Playing 'Chicken'
Variety - 10/3/05

Playing 'Chicken'
Mouse bets big on its 'Little' CGI toon

By Gabriel Snyder

Walt Disney's big bet, "Chicken Little," its first CGI toon not produced by Pixar, unspools at 3,654 theaters this weekend.
Most industry observers expect "Chicken Little" to win the frame easily with B.O. around $30 million; Universal's "Jarhead," which unspools at 2,410, should see a high-teens finish. But Disney is remaining cautious, predicting a battle for the top spot.

The stakes are high for Disney as the studio's relationship with Pixar remains unsettled. Producing a CGI toon hit on its own would give Disney considerable leverage in continuing talks with Pixar.

In addition this weekend, two pics that have played well in limited release test their mettle in national release patterns, as Warner Independent Pictures' "Good Night, and Good Luck" expands to 657 screens in its fifth frame and Disney's "Shopgirl" widens to 493 in its third.

Disney is tamping down any expectations that "Chicken Little" will open like the Pixar pics, the most recent of which, "The Incredibles," bowed on this frame last year to $70 million and went on to cume $261 million. Pic is likely to open well below last year's early fall toon hit, DreamWorks Animation's "Shark Tale," which bowed at $48 million and cumed $161 million.Disney distrib prexy Chuck Viane said the studio isn't looking for comparisons. "Our movies are our movies. We try to let them speak for themselves," he said.

His main reason for caution is that he's less confident in the tracking reports that studios closely monitor.

"I think it's going to be a relatively close race between us and 'Jarhead,' and I'm hoping that we have a shot at No. 1," said Viane. "I'm not going to put my foot in the water because we don't know. They underestimated 'Saw II,' and they overestimated a number of pictures as far back as 'Flightplan.' "

U's Nikki Rocco echoes the view that the tracking services -- or the moviegoing marketplace -- has changed. "The ('Jarhead') tracking has been good, but everyone is a little nervous because the tracking has been good for other films, too," she said.

Adding to Disney's uncertainty, tracking on family films is notoriously difficult since tykes aren't well polled. While the family aud is expected, the wildcard is whether young adults without kids in tow will show up.

Despite prominently promoting Zach Braff, who stars in NBC skein "Scrubs" and last year's indie darling "Garden State," interest among young adults has so far been weak for "Chicken Little."

Viane says he hopes the pattern for other CGI toons -- in which families show up on opening weekend and young adults show up in later weeks -- holds true.

"It's taken two or three weeks for that aud to respond (to past CGI toons)," he said. "I believe the word of mouth will be wonderful and the audience will expand."

While "Chicken" is going out with a release pattern roughly 50% bigger than that of "Jarhead," Viane pointed out that many of his ticket sales will be at discounted kid prices. "My admissions prices are a couple bucks less than theirs, and that always makes it hard."

Buena Vista Intl. will be opening "Chicken Little" day-and-date in eight foreign markets -- Bulgaria, Ecuador, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan and Ukraine -- representing about 10% of the international marketplace.

Strongest performances will likely come from Russia and Mexico; latter market includes four outlets where the toon will unspool in digital 3-D, with patrons using circular polarized glasses.
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