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Weekend Forecast for December 15-17, 2006

by Reagen Sulewski

December 15, 2006

Counting sheep won't knock you out if you write them all down.

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Loading up for the Christmas holidays, three new films to which the term "family" applies, to varying degrees, hit theaters.

Charlotte's Web is a big-screen adaptation of the beloved E.B. White children's classic, about a simple pig named Wilbur, born the runt of the litter. Saved from the axe by the farmer's daugher Fern, he attempts to avoid the ultimate fate of a pig (i.e. Christmas dinner), with the help of a friendly spider and the rest of the farm. If it seems a bit similar to Babe, well, you're not wrong, except that Charlotte's Web was there first.

Produced by Walden Media, the family-friendly operation that finally struck gold with the first film in the Narnia series last Christmas, the film has lined up an impressive group of voice actors to bring in the adults (since kids who've read this book or had it read to them are pre-sold), including Julia Roberts (for as much as she helped The Ant Bully this year), Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Buscemi, Robert Redford, Oprah Winfrey, and many more. Future ruler of the world Dakota Fanning plays the farmer's daughter.




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The biggest selling point here is really the source material, which is hard to underestimate as far as kid's lit and family entertainment goes. Charlotte's Web also carries a G rating, which opens it up to everyone, but also pegs it as potentially a bit too kiddy for some. That should be offset by the larger adult crowd, including a high "borrow a kid" factor. Opening on an extremely wide 3,566 venue count, I look for this to start off very strong, with about $22 million.

The tweens and teens that don't want to be seen at Charlotte's Web will have Eragon to satisfy them. A fantasy series set in a mystical world of dragons and warriors, and heavily influenced by the Lord of the Rings. It's a cross-media project, based on a series of novels and has already been turned into a video game. If you haven't heard of this series before, you must live in a world without advertising.

Fantasy can be a tough sell for audiences outside extremely well-loved projects. Eragon isn't really there yet, but a lot of energy and money has been spent to try. With a $100 million budget, a lot is riding on this film for Fox, though international prospects are quite good. The lead character, a young dragon rider, is a newcomer, but the film is backed by several veteran and respected character actors (who are in no way just taking a paycheck. Why would you even suggest that?) like John Malkovich and Jeremy Irons.

Reviews have been pretty brutal, and you wonder if it'll even throw above Dungeons & Dragons in quality. The best hope this film has is its effects, which are pretty strong for a project this size. The big screen count of 3,020 is no guarantee of anything, but I see a weekend of about $17 million in store, followed by a steep decline.


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