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Disney's patience rewarded

The studio's animated version of 'A Christmas Carol' opened below expectations but is poised for a strong run.

November 18, 2009|Ben Fritz

When "A Christmas Carol" opened well below expectations this month, Walt Disney Studios' president of domestic distribution, Chuck Viane, counseled patience.

"Christmas-themed movies opening in early November tend to have a much greater multiple than others, and we know [director] Bob Zemeckis always tends to over-deliver on his multiple," Viane said, pointing to Zemeckis' last 3-D, motion-capture animated Christmas movie, "The Polar Express," which ultimately collected more than seven times its opening-weekend take.

As it turns out, Viane was wrong. "A Christmas Carol" isn't holding as well as "The Polar Express" did in November 2004. It's holding better.

Domestic ticket sales for "A Christmas Carol" fell just 25.8% last weekend, the third-smallest drop for any movie so far this year, signaling that Disney could have on its hands something Hollywood hasn't produced in a long time: a new perennial holiday favorite.

With its strong second weekend and healthy weekday performances, the $200-million "A Christmas Carol" has grossed $64.3 million. That's $11.3 million more than "The Polar Express" on its second Monday.

If the trend continues, "A Christmas Carol" should be at more than $80 million by Sunday. "Polar Express" saw its grosses rise 23.8% on its third weekend, Thanksgiving. "A Christmas Carol" could easily do better.

"A Christmas Carol" and "Polar Express" have something else in common: Both received mixed reviews from critics, leading to early predictions that they were doomed.

The next major release that will compete for the family audience is Disney's own "The Princess and the Frog," which starts playing nationwide Dec. 11. The following Friday, "Avatar" opens and will take virtually all of the digital 3-D screens playing "A Christmas Carol," on which it is doing the majority of its business. That should essentially end its run.

Disney opened "A Christmas Carol" in early November, well before the holiday, in order to play on 3-D screens as long as possible before "Avatar."

By the time James Cameron's hugely anticipated and costly picture debuts, "A Christmas Carol" could end up with a domestic gross as high as $200 million. That would make it something of a financial success, particularly if the movie ends up doing well overseas. So far, it has grossed $34.6 million in 21 international markets.

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ben.fritz@latimes.com

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