Slow & steady wins race for critter pic

'Madagascar' savors slow victory abroad

NEW YORK — Amid an onslaught of day-and-date event pics being lobbed overseas this summer, with varying degrees of success, UIP’s slow-and-steady approach for DreamWorks Animation’s “Madagascar” is turning the toon into a box office animal.

Rather than aim the pic at global domination, UIP has taken a more tailored approach, releasing it territory by territory to coincide with local tyke school breaks around the world.

“One thing we’ve learned about a CGI-animated film is that it’s really important to release the film on a territory-by-territory level,” said Andrew Cripps, UIP prexy and chief operating officer of the unit’s “Madagascar” plan. “That strategy, along with good marketing support, plays strongly into school holidays. It’s far more important to do that than go for the headlines.”

Not having the muscle of a day-and-date release has, however, made some exhibs impatient to get the pic in a depressed market.

“Right now we are looking at another five weeks without new titles,” said one Italo exhib whose turf has so far been left out of the pic’s pattern. “Our next blockbuster is ‘Madagascar,’ which will be released on Sept. 2.”

Either way, pic’s slow-growing but potent cume made it tops on the international scene last weekend; it was first rolled out six weeks ago in some territories. Offshore cume for “Madagascar” has hit $143 million, while the worldwide total is at $327 million.

“Madagascar” led the weekend for the first time last weekend thanks to results from the U.K. and Germany, where the pic even bested opening tallies from the giant “Shrek” franchise despite lacking the critical support that buoyed those films. Other particularly strong results have come from Australia ($18.4 million), France ($15.6 million), Mexico ($17.1 million) and Spain ($14.1 million).

Pic’s perf comes at a time when day-and-date releases are being scrutinized by the industry as many tentpoles fail to hold up for studios this year internationally.

A number of circumstances in the marketplace have also benefited “Madagascar.”

While “War of the Worlds,” “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” “Batman Begins” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” shoot it out at multiplexes around the world, “Madagascar” is one of the few family pics circulating.

“We’re the only animated CGI film in the summer, and that’s not normal,” admitted Cripps. “We are in a unique situation this summer. In terms of (appealing to) pure family audiences, we are really the only game in town.”

Buena Vista Intl.’s live-action remake “Herbie: Fully Loaded” hasn’t created too much competish, revving to $9.5 million overseas thus far, but has just been released in a handful of markets on a similar track as “Madagascar” to woo kids.

Both pics could have their hands full, however, when Warner Bros.’ “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” spreads. That studio needs a bump this summer after “Batman Begins” failed to fly in some key territories.

“Madagascar” also demonstrates continued overseas appetite for animated fare as exhibs dream of 2004’s animated results.

Last year, DreamWorks’ “Shark Tale” passed the $200 million mark overseas, “Shrek 2” brought in almost $480 million internationally and BVI’s “The Incredibles” flew toward $370 million. Even Fox’s “Garfield,” despite being savaged by some critics, clawed $123.2 million from coffers abroad, as opposed to just over $75 million domestically, leading to a greenlight for a second pic.

Earlier this year, Fox’s “Robots” reaped $114 million overseas.

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