Sunday, September 20, 2009

Toonage Overseas

As Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs lands at the top of the domestic charts, animation continues its tear in foreign lands.

Disney/Pixar's "Up" remained a solid draw with $8.4 million at 2,191 in 26 markets. As of Sept. 15, international cume had hit $182.7 million midway through its offshore run with launches still coming in Germany, Italy, Japan, Scandinavia and the U.K.

The Mouse House has opted for a staggered "Up" release in foreign markets to maximize admissions by targeting holiday periods, along with avoiding competing head-to-head with "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs." It's become the top Disney toon in Latin America with $44.6 million as of Sept. 15, in Spain with $31.9 million and in China with $11.6 million.

"Up" has also generated a solid $36.7 million in France, 40% better than "Wall-E."

"District 9" took in $7.6 million at 1,765 in 19 markets for a foreign cume of $35.8 million, and Fox's "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" pulled in $7 million more at 4,100. As of Sept. 15, the third "Ice Age" had hit $671.3 million -- the third-best international total of all time, trailing only "Titanic" at $1.24 billion and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" at $752 million.

In Italy "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" held on to the top spot in its third frame, pulling $4.6 million from 690 screens for a cool $34 million. That stellar take now makes "Ice Age" Italy's top draw of the year so far, ahead of "Angels and Demons." ...

The lesson here: animation is steadily gaining traction around the globe. Every large entertainment conglomerate has now tasted robust cash flow because of animated features (Sony, after a run of lacklustre returns, is now reversing its previous sad fortunes with Cloudy With Meatballs.)

Why is this happening? And why now? I think it's a happy confluence of technology and product. 3-D is taking off around the world, and animation has been the best positioned big screen attraction to harness the new format. (Like how many live-action three dee extravaganzas have you raced down to the AMC to goggle at recently? I thought so.) Then there are the stories and characters in animated features. Some certainly do have American subjects, but many (Wall-E, Kung-Fu Panda, Ice Age, Shrek) don't. And fuzzy animals generally have no national allegiance.

Beyond all that, plugging the voice of a major national star into the mouth of a Panda, green ogre or giraffe has more impact and resonance for audiences and movie companies than a French of German actor spouting dialogue for say, Brad Pitt or Clint Eastwood.

So what does the future hold? Probably more animated features. It might even reach the point where animation is taken seriously at the academy awards.

Add On: The L.A. Times thinks Cloudy's opening was so-so, while Entertainment Weekly found it "strong." TAG blog thinks it did fairly well considering Sony has no brand name for animation and released the feature at a relatively dead time of year.

The rest of the field came in at less than half of the flying food. The Sunday totals (with animation filling the 1st and 6th slots):

1. "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," $30.1 million.

2. "The Informant!" $10.5 million.

3. "I Can Do Bad All By Myself," $10 million.

4. "Love Happens," $8.5 million.

5. "Jennifer's Body," $6.8 million.

6. "9," $5.5 million.

7. "Inglourious Basterds," $3.6 million.

8. "All About Steve," $3.4 million.

9. "Sorority Row," $2.5 million.

10. "The Final Destination," $2.4 million.


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