Biz gears up for big summer at b.o.

Exhibs at CinemaCon are getting sneak peeks at a wide array of popcorn fare from Paramount, DreamWorks and Disney — a few players are still to come — and a healthy dose of bravado from studio brass in the face of a box office decline of nearly 20% from last year.

“I couldn’t be more confident that the summer of 2011 will go down in history as the biggest ever,” DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said Monday night, echoing Paramount Pictures vice chairman Rob Moore’s earlier statements that a huge summer and fourth quarter would lift the box office to new heights.

Paramount: Chief among the studio’s offerings was “Super 8,” J.J. Abrams’ mashup of two ideas he brought to producer Steven Spielberg — kids who make their own Super 8 movies and an Area 51-bound trainwreck. Abrams introduced about 20 rough-cut minutes of his film, enough to make clear that a charismatic ensemble of prepubescent teens will carry it — think “Goonies” or “E.T.” — and that he’s not afraid to put them through a violent and suspenseful thriller.

Paramount also debuted a healthy dose of footage from “Kung Fu Panda 2,” with Jack Black and director Jennifer Yuh introducing a prolonged action sequence that showed off DreamWorks Animation at its cinematic best. “Thor” and “Captain America” also bowed some never-before-seen footage, but the biggest, most unexpected hit of the presentation was “Puss in Boots,” which at first sounded like warmed-up leftovers from the flagging “Shrek” franchise. Don’t count it out — the origin story of the feline fencer, voiced by Antonio Banderas, has a style and swagger that will appeal broadly.

DreamWorks: Spielberg appeared on video to unspool a generous amount of behind-the-scenes footage from his upcoming epic “War Horse,” a tale of a horse who is separated from his boy and travels Europe during World War I. Colin Farrell and director Craig Gillespie were on hand to introduce “Fright Night,” a remake of the 1985 vampire tale. For “Real Steel,” the futuristic tale of a real rock-’em, sock-’em robot competition, Hugh Jackman and director Sean Levy came onstage, as did Emma Stone and the entire female cast of “The Help.”

Disney: The Mouse House broke a little news at CinemaCon on Tuesday, announcing that the second installment of Pixar’s “Monsters Inc.” would actually be a prequel, showing monster BFFs Mike and Sully as rivals in college. The title: “Monsters University.” Jason Segel and Amy Adams came onstage to tease some footage from their upcoming Muppets feature, which Disney is banking on for its franchise potential. A long look at the full-length “Winnie the Pooh” toon charmed the CinemaCon crowd, and fanboys no doubt will sneer at the “Avengers” sizzle reel, which included a lot of clips from past Marvel movies, comics and cartoons, which included nothing from the 2012 tentpole itself.

The rest: FilmDistrict, whose posters for upcoming titles “Soul Surfer” and “Insidious” line the halls of Caesars Palace, hosted a cocktail party Tuesday, but did not give a formal presentation. Sony will screen “Zookeeper” on Wednesday afternoon, while on Thursday, Lionsgate screens an unnamed “major upcoming release” in the morning, followed by Warner Bros.’ dog-and-pony show in the afternoon.

(Andrew Stewart contributed to this report.)

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