Fan enthusiasm trounces negativity: How ‘Little Mermaid’ became PH’s No. 1 film
Disney’s live-action adaptation of the 1989 animation “The Little Mermaid” may have underwhelmed at the tills in some key movie markets in Asia, like China and South Korea. But in the Philippines, where singing and an innate love for anything and everything musical hold sway, the movie has swimmingly breached expectations to emerge as the country’s biggest blockbuster so far this year.
But don’t take our word for it. The astounding achievement has been noted by The Hollywood Reporter in a feature dated June 22. In the article, John Hsu, a senior vice president at Disney in the Asia Pacific, shared that the Philippines has become “The Little Mermaid’s” third highest-grossing market in the region, just behind Australia and Japan.
Consequently, its $5.8 million (or around P322 million) haul at the Philippine box-office has since surpassed those of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”—which is no mean feat in a moviegoing landscape that has been greatly upended by people’s evolving viewing habits since the pandemic began rearing its ugly head in 2020.
It’s also interesting to note that more than a month since it premiered in local theaters on May 24, “The Little Mermaid” is still showing in a number of major cineplexes in the country.
In an email interview with Inquirer Entertainment early this week, Vineet Puri, managing director of The Walt Disney Company Southeast Asia, said that the main drivers of “The Little Mermaid’s” strong box-office performance in the Philippines include its young demographic, Pinoys’ love for music and the film’s 1989 original, and social momentum.
“Large segments of the Philippine population comprise a young demographic who grew up watching and listening to Disney and ‘The Little Mermaid,’” Puri stated. “So, this live-action version was a highly anticipated film by a young generation of Disney fans.”
While it’s fascinating to note how the Philippines has defiantly marched to the beat of its own drums, factoring the screen musical’s tunes, both old and new, into this potent equation is another deal-forging aspect in its massive success.
Puri explained, “The musical element is most definitely a key draw as well, just as how previous live-action Disney remakes with a strong soundtrack similarly saw great success in the Philippines—including prepandemic releases like ‘Aladdin’ ($11 million) and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ ($13.4 million).
“The love that Filipino fans have for ‘The Little Mermaid’ soundtrack was also made evident by the success of ‘Part of Your World,’ which made it to the No.1 spot on Spotify Philippines and hit a total of over 13 million streams as of June 15.
“We saw how fans in the Philippines engaged immediately as soon as trailers dropped. Conversations were around excitement, nostalgia and high praise for Halle Bailey’s voice.
“Moreover, ‘The Little Mermaid’ is a beloved classic, and Princess Ariel is one the most favorite Disney characters among Filipinos. A new generation of fans were also very excited for this new version of Princess Ariel.
“The passion for the new film was likewise felt across social media throughout the campaign, with fans rallying behind the movie, even defending Bailey [in the ensuing backlash surrounding her casting] and drowning out negative issues online.”
Asked what his thoughts were about the film’s “long legs” after its opening-weekend success in May, Puri pointed out, “Disney has a long and successful connection with the Philippines and Filipino loyal fans, so we were confident about ‘The Little Mermaid’s’ box-office success in the market from very early on.
“Also, our social campaign, which featured ‘The Little Mermaid’s’ branded effect on TikTok with the ‘Part of Your World’ soundtrack, gathered 10 million impressions and over 167,000 engagements in less than a week. This strong positive engagement gave us a good indication of the passion and excitement that Filipino fans have for the film.
“We also witnessed the positive audience reaction to the film premieres in Manila and Cebu — which gave us greater initial confidence that Filipino fans love this version of ‘The Little Mermaid.’”
Recognizing local fans’ love of music and the passion for this beloved classic, Disney then introduced an impactful marketing and social media campaign in the Philippines that was anchored on music and nostalgia – effectively engaging local Disney fans across generations.
Puri asserted, “We understand our Filipino fans’ love for music and are aware of the strong connection they have with past Disney films that also have a strong soundtrack — including ‘Frozen,’ ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Aladdin,’ which remain as the Top 3 titles of the Philippines’ top 15 highest global box-office releases of all time.”
During its Philippine theatrical run, we saw that “The Little Mermaid” was as well-received in the country’s capital in Manila as it was in southern Mindanao, indicating that people are still willing to go to the cinemas in droves if they really like the film and not just wait for it to drop on streaming networks.
Asked for his thoughts about this, Puri said, “We indeed see great demand for ‘The Little Mermaid’ even in the country’s provincial areas, which is telling of how eager our Filipino fans want to experience the film in theaters.
“With the social momentum that we’ve built around this film, alongside a strong word-of-mouth, fans across generations have been enthusiastic about catching this beloved Disney tale quickly and engaging in social conversations online — leading to the film’s box-office success.”
What is his overall takeaway from the production’s box-office triumph in the Philippines—from the aspects of marketing to remaking well-loved classics like “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” etc.?
“The Disney brand continues to have a very strong foothold in the Philippines—being the No. 1 family brand with 100 percent awareness and about 90 percent brand-favorite rating (based on Brand Study),” Puri disclosed. “Hence, the live-action remakes of Disney classics also hold a special place in the hearts of our Filipino audiences.
“We see these live-action remakes as an opportunity for us to deliver our iconic storytelling to even more consumers in modern and innovative ways—allowing new and younger audiences to experience these timeless and beloved classics.
“Looking ahead, we will continue to find new ways to engage with our audiences, and will keep exploring creative ideas to surprise, delight and connect with our Filipino fans for upcoming titles.
“These include ‘Haunted Mansion’ (on July 26), ‘A Haunting in Venice’ (Sept. 14), ‘The Creator’ (Sept. 27), ‘The Marvels’ (Nov. 8) and ‘Wish’ (Nov. 22).”