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'Bug's Life' Is Walking Off With the Turkey

Box office: Disney is again winning the Thanksgiving weekend, while Universal's woes continue with disappointing 'Babe' sequel.

November 28, 1998|ROBERT W. WELKOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The long Thanksgiving holiday weekend isn't over yet, but this much is clear at the movie box office: It's a bug's life, after all, and little piggies that venture into the dark city should fear Disney more than bull terriers.

And while Disney could have a one-two punch for the crucial holiday weekend, Universal appears to be zero for two in its holiday offerings.

"A Bug's Life," the computer-generated animated feature film about an ant colony threatened by ravenous grasshoppers, appears to be on track to surpass the box-office record set by "101 Dalmatians" in 1996 for the biggest Thanksgiving opening ever.

Produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios, "A Bug's Life" grossed an estimated $12.4 million on 2,631 screens during its first two days of release this holiday weekend--8% bigger than "101 Dalmatians" did over the same two-day period in 1996 and 20% larger than "Toy Story" on Thanksgiving a year earlier.

But the holiday mood has to be gloomy at Universal Studios, where fortunes and careers are riding on "Babe: Pig in the City," the sequel to the 1995 hit "Babe," which captured hearts for its sweet and humorous tale of barnyard animals who all converse with each other.

Universal had high hopes for the sequel, which some saw as a potential franchise for the studio. But to be blunt, "Babe" got slaughtered on the first two days of the extended holiday period.

The sequel took in an estimated $2 million on Wednesday and Thursday, a dismal showing that numerically placed the film at No. 6 in the early rankings. It would be the second expensive failure in a row at Universal; "Meet Joe Black," which opened earlier this month, has proved to be a box-office dud.

The $90-million "Babe" sequel film was completed by director George Miller less than a week before the studio sent it out to 2,331 theaters nationwide, limiting how Universal could market the movie on TV and in trailers. Reviews for the film, while generally positive, emphasized the sequel's darker tone and scary elements for the youngest viewers.

Plus, noted Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Inc., "It's tough to go head to head with Disney on Thanksgiving weekend. They've had the No. 1 film in the marketplace the last four years."

Given its strong opening, "A Bug's Life" appears on track to make $48.5 million over the five-day holiday period, which would vault it past "101 Dalmatians" to secure the Thanksgiving record.

Going into the weekend, there were skeptics in Hollywood who thought "A Bug's Life" might not do well because of the unexpected success of "Antz," the computer-animated ant colony-in-peril film from DreamWorks SKG that has already taken in more than $84 million.

"They've been raided now," said a jubilant Phil Barlow, president of Disney's Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. "We will let our grosses speak for themselves."

Two other Disney films are doing strong business at the box office this holiday: The tense political thriller "Enemy of the State" from Touchstone Pictures starring Will Smith has raked in an estimated $7.7 million for an early No. 2 position, while the wacky Adam Sandler comedy "The Waterboy" has grossed an estimated $5.9 million and a No. 4 spot.

"The Rugrats Movie," the animated feature from Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon that topped last weekend's box-office charts, unofficially grossed an estimated $6.2 million in the first two days of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Unofficially, it was followed by "Meet Joe Black" ($2.1 million), "Babe: Pig in the City," ($2 million), "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" ($1.9 million), Jerry Springer's "Ringmaster" ($1.8 million), "Home Fries" ($1.5 million) and "Very Bad Things" ($1.4 million).

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