‘Princess and the Frog’ enchants auds

Disney's animated pic takes $7 million in first wide Friday

Disney’s hand-drawn animated release “The Princess and the Frog” charmed its way to the top of the box office chart on Friday, making $7 million off 3,434 theaters in its first Friday of wide release.

“Princess” is the first in-house toon produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios since 2004’s “Home on the Range” which posted an opening day of $4 million and a weekend take of $13.9 million. In the wake of “Home on the Range,” Disney has had other hand-drawn animated releases such as Japanese acquisitions like “Howl’s Moving Castle” and pics produced by DisneyToon Studios, i.e. “Pooh’s Heffalump Movie,” which make the studio’s direct-to-DVD releases.

Counting the B.O. from its two week exclusive run at two venues in Gotham and Los Angeles, the estimated domestic B.O. for “Princess” stands just under $10 million.

The opening for “Princess” falls within the first day B.O. sphere of 1998’s “Mulan” and 1997’s “Hercules” which both generated over $7 million. Among Disney’s traditionally animated titles, 1994’s “The Lion King” continues to be the box office recordholer in terms of first wide opening day ($14 million), first wide weekend ($40.9 million) and total domestic cume ($313 million).

Warner Bros. had a one-two punch in second and third with its Sandra Bullock football drama holdover “The Blind Side” snatching second with $4.7 million off 3,388 and Clint Eastwood’s Nelson Mandela biopic “Invictus” bowing to $2.9 million off 2,125 in third.

The opening for “Invictus” is on par with the helmer’s previous wide Friday bows, i.e. 2003’s “Mystic River” ($3.3 million) and 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby” ($3.4 million). Meanwhile, “Blind Side” posted a wonderful hold, down only 30% in its fourth Friday with a running domestic take of $139.5 million.

Summit Entertainment’s “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” took fourth with an estimated $2.4 million off 3,635 in early morning estimates, down 53% in the onset of its fourth sesh with a domestic B.O. of $261.8 million.

In its sixth Friday, “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” remained quite buoyant, slotting fifth with $1.7 million off 2,402, down 12% with a domestic B.O. of $119.3 million.

Award season ramps up

“Invictus,” about Mandela’s efforts to unify a racially divided South Africa during the 1995 World Cup rugby match, earned an overall Cinemascore in all categories of A- with 47% of those over 50 rating the film an A. 48% of all moviegoers were females rating the film A, while 52% males gave the pic an A-.

Eastwood has won best director from the National Board of Review for “Invictus” while Morgan Freeman has been honored with best actor, tying with George Clooney for his turn in “Up in the Air.”

As is typical with a number of Eastwood’s films during award season, they tend to sleep their way to bigger numbers as was the case with “Mystic River” ($90.1 million final domestic B.O.) and “Million Dollar Baby” ($100.4 million). “Mystic River” was lauded with five Oscar noms and two wins, while “Million Dollar Baby” landed seven noms and four wins including best picture and director.

“Gran Torino” was the exception both B.O. and kudo wise last year. The R-rated drama, which also headlined Eastwood, was the multi-hyphenate’s biggest grosser in terms of its wide opening ($29.5 million after a limited run in its fifth frame) and final cume ($148.1 million), but was overlooked by the Academy.

Other titles vying for awards attention began their limited rollout yesterday. Weinstein Co.’s “A Single Man,” helmed by fashion maven Tom Ford and based on the Christopher Isherwood tome, opened to an estimated $62,000 from 9 locales for a theater average of $6,941. The film has earned three Independent Spirit Award nods for best first feature, first screenplay and actor Colin Firth.

Paramount-DreamWorks exclusive bow of Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones” in Los Angeles and New York posted $42,000 yesterday for a per site of $14,096 from three theaters.

In its second Friday, Par-DreamWorks’ “Up in the Air” accumulated $652,000 off 72 playdates or $9,060 per theater, repping a 98% surge from a week ago when the pic played at 15 theaters. The running domestic B.O. to date for the Jason Reitman pic is $2.3 million.

Arthouse crowds continued to travel to Weinstein Co.’s “The Road,” shelling out $147,000 at 135, down 35% in the pic’s third Friday for a venue average of $1,090. To date, “The Road” has grossed close to $3.7 million.

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