'Alice' In Oscarland: Disney To Launch Big Awards Campaign For Billion-Dollar Grosser

EXCLUSIVE: Disney released its billion dollar-grossing Alice In Wonderland all the way back in March. Now, in a bid to bring Tim Burton’s 3D blockbuster into the awards conversation, Disney is planning a full court press. This 6th biggest grosser of all time will start an unusual four-day theatrical engagement Sunday aimed squarely at attracting Academy members and Hollywood guilds. A full-page Sunday newspaper ad will launch the 3D run at the Arclight Hollywood and AMC Santa Monica from October 18th to 21st. The run will be accompanied by an exhibit of Colleen Atwood’s costumes in the Arclight lobby. A major advertising campaign in the Industry’s awards-centric media also will be part of the equation to land Alice In Wonderland not just the expected technical nominations such as art direction, makeup, visual effects, and costumes but also Best Picture and Director recognition, a longer shot indeed according to current conventional wisdom of where the race is.

The film was produced by Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd, Richard Zanuck and Joe Roth. Zanuck and Roth are former studio heads who have shepherded many past nominees and winners, produced the Oscar show itself, and of course are longtime Academy voters. They explain to me this campaign launch isn’t about money: it’s about recognition. After all, there’s little financial upside at this point that would come from Oscar wins or nominations. “I think it would be terribly disappointing not to make the Top Ten,” Zanuck tells me. “We’re not just mercenary about that. You can’t make a billion dollar gross unless millions of people are satisfied with a picture. The whole point of the new rule of 10 Best Picture nominees was not to exclude the most popular pictures of the year such as The Dark Knight. It was like pooh-poohing the audience. There should be recognition that you don’t get that business unless there were a lot of repeats and broad-based appeal and true creative accomplishment. That was the point of that discussion.”

And the one-time moguls are cognizant of the fact that Alice, billion dollars or not, is coming from behind in terms of perception of the players in this year’s Best Picture race. Critical response was somewhat down the middle; along with admiring notices from USA Today and The Wall Street Journal among others, the film stands at just 51% fresh overall at Rotten Tomatoes (but a higher 61% when only top critics are counted). And Alice has also fallen down the rabbit’s hole of potential Best Pic contenders, at least according to almost any pundits list so far. “That’s what got us started,” Zanuck, an Oscar winner himself (Driving Miss Daisy) and Irving Thalberg recipient, tells me. “It isn’t making those lists and that’s troubling. I don’t know how accurate they are. These lists that we’re seeing haven’t taken into consideration the campaign we’re about to launch. It should bring us back to the forefront. I think the biggest obstacle is really being yesterday’s news in terms of Academy. Some of them don’t even remember we came out this year.”

Co-producer Roth also feels the March release date is a detriment in trying to get voters’ attention. “Disney has the challenge of reminding people. Things move so quickly now. In our world, 9 months feels like 9 years.” Best Picture nominations are rare for films that come out that early. In fact, Alice was released on March 5th, which was 2010’s Oscar weekend, an initial concern for the producers until the movie raked in $116 million over the 3 days and assuaged their fears.

Disney finds itself in the unusual position of having a slate of contenders in several categories this year that includes Toy Story 3, their other billion dollar grosser and a movie that, unlike Alice, has landed on most pundits’ lists of potential Best Picture nominees and maybe even winner. Roth says the studio is fully behind Alice even though this new regime didn’t initiate it. (It was a Dick Cook project.) “Disney seems to be passionate about it in meetings we’ve had that included Rich Ross. Look, they have two quality movies that grossed a billion each. They are both outsiders from a normal Academy standpoint but this [campaign] is certainly a way for Disney to remind people they are doing quality work.”

It goes unsaid that a big campaign obviously doesn’t hurt the ongoing relationship Disney has, and hopes to have, with Burton, including an upcoming animated feature film adaptation of his short, Frankenweenie, aiming for 2012. Burton has been nominated only once for an Oscar — in his capacity as co-director of the 2005 animated feature nominee Corpse Bride. His films have never before been welcomed into the Best Picture or Director races, although Sweeney Todd (2007) did win a Best Picture Comedy/Musical Golden Globe the year those awards were forced off the air due to the WGA strike. Zanuck, who has produced five Burton films to date, admits about the slight, “I find it odd. Because he’s one of the only auteurs left, one of the few ever. He won’t admit it , and we don’t talk about it, but I would be surprised if in some way in the back recesses of is mind he wouldn’t feel a little hurt and neglected.”

Analyzes Roth: “The Academy hasn’t been that open to Tim’s work which they probably find too idiosyncratic I’m guessing from the past. It’s good to remind people of the picture if what ultimately happens is that some individuals are lauded for the film.

