Traveling Pants spawns sequel

With a box-office gross of just under $40 million in 2005, ”The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” hardly seemed likely to spawn a sequel. The film was about the robust friendship between four teenage girls who kept in touch with each other by passing around a pair of blue jeans that magically fit them all. The pants, well-known from a best-selling book series, took precedence in the film’s marketing over the quartet of bright-eyed but mostly unknown stars.

On Wednesday, three years later, ”The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” arrives in theaters – and this time, the girls are getting top billing over the jeans, thanks to their collective success since the original film first appeared.

After the film’s mediocre theatrical run, two of the film’s unknowns – Blake Lively and America Ferrera – have emerged as major television stars, making a sequel potentially more lucrative. Ms. Lively, whom the film’s producers discovered at a cheerleading camp, has gone on to star in the provocative ”Gossip Girl” on CBS Corp. and Time Warner Inc.’s CW network. And Ms. Ferrera garnered an Emmy last year for her role on ”Ugly Betty” on Walt Disney Co.’s ABC.

Their television success has helped to spur strong DVD sales of the original film, encouraging producer Alcon Entertainment LLC to finance a sequel, despite middling returns on the first movie.

”Nobody does sequels of films that only make $40 million. But we knew the movie had been discovered in its ancillary life,” says Andrew Kosove, co-founder and co-chief executive of Alcon Entertainment, which financed both ”Sisterhood” pictures. He notes that the book series continues to sell well, providing an indicator of hunger for a sequel.

Marketing for the new movie capitalizes on the girls’ newfound fame. The sequel’s poster features a close-up of the girls’ four faces, largely ignoring the iconic traveling pair of pants that form the film’s backstory.

”For the first film, we were selling the premise of the pants,” says Sue Kroll, president of world-wide marketing at Warner Bros., the studio releasing the movie. ”But this feels like a much bigger film,” she adds. ”The jeans are still the glue of the film, but this time around, the movie enjoys the wonderful advantage of the girls’ own unique appeal. When you have that kind of star power, you gotta use it.”

The sequel, which has upped its rating to PG-13 from PG, also touches on more mature subject matter – the girls are taking their summer breaks from prestigious colleges when one must deal with the repercussions of her mother’s suicide and another has a pregnancy scare.

To bolster ticket sales for the new movie beyond those of the original, Alcon and Time Warner’s Warner Bros., which is distributing the film, are looking for support not just from teens, but also from a bevy of enthusiastic college-age women who are fans of entertainment about their high-school counterparts. Ms. Kroll says Warner Bros. deliberately marketed the film to a broader female audience including older women, airing trailers for it before ”Sex and the City” and ”Made of Honor.”

”The audience (from the first film) has grown with the movie,” says Ms. Kroll, ”even though 12- to 16-year-olds are obviously the core, we are trying to appeal to older audiences with older themes.”

By incorporating scenes of college life, the movie is trying to appeal to the same viewers – women in their twenties – whom successful TV series, like CW’s ”Gossip Girl,” starring Ms. Lively, have attracted. Numerous ads for the movie have run during shows starring ”Sisterhood’s” leading ladies, including ”Gossip Girl” and ”Ugly Betty.” Special 90-second segments showing clips from the movie are running on those shows this week, aimed at luring fans of the actresses – who might not be familiar with the ”Sisterhood” book series – to see the film.

”The second movie has become more about the actresses, which I think is a natural progression,” says Ann Brashares, author of the famed series, who has seen sales of her books jump as the movie nears its release. ”But these actresses are intelligent young women to be proud of. I think they’re going to be role models and they’ve really shouldered that beautifully.”

The jeans haven’t been completely forgotten. The marketing team at Alcon and Warner Bros. arranged for special bins to be placed in certain clothing stores and movie theaters around the country for people to recycle their old pants.