Par, DWA launch 3D toon this weekend

Family auds should fuel a green weekend at the domestic B.O. as Paramount and DreamWorks Animation launch 3D toon “Shrek Forever After” at 4,359 playdates.

Meanwhile, Relativity Media’s R-rated action comedy “MacGruber,” with Universal distributing, will likely play to older auds, debuting at 2,550 playdates.

Despite an extensive Stateside rollout for “Shrek” — its 2,373 3D count is the largest domestic bow for the format to date — Par is holding the toon in most international territories to benefit from a summer holiday push during June and July. Instead, overseas auds will get an early look at Disney’s epic vidgame adaptation “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” which debuts in 18 markets, including Italy, Germany, Spain and the U.K. “Prince” will open in the U.S. next weekend.

“Shrek Forever After” is the fourth installment in the lucrative toon franchise and DWA’s second title this year. “How to Train Your Dragon,” which launched March 26 to the tune of $43.7 million at 4,055, earned 65% of its opening gross at 2,364 3D-equipped runs. “Dragon” has since hit $208.4 million domestically, benefiting from a relatively clear playing field on the kidpic front.

As “Dragon” enters its ninth frame, Par will pass the family baton to “Shrek,” the only 3D release over the weekend and the most high-profile family friendly title until June 18, when Disney’s 3D “Toy Story 3″ bows. Imax has committed to a four-week run of “Shrek” at 194 domestic locations, then will switch to “Toy Story 3″.

Par said it expects the latest “Shrek” to open with less than “Shrek 2″ ($108 million) but more than the current third-highest toon opener “The Simpsons Movie” ($74 million). “Shrek the Third” ranks as the top-opening animated feature ever, with $121.6 million in 2007.

After what Wall Street analysts deemed to be a moderate estimate for “Forever After,” DWA stock dropped 6% on Tuesday, closing at $34.13. Yet, with a projected domestic cume ultimately outpacing “Shrek the Third,” shares rose 3.5% on Wednesday to $35.31 before falling back slightly on Thursday to $34.91.

“Shrek’s” returning voice talents include Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas and Mike Myers as the green ogre. Toon follows the titular character as he strikes a deal with Rumpelstiltskin (voiced by DWA animator Walt Dohrn), who promises to get the ogre back to his sludgy roots but, of course, plans go awry.

Par credited positive early word of mouth for a potentially robust run. Higher 3D ticket prices, along with prime 3D placement, could also mean an increase in overall revenues.

The frame’s other wide release, laffer “MacGruber,” toplines “Saturday Night Live” alum Will Forte and Kristen Wiig. Val Kilmer and Ryan Phillippe co-star. Based on the “SNL” sketch, pic tells the story of ex-special operative McGruber (Forte) called to save Washington D.C. from arch enemy Dieter Von Cunth (Kilmer).

The $10 million-budget pic was produced and financed by Relativity. Studio said it hopes that thesp Betty White’s recent role on the latenight comedy sketch could attract moviegoers outside the film’s core male demo. White’s hosting stint drew the highest ratings for “SNL” since 2008 during the presidental election campaign.

U’s “Robin Hood” enters its soph sesh after a moderate $36.1 million bow. Last weekend, the R-rated epic played best among older auds, but debuted behind Par’s comicbook sequel “Iron Man 2,” which also skewed older, a typical pattern with fanboy sequels. Entering its third frame, “Iron Man 2″ has cumed $221.6 million domestically, while “Robin Hood’s” Stateside total stands at $45 million as of Wednesday.

Bollywood pic “Kites,” from Reliance Big Entertainment, bows at 186 U.S. dates and worldwide at more than 2,300 locations, making it the largest global bow for an Indian pic. A shorter version re-edited by Brett Ratner will also debut next week.

In limited release, Anchor Bay launches the Michael Douglas starrer “Solitary Man” at four U.S. locations. Family drama centers on Douglas as a divorced man, struggling to rebuild his career and maintain a relationship with his daughter. Pic co-stars Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker and Jesse Eisenberg. Eisenberg also toplines “Holy Rollers,” debuting at three locations from First Independent Pictures.

With limited day-and-date bows for “Shrek,” the international B.O. could still leave room for holdover titles like “Robin Hood” and “Iron Man 2.” “Robin Hood” debuted with $75.2 million last weekend, while “Iron Man 2″ grossed $28.2 million in its third frame internationally. Overseas total for “Iron Man 2″ reached a stellar $238.2 million.

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