Disney aims to bewitch aud before 'Inception' opens

Disney is looking for midweek magic as it launches “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” wide today at 3,385 U.S. locations.

Thanks to its early bow, which is timed for younger moviegoers on summer vacation, “Apprentice” could gain traction before Warner Bros. opens the highly-anticipated “Inception” on Friday.

Overseas markets launching “Apprentice” day and date this weekend include Argentina and India. Most territories will wait to avoid a post-World Cup clutter of films.

Originally skedded to launch in the U.S. the same day as “Inception,” Disney announced early this summer plans to move “Apprentice” to a Wednesday bow. Studio cited positive early reactions to the film and tyke availability as primary reasons for the move.

“You’re certainly not going to go early if you’re not confident with the film,” said Disney distrib topper Chuck Viane. “That’s the goal, to make it two days of paid sneak previews.”

Still, with “Inception” expected to perform tops this weekend at thedomestic B.O., “Apprentice’s” front-loaded launch should give the pic a relatively clear playing field before the adult-aimed pic launches.

Directed by Jon Turteltaub, “Apprentice” is a live-action re-envisioning of the sorcerer sketch in Disney’s classic “Fantasia.” Nicolas Cage stars as sorcerer Balthazar Blake with Jay Baruchel as the title apprentice. Pic co-stars Alfred Molina and Monica Bellucci.

“Apprentice” reunites Cage with “National Treasure” franchise helmer Turteltaub and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Bruckheimer’s earlier summer title for Disney, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” debuted Memorial Day Weekend with a healthy $30.1 million, but struggled to gain much headway with domestic auds, cuming $89 million. The pic, however, reached impressive heights overseas, more than doubling domestic totals with $236.4 million as of July 11.

Stateside tracking for “Apprentice” earlier this summer was similar to “Prince,” but Disney said tracking has seen a steady increase in anticipation of “Apprentice’s” release.

Disney expects the PG-rated pic to play well with all auds, but it could register best with families and teenage fans of Cage and Baruchel. Pic’s early launch should cater to those demos.

Also appealing to younger auds, Universal’s 3D toon “Despicable Me” may provide stiff competish for “Apprentice,” especially after its $56.4 million bow last weekend. Toon continued to perform strongly during the week, topping Monday’s frame with $7.5 million.

Another 3D toon holdover, Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story 3,” dropped a mere 31% last weekend for an additional $21 million. Entering its fifth frame, “Toy 3″ has cumed $342 million through July 11.

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