Naturally, Zanuck believes Alice is the finest film of Burton’s career both technically and artistically, with praise also for the multi-Oscar winning technical team that include Atwood and legendary effects wizard Ken Ralston (Star Wars). “You could practically run it silent and people would understand it just as well. It’s just a visually stunning film,” he says.

Ask Zanuck and Roth who they think will win Best Picture for this most wide open awards season in years, and they don’t know either. “I haven’t seen all the movies that are coming yet,” Roth says, “but sitting here in mid-October we’re looking for a contender, right?”

  1. The movie was terrible. Only massive amounts of money would buy this film into anything other than best costumes. Terrible script. Terrible acting, except for Helena Bonham Carter and Crispin Glover. The effects were rushed and terrible. Ultimately, terrible directing.

    Yes, of course Rich Ross is supporting this film even though he had nothing to do with it. Along with Toy Story 3, it was the only success he’s have had this year. He’s got to ride this thing as far as he can until Tron and the next Pixar film comes out because he knows there aren’t any other successes in the pipeline.

    1. I didn’t hate it but only Burtons mother would argue that it deserves Best Picture. Maybe a golden globe nomination or two. This is a vanity Oscar push for sure. They should be happy that they had a massive hit that helped the entire industry and leave it at that.

  2. I guess roth and zanuck read that NYT story where ross promised lassiter a win for toy story 3. It is kinda like demi lovato getting pissed when miley gets more daytime repeats than she does, but much, much bigger.

  3. That is good news! Recognition in one’s effort is a huge achievement for everybody. You put not only your money in it but as well, you give your life in every film project you made. May these awards go to the one that really deserves.

  4. Alice in Wonderland one of the best films of the year? Dont make me laugh! These guys are delusional… One or two technical noms, maybe…

  5. No mention of the Todd’s who are also producers and originated the project? That’s not showing much muchness.

  6. Are these guys for real? EVERYONE in town knows this movie was utter crap, unusually bad for Tim Burton. You don’t get nominated for Best Picture when the conventional wisdom is that the film is one of the absolute worst of the director’s career. This is ONLY about courting Burton to do future projects at Disney.

  7. Yawn. Most of its take was international and most of the domestic take was $19 3d. The academy went to 10 films so people would watch and box office take should have no effect on any movie that makes the list. There are plenty of good popular movies that aren’t artsy or have the wrong actors or directors that Hollywood types overlook. Wonderland has ZERO chance of winning. Sort of sign of the times to see such a big company lobbying so they can put one of the years top 10 films on the DVD cases. Sad really.

  8. The best justification for nominating ten films is so that quality popular movies like The Dark Knight and Inception get recognition, not to nominate every effects-filled product that comes off the assembly line. What’s next, nominations for GI Joe, Predators, Prince of Persia, and Resident Evil 4? Heck, let’s nominate 50 movies per year. It will be like the participation trophies my kids get to boost their self esteem.

  9. Why not?

    Now Warner Bros. can mount its Best Picture campaign for Clash of the Titans and it can duke it out with Alice.

    OMG!!!!!!!!!

  10. I thought this movie sucked ass and I don’t care how many individual people worked their collective ass off on it’s behest. It was a top down failure of vision. An example of a top director making a lot money to essentially phone it in.

  11. other than this story, nothing worthwhile will come of this play. the movie was okay and entertaining for what it was but the best they can hope for is costume design and art direction. and i guarantee no one will go see this movie a second time. in the words of amy poehler and seth meyers – really??!!?? I mean, really. No really???

  12. It may get a few technical nominations, maybe even awards, but in the end it’s a blah movie that people went to go see because they wanted to see a) Tim Burton’s version of the world, and b) Johnny Depp/Jack Sparrow act goofy, and not in that order. Burton has a great niche/schtick, but that doesn’t make one a great director. It’s all well and good to say he’s an auteur, to whatever degree that means anything in this or any age of specialization, but which of his films should he have been nominated for? Maybe Edward Scissorhands, maybe Beetle Juice, maybe Batman if you squint really really hard. But those were 20 years ago. Nightmare Before Christmas is still one of my favorite movies, but he was a producer and has story credit on it, so no Best Director, no Animated Feature (didn’t exist at the time – Corpse Bride was a clear attempt to get back that magic), and it obviously wasn’t a Best Picture contender.

    I’m a Tim Burton fan in general, though I know it isn’t reading that way, but when you look at his credits, it’s somewhat less impressive than the hype that’s built up around him. Alice In Wonderland, Sweeney Todd, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Big Fish, Planet of the Apes, Sleepy Hollow, Mars Attacks, Ed Wood … these are all decent, successful movies, some very successful, but they’re not particularly amazing at the story/directing level. Do they look distinctive? Yes. Held together by a particular look at the world? Yes. Great? No. Good? Some. Some are more watchable than others, but there aren’t any masterpieces in there.

