With all of the talk about prime release dates and would-be blockbuster seasons, there is a long and healthy history of animated features kicking proverbial box office butt in the first few months of the year. We’ve got The LEGO Movie, the first two Ice Age movies, Rio and Rio 2, Rango, and a bunch of DreamWorks Animation movies scattered around this general area (Monsters v Aliens, The Croods, How to Train Your Dragon) over the years. Due to happenstance or circumstance, Walt Disney hasn’t released an in-house major-league toon in this spot since Meet the Robinsons way back in 2007. And now, with basically every other animation distribution channel having its way with the pre-summer season, it’s time for the Mouse House to kick a little butt here too. Enter Zootopia, which may well be the fairest of them all.
Bolstered by clever marketing campaign (including viral posters that spoofed popular and Oscar-nominated 2015 releases), near-perfect reviews, and the good fortune of having an uncommonly crowd-pleasing trailer play on nearly every single theatrical print of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Zootopia kicked off the month with a terrific $19.469 million Friday. The Friday figure includes $1.7m worth of Thursday previews, which is a record for a non-Pixar Walt Disney animated feature. The hard Friday number is merely the second best in this relative calendar point for an animated film. It trails only Ice Age 2 ($21m back in 2006) and is ahead of Monsters v Aliens ($16.7m in 2009), The Lorax ($17.5m in 2012), and The Lego Movie ($17m in 2014) regarding animated openings for this period.
Now, where Zootopia ends up over the weekend is merely a point of math. Ice Age: The Meltdown and Rio 2 were a bit frontloaded, earning 3.1x their Friday figures while The Lorax snagged just over 4x its Friday figuresas kid-driven matinee business exploded over Saturday and Sunday. So expect a weekend between $60 million and $78m, with the happy medium being $67.5m. Disney would love to best the $67.5m Fri-Sun opening weekend of Frozen (biggest Fri-Sun for a Disney toon), to say nothing of the $69m debut haul of The LEGO Movie or the $70m opening of The Lorax. Inflation notwithstanding, if they can hit $70.5m, they will have topped all but Monsters University ($82m), Inside Out ($90m), and Toy Story 3 ($110m) among Pixar openings.
If the Ginnifer Goodwin/Jason Bateman/Idris Elba animated film noir/race relations parable tops the $62.7 million debut of Inception, it’ll be among the ten biggest debuts for an original movie of all time. If it tops $70.5m, it’ll be the third largest behind Avatar ($77m) and Inside Out ($90m). Concerning animation, a $68m debut puts it 16th on the list of all-time animated debuts while a $70.5m debut puts it ninth and a $75m debut edges The Simpsons ($74m) for eighth place. So there’s a lot of wiggle room depending on that multiplier.
Either way, this is a fantastic opening for a terrific movie and a huge win for art and commerce. I wish the picture weren’t as painfully timely as it happens to be, but that won’t hurt its reception or its bottom line. Oh, and it crossed $100 million worldwide on Friday (including $12.3m in its first two days in China), so it’s got that going for it too.