This Week In Movies – “Megamind,” “Due Date,” “For Colored Girls”

By Pete Hammond For the third time this year Dreamworks Animation has scored strongly at the boxoffice in their continuing challenge to Disney and Pixar to top the ‘toon parade. “Megamind,” a really funny twist on the superhero genre featuring the voices of Will Farrell, Tina Fey , Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill scored an estimated $47.7 million to lead all comers, following in the footsteps of DWA’s early 2010 hits, “How To Train Your Dragon” and “Shrek Forever After” which between them have earned over 1.2 billion dollars worldwide. One of the distinguishing secrets to the success of the Dreamworks formula, if there is one has been in the voice casting of their animated movies. Using comedians in key roles has provided those stars with film vehicles for some of their best work. It’s a conversation I had with DWA chief Jeffrey Katzenberg recently in which we both said it’s interesting that stars like Eddie Murphy, Jerry Seinfeld. Robin Williams, Mike Myers, Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jack Black, Jim Carrey, Steve Carell and others have had some of their biggest box office and critical success going the ‘toon route. I told him I thought Will Farrell’s work as the inept villain-turned-hero, “Megamind” was the best thing I have ever seen him do in movies to date and Katzenberg agreed there is something about the animation process that frees these great comedy talents to really let loose and deliver. I caught up with Katzenberg at DWA’s DVD release party for “How To Train Your Dragon” where he also mentioned that the company is now beginning work on a sequel and has a sequel to “Kung Fu Panda” coming in 2011. A sequel to “Megamind” would also seem to be a no-brainer if it continues to perform at the boxoffice this holiday season and its A- Cinemascore rating bodes well for that happening even with intense upcoming competition from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1” and Disney’s Thanksgiving ‘toon release, “Tangled.”

Sunday morning I also got the opportunity to moderate a Q&A at the DGA with Zack Snyder, the director of another of the Fall’s animated entries, “Legends Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’hoole,” a stirring beautifully made 3D adventure based on a series of well-known children’s books. Snyder who made his first foray into animation with the picture is best known for his live action successes like “300” and “Watchmen.” ‘Guardians’ saw its theatre count, and subsequent boxoffice totals, plummet this weekend when it lost over 1200 3D screens to the new kid on the block, “Megamind.” With about $54 million so far it probably proves the point about the reluctance of major studios to drift out of the animated comedy realm where most of the most successful ‘toons reside. The reported $80 million budget will have to be recouped by distributor Warner Bros. in DVD and other ancillary markets. Sure movies like DWA’s “How To Train Your Dragon” have heavy adventure elements but they mix in a lot of comic moments. Snyder said that’s what Warners would have liked as well and kept pushing for more comedy but the filmmakers were rightly insistent on staying true to the source material. Thank god. I can see the marketing campaign now : “Hilarious. These Owls are a hoot!”. As it is Snyder said he had to tone down to really dark nature of the books . It’s a shame this film did not find a bigger audience in its nearly two month run because it provides perhaps the most pure 3D experience I’ve yet had , animated or live action. As for his future projects he has the anticipated fantasy, “Sucker Punch” scheduled for release on March 25 and then he gets set to shoot the latest Superman reboot from Warners and producer Christopher Nolan.

Speaking of Warners they launched Todd Phillip’s “Due Date” with Robert Downey Jr. and another Zach (Galifianakis) to the highest November opening ever for an R Rated comedy. With an estimated $33.5 million the “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” ripoff scored an abysmal 39% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a not-so-hot B- Cinemascore from exiting audiences but seemed to play best to the under-18 set. Many of them probably bought a ticket to another film at the multiplex and snuck into the R-rated “Due Date” so its gross likely could have been even higher had it gotten credit for those illegitimate audience members.

Finally, the prolific Tyler Perry is back this week with “For Colored Girls,” based on Ntozake Shange’s 1975 play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf . Lions Gate wisely shortened the title and also wisely has strongly marketed the impressive female cast which includes Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Kimberly Elise, Thandie Newton, Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose and Loretta Devine. It’s powerful stuff and earned an estimated $20 million over the weekend which, considering the heavy level of the material is pretty decent. It’s 34% RT rating sucks but the solid A cinemascore from the largely African American female audience means good word of mouth where it counts most. Perry is an unstoppable force no matter what he touches.

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About Pete Hammond

Pete Hammond is a writer, producer, movie critic and film expert whose commentary on the entertainment industry has appeared in numerous publications and on air interviews including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, OK Magazine, NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, Evening News With Brian Williams on MSNBC, the CBC, BBC, Bravo, E!, AMC, Canada AM and the KTLA Morning Show.

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