A little bit of Disney appears at The Mall


A small chunk of Hollywood has roared into Columbia, setting up shop overnight at The Mall in Columbia to give people a sneak preview of a new animated love story called "Pocahontas."

When shoppers enter the mall today, they'll be able to interact with a bit of Walt Disney magic.

There will be a brown, 35-by-12-foot replica of a 16th-century sailing ship; a forest maze complete with a waterfall and musical lily pads; and huge, tree-like "animation kiosks," where visitors can provide the voice of an animated character and paint a animation cell.

"Pocahontas," Disney's 33rd full-length animated film, will be released June 23. It follows Disney's 1994 hit, "Lion King," which has grossed more than $310 million.

At the mall, "The Pocahontas Animation Discovery Adventure" opens to the public free today through Sunday. It is aimed at promoting the film but is also intended to be an educational event for children. For example, animators will be on hand for demonstrations and to answer questions.

The Columbia mall is the only one in the region where the 24-city Pocahontas tour is stopping. "The mall met all the certain criteria to have an event of this size and this nature," said Sharon Cohen, a local Disney publicist.

The "Pocahontas" adventure involves five themed sites with lots of opportunities to learn about animation. "It's like doing a stage show," said Michael McGiveney, a show producer for Walt Disney's Imagineering division, which usually designs theme parks but designed this tour concept.

The show arrived at the Columbia mall Wednesday night in five large Disney trucks bearing on their sides large pictures of Pocahontas and her raccoon friend Meeko. With the mall free of shoppers, 14 technicians from California and 20 local assembly workers labored quickly to unload the equipment from the huge trucks.

"It takes two hours to unload the trucks," said Chris Laue, tour manager. "It takes eight to nine hours to set everything up."

The technicians -- some wearing Mickey Mouse jackets -- pushed and pulled silver carts loaded with green panels to construct the maze, video monitors and beige masts for the ship. Squeals from the carts' wheels reverberated through the two-story mall.

This latest Disney film tells the well-known tale of Pocahontas, a Native American who falls in love with an English adventurer, John Smith, in 1607 in the Virginia colony. "It's the first animated film . . . that's based on a historical event," Ms. Cohen said. Children can "learn about history in a fun way," she said.

Native American actress Irene Bedard provides the voice of Pocahontas, and Mel Gibson provides the voice of John Smith. Academy Award-winning composer Alan Menken composed the music.

"It gives a very strong message about different ethnic cultures learning to live together and learning to live together with the environment," Mr. McGiveney said.

The mall attraction is a new sort of promotion tool for the studio.

"It's probably the most unique," Mr. McGiveney said. "We've never used a mall experience as a promotion. We're finding that malls are like theme parks. Bringing entertainment into the middle of it -- that's the only missing element."

The 24-city tour, which began Feb. 3 in San Diego and has been in four other cities, has drawn thousands of people, promoters say. "We average about 100,000 people a weekend," Mr. McGiveney said.

"They all find it extremely fun and entertaining," he said. "Some kids say, 'It's kind of cool.' "

Once set up, the attraction's atmosphere is reminiscent of a small Disney theme park.

"It's like Disney World," Ms. Cohen said.

But Mr. Laue noted that the maze, for example, usually is without something that often afflicts Disney World: too many people. "We keep it flowing so people don't have to wait in horrendous lines," he says.

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