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"Winnie the Pooh" BYOB screenings prove to be a big hit with pajama-clad undergrads

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"Winnie the Pooh" BYOB screenings prove to be a big hit with pajama-clad undergrads

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The conventional wisdom in Hollywood these days is that "Winnie the Pooh" is going to have a tough time of it this summer. Given that this Walt Disney Animation Studios production is being released to theaters on July 15th, the exact same day that "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2" opens ... The belief out west is that - given a choice between seeing the battle for Hogwarts in 3D or returning to a hand-drawn Hundred Acre Wood - people will pick over Potter over Pooh.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Well, let me tell you about something that kind of flies in the face of this conventional wisdom. Which is the turn-away business that "Winnie the Pooh" has been doing on college campuses all over the country. Thanks to those BYOB screenings WDAS has been staging over this past month or so.

Mind you, in this case "BYOB" means "Bring Your Own Blanket." What's more, these college students are being encouraged to show up for these "Winnie the Pooh" screenings in their pajamas. And hundreds have been doing just that.

Hundreds of NYU students waited outside of the Cantor Film Center four hours on May
10th for a chance to attend that university's "Winnie the Pooh" BYOB screening.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

To Hollywood insiders, it must seem strange that freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors have been lining up - sometimes two and three hours in advance - just to catch a screening of a Disney hand-drawn animated feature. But you have to remember that today's college age kids grew up in what was kind of the golden age of Winnie the Pooh for The Walt Disney Company.

By that I mean: During the mid-1990s / early 2000s, there was a startling amount of Pooh product either on TV, in theaters, available for purchase on VHS & DVD or in the theme parks. "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh," animated series began airing on the Disney Channel in October 1994. The first "Pooh" home premiere - "Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin" - hit store shelves in August of 1997. And that direct-to-video title sold so well that Walt Disney  Studios Home Entertainment immediately began prepping a new "Pooh" theatrical release, "The Tigger Movie," for February 2000. And inbetween all that, the Imagineers were getting "The Many Adventures of the Winnie the Pooh" attraction ready for its June 1999 opening at WDW's Magic Kingdom.

San Diego State University students sack out at Montezuma Hall as they get ready for the
May 11th BYOB screening of "Winnie the Pooh." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

So for college age kids today, this Silly Old Bear was a constant companion while they were growing up. Which may explain why - at the screenings that Walt Disney Studios held in April & May at UC Berkeley, NYU, USC, Boston University, Arizona State, the University of Utah, Michigan State, the University of Washington, San Diego State, the University of Cincinnati and Saint Louis University - hundreds of pajama-clad undergrads have been turning out to see "Winnie the Pooh."

This isn't the first time that Walt Disney Studios has done something like this. You may recall that - in May of last year - that Pixar began screening on college campuses what was then known as the Cliffhanger edition of "Toy Story 3." Meaning that they only showed the first 65 minutes of that Lee Unkrich film to undergrads. With the hope that they'd then go on Facebook & Twitter and talk about how great this "Toy Story" sequel.

Dressed in their PJs and clutching their blankets, University of Washington sorority girls
are good to go for the May 24th BYOB screening. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Well, that was the thinking back in April when the marketing department at Walt Disney Studios hatched this BYOB scheme. That - just like they did with the cliffhanger edition of "Toy Story 3" - they'd build some good buzz for "Winnie the Pooh" by screening this Stephen Anderson & Don Hall film at college campuses around the country.

But never in their wildest dreams did Disney's marketing people think that these BYOB screenings of "Winnie the Pooh" would prove to be this popular. To the point that - on some campuses - hundreds of pajama-clad undergrads have had to be turned away. There were just no seats left in the theater because the place was packed with Pooh fans.

There was a packed house at USC's Norris Theatre for the May 2nd BYOB screening of
"Winnie the Pooh." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

It'll be interesting to see if this same thing happens tomorrow night at UCLA. Which is when the last of these BYOB "Winnie the Pooh" screenings will be held in the Ackerman Grand Ballroom at 8 p.m. Just be aware that - if you're an UCLA student who actually wants to attend this screening - you should arrive early. Not just because seating in the Ackerman Grand Ballroom is limited. But because the first hundred people who show up with their own blanket will get a free Snuggie.

So given the crowds that have been turning out for these "Winnie the Pooh" BYOB screenings on college campuses all over the county, maybe Hollywood's movers & shakers are being a bit premature. At least when it comes to predicting how "Winnie the Pooh" will perform at the box office this summer.

Of course, the really hardcore "Pooh" fans -- like these
two University of Cincinnati students -- came to their
school's BYOB event with Winnie the Pooh-themed
blankets. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

How do you think "Pooh" will do? Your thoughts?

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  • I think a +$15 million opening would be respectable and considered a success. Along with Harry Potter, Cars 2 and Transformers 3 will still be playing to massive crowds.

  • The results from overseas are shockingly soft - somewhere in the region of 1,1 million in Germany and the UK, traditionally strong markets for Disney aninmation, after many weeks - I can only hope the BOM numbers are not correct...

  • I think the lesson here is that they're college kids looking for a free movie and maybe a free blanket.  I'd move the release date to the fall or winter.  This movie is like a diner serving comfort food.   It just doesn't belong on Restaurant Row!

  • This movie is very good, the reason that it's been doing poor business overseas is that Disney didn't promote it well.  I live in Guatemala and here the movie opened without any promotion, except for a small add in the newspaper.  Disney opted to promote Pirates in a big way and left Pooh relegated to nothing.  I almost didn't see it because it disappeared from theaters in less than a week.  It´s a shame because it is a great movie, the plot is very funny and the animation is superb.  Let's hope it does better in the U.S.

  • I heard that the budget for this movie was fairly small (especially compared to other animated features). I heard somewhere in the neighborhood of $30-35 million. So the movie doesn't have to do HUGE box office to be profitable.

  • I'm from the US but studying in the UK this year, so I saw Pooh in March. The animation was nice but the film was just over an hour long. The story was so thin - I can't really see this appealing to anyone other than toddlers. I'm a traditional animation fan and artist, a hardcore Disney fan, and even I felt this one should've gone straight to DVD. Please, Disney Feature Animation, bring on The Snow Queen!

  • While today's college students may have a nostalgic connection to Pooh, it has nothing on their nostalgic connection to Harry Potter. I'm sure, at least in that demographic, Pooh will be firmly trounced.

  • I'm afraid Winnie The Pooh didn't do really well at the UK box office, it's because of the picture ran 69 minutes shortest was a terrible mistake and the start of Disney's decline since after the smash hits of Lilo and Stitch and Brother Bear, we all know it's because of the miscasting of Greg Ferguson as Owl and Bud Lackey as Eeyrone for whatever reasons, John Cleese's narration a wonderful delight and the animation is great, I don't Winnie the Pooh fans don't want to see this Winnie the Pooh film I'm afraid.

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