Shares drop after modest projections for 'Forever After'

For the second time this year, DreamWorks Animation has taken a hit on Wall Street, this time after forecasting modest B.O. projections for “Shrek Forever After.”

And while shares were down Tuesday almost 6%, closing at $34.13, the company’s stock bounced back Wednesday, with a 3.5% uptick at $35.31. The price fluctuation mirrored a similar drop earlier this year when Paramount and DWA’s 3D toon “How to Train Your Dragon” launched with a soft $43.7 million on March 26, causing shares to drop 9.2%.

Analysts feared “Dragon” would face an uphill battle in holdover frames because of a logjam of 3D screens. Yet the toon went relatively unchallenged on the kid front and has since cumed a buoyant $208.4 million domestically, with 65% of revenues coming from 3D tickets.

DWA now will launch its second title this year — and the fourth “Shrek” installment — estimating an $80 million debut. But the studio expects the toon ultimately to outpace “Shrek the Third,” which grossed $322.7 million domestically. Though Par’s projected launch would place “Shrek” near the top three toon openers, some insiders consider Par’s estimate low given increased 3D ticket prices and more 3D-equipped screens.

The comparatively modest estimate could be due to franchise fatigue and notoriously inaccurate tracking for animated sequels. Competing studios are estimating a $100 million opening weekend.

The latest “Shrek” is one of the few recent toon franchises to make it to a fourth installment, making it unchartered territory.

“When you look at these animated sequels, we’re ahead of ‘Madagascar’ and ‘Ice Age,’ but below ‘Shrek 3,’ ” said Par vice chair Rob Moore. “Shrek the Third” currently ranks as the highest-grossing domestic toon opener, with $121.6 million, while the latest “Madagascar” and “Ice Age” installments debuted with $63.1 million and $41.7 million, respectively.

Still, “Shrek Forever After” reps the franchise’s first 3D installment, which should boost the pic’s overall take given the higher ticket prices for 3D pics. Ticket prices for “Shrek Forever After” average $15.32 for Imax 3D, $14 for 3D and $10 for conventional 2D.

Toon will debut at 4,359 engagements, which includes 2,373 3D-equipped locations, the most of any 3D film to date. Imax is committed to a four-week stretch at 194 domestic runs.

“Shrek” also should benefit as the frame’s only 3D title, as well as the most anticipated family-friendly pic, until Disney launches 3D threequel “Toy Story 3″ on June 18.

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