Studio fires up animated sequel for 2013 release

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While DreamWorks Animation can’t wait for its cash ogre to return to the bigscreen next month, the studio has put teeth into “How to Train Your Dragon” as its “next franchise.”

The toon studio’s chief Jeffrey Katzenberg said a sequel to “Dragon” is moving forward to take flight in 2013.

“Dragon” is generating some of the studio’s best reviews in years. Pic got off to a modest start, despite heavy promotion during the Winter Olympics.

The pic is showing broad wings, however, earning $179 million in the U.S. and another $193 million overseas.

It’s also proved a major seller of merchandise and licensed products, earning $60 million during the quarter, with a prominent retail presence at Walmart. Pic bowed March 26.

Move to make a sequel also makes sense considering the studio is planning on spinning off the characters into their own TV show and turn the property into a “Walking With Dinosaurs”-type live arena show, as well as virtual world.

“It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” Katzenberg told analysts.

A month before “Shrek Forever After” barrels onto 3D screens, DreamWorks Animation reported a 65% drop in first-quarter profits attributed mainly to the fact that the studio didn’t have a major holiday release last year.

Its prospects should turn around considerably over the rest of 2010, given that DreamWorks has three films unspooling this year for the first time in the studio’s history.

Those pics include “Dragon,” the fourth “Shrek” on May 21 and “Megamind” on Nov. 5.

“Monsters vs. Aliens” was DreamWorks’ only release last year. The film added $25 million in pay TV sales in the U.S. to DreamWorks’ coffers. The studio’s library earned $53 million during the quarter.

For the last three months, DreamWorks earned $22 million in net profit, down from $62 million during the same period a year ago. Revenue fell 38% to $162 million.

DreamWorks has high hopes for the fourth “Shrek” installment, and the franchise has proved to be the company’s biggest moneymaker.

“Shrek” earned $484 million worldwide in 2001, but the character really took off in 2004 with “Shrek 2,” which collected nearly $920 million in coin. “Shrek the Third” generated $799 million in 2007.

Katzenberg has been pushing for higher 3D ticket prices at the megaplex, turning to the box office as a way to recoup any losses from a downturn in DVD sales.

He’s encouraged exhibitors to charge as much as $5 more per ticket for 3D showings of pics, including the fourth “Shrek.”

“We continue to see strong pricing for the 3D premium and strong consumer support for it,” Katzenberg said in a call with analysts. “We think there’s a lot of elasticity there before we actually hit (the $5 mark) but ‘Shrek’ should continue to see very favorable pricing.”

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