Timing’s everything for toons

Release dates can make an impact on box office

Surveying the most crowded year in history for animated features, there’s no escaping the fact that the right release date helps. A lot.

Successful toons tend to have very strong legs, dropping just 20%-30% each week. Those legs can get cut off, however, when another animated feature for families opens.

DreamWorks’ “Over the Hedge,” for instance, had a decent $38 million bow and declined less than 30% in its second and third weekends. In its fourth frame, however, “Cars” opened, and “Hedge” took a 50% hit, putting a big dent in its B.O. momentum.

Similarly, DWA’s “Flushed Away” went from a 12% drop in its second frame to a 60% drop in its third, when “Happy Feet” bowed.

The year’s three big hits all had relatively open playing fields following their bows. Competitors stayed far away from “Cars,” giving the Pixar toon six full weeks until the next toon opened. That helped it hit $244 million in domestic box office.

“Ice Age: the Meltdown” also had six weeks to itself (with the exception of Disney’s outside pickup “The Wild,” a B.O. dud), giving it the legs to gross $195 million.

“Happy Feet” is also showing strong legs and benefiting from the absence of other family toons, since Disney moved “Meet the Robinsons” from December to March. Closest competitor are kid-targeted pics “Charlotte’s Web,” which saw a muted bow, and “A Night at the Museum.”

Of course, an open berth until the next toon preems doesn’t inherently create success. Sony’s “Open Season” had five weeks with the animated market largely to itself and managed only $84 million.

But for animated features that can muster a solid opening, it sure helps to have some breathing room.