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Disney makes peace with another exhibitor in flap over 'Alice' [updated]

The rebellion among theater owners over Walt Disney Co.'s plans to accelerate the DVD release of "Alice in Wonderland" appears to be over.

Odeon & UCI Cinema Group, one of the largest theater circuits in the United Kingdom, became the latest exhibitor to make peace with Disney.

The company said today that it will now be showing "Alice" in its cinemas in the U.K., Ireland, Italy, Germany, Portugal and Austria when the 3-D film starring Johnny Depp debuts March 5.

Odeon and Vue Entertainment, another major circuit in the U.K., had threatened to boycott the film in protest over Disney's decision to release it on DVD about three months after its premiere in theaters, a month earlier than usual. They and other exhibitors feared that such a move would discourage people from watching the film in theaters, thereby cutting into their box-office revenue. Like other studios, Disney wants the flexibility to experiment with early release windows to offset declining DVD sales.

But after assurances from Disney executives that its decision on "Alice" would be the occasional exception, not the rule, the exhibitors backed down, as expected. "Alice" features a heavily British cast, and refusing to screen the film in the U.K. would have been a costly blow to the theater chains, and for Disney, which is counting on "Alice" to be one of the biggest films this year.

AMC Entertainment, the second-largest theater circuit in the U.S., which also had balked at Disney's plans for "Alice," is now expected to screen the film as well, people familiar with the matter said. Representatives of the chain declined to comment.

UPDATE: 2:30 p.m. AMC Entertainment of Kansas City, MO confirmed that it would be screening "Alice" in all of its theaters. The theater circuit said it had begun selling advanced tickets for the film, which debuts March 5. Sounding a conciliatory tone, AMC Chief Executive Gerry Lopez predicted "Alice" would be the next 3D blockbuster. "It is sure to please our guests --many of whom have called and emailed -- and help us maintain box office momentum in 2010," Lopez said in a statement. "As business models evolve for exhibitors as well as distributors such as a Disney, it makes sense to focus on the many opportunities we have to improve our economics so we can continue to invest in technology our guests want."

-- Richard Verrier
 
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