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Bumper Crop of Family Films Proves Box Office Smash


HOLLYWOOD has rediscovered the value of the family - mom, dad, and the kids come up with up an average of $5 apiece for movie tickets.

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Sex, violence, and raw language are giving way to inoffensive tales of stranded pets, hapless hockey teams, and slobbering dogs. Even Bill Murray's latest film, "Groundhog Day," is rated PG, and the makers of Eddie Murphy's next "Beverly Hills Cop" sequel want a PG-13 mark.

This bumper crop of family films is proving hugely profitable and studios are scurrying to snare a new generation of young moviegoers. Films once destined to be rated * are being reedited for a less restrictive mark.

At Universal Pictures, a brief nude scene was cut from the upcoming "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story." At Warner Bros., several swear words were replaced with less bawdy interjections in May's "Dave." Both should be rated PG-13.

While Disney's G-rated animated musicals "Aladdin" and "Beauty and the Beast" are unqualified smashes, the studio is making huge profits with modestly budgeted live-action fare. These releases entertain with a skillful mix of simple story lines for children and wit for adults.

"The Mighty Ducks," a PG-rated story about a comically inept hockey team, has skated past $50 million. "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey," following two dogs and a cat traveling over mountains, has made almost $30 million in five weeks.

"While violent and adult movies have their place, what our culture is saying is, `We're saturated with material of that sort,' " says David Vogel, executive vice president of production for Walt Disney Pictures.

"People are looking for movies that make them feel better - they want to be uplifted."

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Current and upcoming live-action Disney family films include "A Far Off Place," "The Adventures of Huck Finn" (April 2), "Hocus Pocus" (July 16) and "The Three Musketeers" (Christmas). A "Mighty Ducks" follow-up is in the works.

The push for family films is driven more by economics than concern about society's betterment.

According to a recent study by media analysts Paul Kagan Associates, 41 percent of PG-rated films grossed $20 million or more, while 27 percent of R-rated movies passed that benchmark. These days, a PG-rated movie is almost three times more likely to reach $100 million than an * title.

"I think you can just look at the results," says Columbia Pictures chairman Mark Canton. "And the results are that you can do better with these kind of movies, and you should make more of them."

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