DreamWorks, Disney relocate tentpoles

Looking to avoid a showdown with James Cameron’s 3-D actioner “Avatar” in May 2009, DreamWorks Animation has decided to relocate 3-D toon “Monsters vs. Aliens” to March 27, 2009, and make it an Easter release.

DreamWorks Animation topper Jeffrey Katzenberg said it ultimately made no sense to have two 3-D projects battling it out: A year and a half from now, there will still be only a limited number of screens equipped with the needed technology. Twentieth Century Fox will roll out “Avatar” on May 22; “Monsters” had been set for May 15.

In another major schedule shift, Disney and Walden Media have pushed back the release of the third installment in “The Chronicles of Narnia” franchise by a full year from May 1, 2009, to May 7, 2010, and instead slotted the Mouse House’s live action and CG-animated actioner “G-Force” to open there.

That’s not the only reshuffling. Universal won’t open horror classic remake “The Wolf Man,” starring Benicio Del Toro, until the first or second quarter of 2009. Pic was slotted to unspool Nov. 14, 2008.

For DWA, “Monsters” will be the first film the company will have opened in spring prior to May.

DWA claimed the date of May 22, 2009, last November, but plans got muddied in February when 20th Century Fox moved in and selected the same date for “Avatar,” Cameron’s first feature since “Titanic.”

Over the summer, DWA said it was moving up the release date of “Monsters” by one week to May 15, thereby avoiding a head-on collision with “Avatar.” Paramount Pictures distributes all DWA titles.

Katzenberg told Daily Variety on Wednesday that, upon further discussions with domestic and international exhibs, among others, DWA decided to move the family toon — an irreverent and comedic take on the classic 1950s monster movie — completely out of May.

“Everyone has been concerned. These movies really were going to divide the marketplace,” Katzenberg said.

“Monsters” will now look to take advantage of the Easter holiday, which falls on April 12. What the pic could lose is the weekday biz enjoyed by movies released in the summer, although the Easter frame has a certain amount of weekday traffic.

Katzenberg is hoping to mimic the success Fox enjoyed when bowing toon “Ice Age” and, especially, sequel “Ice Age: The Meltdown” around Easter. He’s not the only one: Sony has already claimed March 27 as the opening date for toon “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.”

“In 2009, summer begins on March 29,” Katzenberg quipped.

Exhibitors estimate that by 2009, there could be 5,000-8,000 screens equipped to handle 3-D, though most will be in larger markets. Katzenberg said a 2-D version of “Monsters” will be made available to smaller markets.

“Monsters vs. Aliens” is being directed by Conrad Vernon (“Shrek 2″) and Rob Letterman (“Shark Tale”) and produced by Lisa Stewart. Jill Hopper and Latifa Ouaou are co-producing.

In the case of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of The Dawn Treader,” the pic’s release has been delayed because the start of production has moved from January to summer, pushing the fantasy pic’s release to May 7, 2010.

Franchise’s producers had announced at Comic-Con this summer that auds could expect a “Narnia” installment each May as adaptations of each of the seven books in the series are produced.

But that plan proved too difficult to pull off.

Date shift comes in response to “the challenging schedules for our young actors,” Disney and Walden said, and will help avoid a potential conflict for the cast members between shooting the third pic and undertaking promotional activities for the second. Michael Apted will direct “Dawn Treader.”

First pic, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” collected $738 million in worldwide coin.

“G-Force,” a comedy adventure about guinea pigs as secret agents, is being directed by f/x vet Hoyt Yeatman (“Crimson Tide,” “The Rock”) and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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