-term health.
"We expected to play flat," said Tom Sherak, chairman of 20th Domestic Film Group. "I think this has to do with the huge fan following."
Overall ticket sales for the weekend are expected to total about $106 million, up 2 percent from the equivalent 1997 weekend, when "Batman & Robin" and "My Best Friend's Wedding" opened to $42.9 million and $21.7 million, respectively.
Correspondent Michael Okwu contributed to this report.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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