'Jungle Book' Markets Its Way To Huge, Broad-Based Opening

Disney’s “The Jungle Book,” a $175-million, 3-D, live-action PG-rated adaptation of its 1967 animation of Rudyard Kipling’s 19th-century collection of stories, took in $103.6 million for its North American opening over the weekend, beating even the highest analysts’ projections and giving it the second-highest April debut ever behind last year’s “Furious 7,” Tre'vell Anderson reports in the Los Angeles Times. It also grossed $187.4 million overseas.

“We are ecstatic about where we’re starting and what it means for the future,” says Disney’s distribution chief, Dave Hollis. “When you combine really high quality filmmaking and the reception you hoped for from critics and consumers enjoying it, the momentum started to snowball.”



But make no mistake, Disney’s marketing team seeded the clouds to bring on the blizzard.

“Studios hate to discuss their marketing for fear of coming across as corporate versions of Kaa, the slippery ‘Jungle Book’ python who hypnotizes prey. (‘Trusssst in me.’) But movies — especially ones as tricky as ‘The Jungle Book,’ a stylized film based on a cartoon musical, based on a classic book — do not sell themselves,” points out Brooks Barnes for the New York Times.

Barnes then extrapolates a half dozen ways — from feeding bloggers and entertainment news sites with material that played up the scarier parts of the movie to attract an influential older audience to courting Hispanic viewers by teaming with Univision “for a five-week stunt that brought “Jungle Book’ characters and clips to telenovelas, talk shows and sports coverage.”

Not to mention live-event sneak peeks, a lot of posters, social media, theme-park tie-ins, good, old-fashioned star power and great reviews.

“The movie, from ‘Iron Man’ director Jon Favreau, includes voice talent from stars like Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, and it received widespread acclaim from critics,” reports Frank Pallotta for CNN Money. “It garnered an ‘A’ CinemaScore with audiences and a 95% score on review site Rotten Tomatoes. Most critics praised … the film's visual effects as well as its loyalty to the source material.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Fritz points out that 49% of ticket buyers were families. “With no other major family movies opening for the next few weeks, the film appears well positioned to ride positive word of mouth to strong grosses in the weeks to come,” he writes.

“‘The Jungle Book’ is just the latest of Disney's string of live-action remakes of classic cartoons (‘Cinderella,’ ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘Maleficent’), most of which have fared well at the box office. More plundering of the Disney library is in the works: ‘Cruella De Ville’ and ‘Peter Pan’ are in development; ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is scheduled for next March,” reports Jake Coyle for the Associated Press. 

“There's some consistency that's happened here in the last few years as we've really made this a priority and a strategy from a company perspective,” Disney’s Hollis says while crediting production president Sean Bailey with overseeing the live-action adaptations. “He's been able to do it in a way that really makes them contemporary and, certainly in this case, fully utilizes available technology.”

Says the WSJ’s Fritz: “Remakes of animated fairy tales are helping to give Walt Disney Pictures a brand identity akin to the company’s other labels such as Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios.”

Chris Thilk also surveys the broad range of Disney’s marketing efforts on his “Movie Marketing Madness” blog, covering posters, trailers, online and social, advertising and cross-promotion, media and publicity.

“The emphasis throughout the entirety of the marketing is on the visuals, whether that’s the jungle backgrounds and settings that Mowgli [the protagonist played by 10-year-old Neel Sethi] wanders through on his journeys or on the character designs themselves,” Thilk writes. “That’s supported by the consistent calls-to-action to see the movie in IMAX and/or 3-D, so it’s very much being sold as a big spectacle that needs to be seen on as big a screen as you can manage.”

Although families dominated the box office this weekend at 49%, as Pamela McClintock informs us in the Hollywood Reporter, “adults represented a hefty 43% of all ticket buyers. Also unusual: Eleven percent of the audience was 50 or older, while 19% was between 35-49. Teenagers made up 8%.”

“A film that can be as much for the general audience as for families goes a long way in changing how people view the Disney brand,” according to Hollis.

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