Santa takes on loon

Disney pic battles 'Flushed,' Cohen for box office

Fox's 'Borat' has a lot of positive buzz behind it.

Animated “Flushed Away” is hoping to channel
the kids to the DreamWorks pic.

Disney's 'The Santa Clause 3' looks like a clear winner.

By Ian Mohr
November 3, 2006

The weekend looks like a winner for Disney's "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" as the Mouse House takes early first dibs in the holiday derby for family auds.

But the real B.O. intrigue lies with Fox's "Borat," the outrageous Sacha Baron Cohen comedy that Hollywood has termed everything from another "Snakes on a Plane" to a modern-day, left-field hit along the lines of "Blazing Saddles" or "There's Something About Mary."

After an initial raft of crackling Internet and Hollywood buzz for "Borat," pic's potential potency was so feared that distrib heads all over town said they weren't going anywhere near it with competish that would angle for young males.

But when the film's initially low tracking numbers hit -- reflecting the fact that auds outside the MySpace sphere had little interest in the kamikaze Kazakh TV commentator -- the debate became hit vs. hype.As a result, Fox ratcheted down the number of playdates to just 837. With so few screens, "Borat" has no chance of wining the frame.

However, it now seems that media reports of the pic's possible overhyping has actually spiked awareness, as Cohen, in character all along, has also pumped the pic's promotion.

Animated "Flushed Away" will, meanwhile, try and siphon off some of the kiddie crowd from "Santa."

Emerging as a perennial brand, the Tim Allen "Santa Clause" franchise has so far unwrapped more than $284 million domestically -- and shouldn't have too much trouble adding up to $30 million to its stocking.
Pic will play 3,458 engagements in the frame's widest new release by far; "Flushed Away" hits 3,707.

Par is expecting an opening "Flushed" frame in line with that of the $16 million-plus bow for 2005's "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," another animated project from Brit banner Aardman.

Also angling for teen auds will be last weekend's big winner, "Saw III," which slashed its way to a bow of $33.6 million, distrib Lionsgate's biggest opening of all time.

But with Halloween over, auds' attention should be divided.

Arty fare On the arthouse circuit, Sony Classics will enter its latest Pedro Almodovar project, "Volver," into a field that already includes awards hopefuls "The Queen" (Miramax) and "The Last King of Scotland" (Fox Searchlight).