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‘Secret Life of Pets’ to Fetch Strong Debut at U.S. Box Office

Pet-loving moviegoers are expected to show strong support for the opening of Illumination-Universal’s “The Secret Life of Pets” with more than $70 million this weekend at the U.S. box office.

The animated comedy should dethrone Disney-Pixar’s blockbuster “Finding Dory,” which has won three consecutive weekends and dominated at multiplexes with $381 million in 18 days. Fox is also opening the raunchy comedy “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates,” starring Zac Efron, Adam DeVine, Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza, amid expectations in the $15 million range.

The Secret Life of Pets” has grossed $31 million in six international markets and is already the second-highest animated grosser this year in the U.K.

Universal will open “Pets” at approximately 4,300 North American theaters on Friday. The film is based on the simple premise of the lives led by pets after their owners leave for work or school each day.

Expectations have been elevated by strong recent performance in the animated sector, which has seen solid results from “Dory,” Disney’s “Zootopia,” Sony’s “The Angry Birds Movie” and Fox’s “Kung Fu Panda 3” this year.

“Dory” set a record for top opening by an animated film during the June 17-19 weekend with $135 million, obliterating the six-year-old “Toy Story 3” record of $110 million. If “The Secret Life of Pets” outperforms expectations, it could threaten the $90 million record set a year ago by Disney-Pixar’s “Inside Out” for top opening weekend by an original animated property.

“Zootopia” has the second-best opening for an original property at $75 million.

Critics have shown plenty of affection for “Pets” with a current 85% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The voice cast includes Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Steve Coogan and Albert Brooks. Illumination CEO Chris Meledandri and longtime collaborator Janet Healy produce; “Despicable Me” director Chris Renaud directs and Yarrow Cheney co-directs from a script by Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch.

Illumination-Universal saw strong performance for their other original animated film, 2010’s “Despicable Me,” which opened with $56.4 million on its way to $251 million domestically and $543 million worldwide.

“The Secret Life of Pets” has a relatively modest $75 million price tag.The film will open with a never-before-seen short film, “Mower Minions,” the first time ever that Illumination has released a short film theatrically.

Universal has been laying the groundwork for the past year for “Pets” with trailers shown on more titles than any other movie in Universal’s history. The film had its first public showing at the Annecy Film Festival in France, followed by a premiere at Lincoln Center in New York, where the film is set.

“The Secret Life of Pets” campaign was included at the Puppy Bowl, the Super Bowl, the Westminster Dog Show, “The Wiz Live!” and a pet-themed short with the NBA’s Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant that aired in 18 games throughout the first round of the NBA playoffs in early April. The film’s digital campaign included nearly 2 million visits to MyPetMoji.com and the PetMOJI character creator app, where users can create an emoji in the likeness of their favorite dog or cat.

However, “Pets” faces a mixed outlook because of “Dory,” which will probably draw at least $20 million to finish ahead of “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates,” which is opening at about 2,800 North American locations. Warner Bros.’ second weekend of “The Legend of Tarzan,” which outperformed forecasts slightly, will also be in the mix in the battle for the second spot.

Hollywood studios have cashed in on wedding comedies such as the “Hangover” trilogy, “Bridesmaids” and “The Wedding Crashers” so “Mike and Dave” could overperform forecasts, given the appetite for laughing at the bounty of sexual hijinks and crude language.

“Mike and Dave” is based on real-life brothers Mike and Dave Stangle, who took out a Craigslist ad in 2013 seeking dates for their cousin’s wedding. The movie makes the bride-to-be the sister of the brothers, rather than their cousin, and sets the wedding in Hawaii.

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