    1. You left out Edward Scissorhands, which – in my opinion – is a masterpiece. How many can claim they’ve made even one?

    2. I think calling him an auteur is a stretch too. He doesn’t write his own movies, he at most gives a story or an expected vision which isn’t that awesome. What probably makes him unique is his choices which usually are darker, but he has to choose from what others give him. Now, he isnt incompetent, he is solid as a director, but not necessarily to be recognized as an incredible genius. So I basically agree with you minus the auteur part.

  13. I think Disney would be better off putting all it’s eggs in Toy Story 3’s basket. A Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay nods are already guaranteed, but if they make a real push they might be able to pull off a Director nomination and perhaps a screenplay win. (A Best Picture win would probably be deserving but I can’t see the actors segment letting it win).

    1. Took the words right out of my mouth. They can to some extent push Alice, Tron, and their other films on various technical categories. As for the BIG prize however, they are best served to focus their considerable might and resources on TS3 which is already certain to be one of the 10 BP nominees. It is the one film on their lineup that has it all-from a billion dollar b.o. to worldwide critical and mass acclaim-to go toe to toe with the live action big boys.

    2. I agree, but at the same time, it would be sad for me they finally do it with Toy Story 3. I find Ratatouille and Up much more worthy of Best Director, even Wall E with its little annoying flaws was much better than most nominated movies that year. This year still has time to get better movies out.

  14. Geez Disney, just put all your money on the one horse that has already sewn up 1 of the 10 slots for the Best Picture Oscar-Toy Story 3.

  15. For my money, How to Train Your Dragon was a much better film than TS3. TS3 had some serious story problems that everyone is over looking. It was nowhere near as solid a movie as UP or even Wall-E.

    1. The only problems in the story were problems planted by the great great minority of people who hated it just for the sake of going against the grain, or more likely, hating it because they can’t stand how successful a certain filmmaker(s) have become. You see these haters everywhere, Nolan haters, Pixar haters, etc..

    2. Man, you really have to watch HTYD again. I agree Up (which has its problems) and Wall-E (which has its stronger problems) are more worthy of recognition as films than TS3 and should have had more presence during all the awards, but How To Train Your Dragon doesn’t even deserve a thought. All the problems in TY3 can be found in Dragon, plus way more generic and cliched characters and dialogue, overly contrived conflicts, characters who lack their own personality (no less than the dragon, the most important one), and themes that are fit for Saturday morning cartoons.

  16. You cannot say that it is not about money and then immediately proceed to talk about all the money your film made. If it is not about the money then do not bring it up.

  17. I thought “Alice in Wonderland” was visually splendid, but hampered by a weak performance from its leading lady, Mia Wasikowska. Had they cast Saoirse Ronan in the part, the film might have been vastly improved. Helena Bonham Carter gave one of the best performances of 2010 as the Red Queen. I’d like to see her nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

  18. Wow a lot of Alice hatres .obviously someone liked it or it wouldn’t have made that money .is it best pic worthy No , buy either is the Social network . Another piece of crap.Alice at least was fun to watch

  19. It’s not hating!! It’s just wrong. Guys, this film is HORRIBLE!

    Even the 3D was not well done. Probably because it wasn’t shot in 3D.

    Movies that make a lot of money don’t automatically merit an Oscar.

    How can a studio put a movie like this at the Oscars, next to something like The Town or The Social Network.

    ENTER THE VOID was better than this.

    Studios don’t belong in this art form, they never have.

    FUCK YOU DISNEY!!!!!!!!!

  20. Alice In Wonderland is not a horrible film, or an awful film,or the worst of Burton’s career. The film reviewers were bored with Burton’s take on the Wonderland story,since it looked too much ,according to them like other things he has done. However THAT is one of the reasons a world-wide audience turned out to see the film. That audience was appreciative.Depp was a good Mad Hatter,and BCarter a terrific Queen. I recall that there was a lot of fuss made over a transition to 3-D. My viewing was regular old 2-D and was fine. The negative pile-on from reviewers was not warranted.Those people may be good word smiths,but that skill does not mean they possess infallible judgement about movies.

  21. One of the few gigantic blockbusters where I truly can’t understand why it earned so much money. It baffles me. I don’t know anyone who liked the film. Burton’s worst film, including Planet of the Apes. I may not have loved Titanic, but I understood its appeal. Ditto the Harry Potter films and the Pirates movies. But the success of this movie makes me feel hopelessly out of touch. Doesn’t compute.

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