BOX OFFICE
Sony Scores Hit With 'Open Season'

Despite talk of a glut, animation keeps attracting audiences.
By Josh Friedman
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 1, 2006


It's open season on family filmgoers.

Hollywood has released more animated features than ever this year, and the weekend box-office results show why. Despite talk of a glut, animation keeps attracting audiences.

Sony Pictures' "Open Season," the latest in a string of talking critter tales, topped with weekend box office with ticket sales of $23 million at 3,833 theaters in the U.S. and Canada, according to studio estimates Sunday.

"There are a lot of laughs in the theater, and people are responding to both the characters and the visuals," said Yair Landau, president of Sony's animation division. "We're very hopeful about what this means for the second weekend and beyond."

The movie, which cost about $90 million to produce, represents a major gamble for Sony. As the first release from the studio's new animation division, Sony Pictures Animation, its box-office results will test the public's continuing appetite for digital fare.

Fourteen animated movies have been released already this year, including this summer's smash "Cars" and a parade of animal adventures such as "Over the Hedge," "Barnyard" and "The Ant Bully," as studios scramble to compete in the lucrative family genre. Nine animated films came out in 2005.

Sony executives were encouraged by the early response to "Open Season," which tells the story of hunted animals who fight back.

The movie, based on the humor of cartoonist Steve Moore, introduces a new technique dubbed "squash and stretch" that allows the cartoon characters to change shape during action sequences.

"Open Season" had the best per-theater average of any movie in the top 10, at $6,001.

The movie marked the 11th No. 1 debut for Sony this year -- an industry record.

Ashton Kutcher, who supplies the voice of a mule deer in "Open Season," fared less well as a Coast Guard recruit in the live-action rescue drama "The Guardian."

Co-starring Kevin Costner, the weekend's No. 2 movie grossed an estimated $17.7 million for Walt Disney Co., opening about as expected. The studio declined to reveal the film's production budget.

Disney distribution chief Chuck Viane said he was confident that the adult-oriented adventure, which scored well in theater exit surveys, would show strong "legs" at the box office in the coming weeks.
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