Analysts give 'Panda' rave reviews

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The Beijing Olympics have thus far been a PR nightmare for China. Leave it to the country's emblematic panda bear to come to the rescue, with a welcome assist from DreamWorks Animation.

A bit cuddlier than the real thing, "Kung Fu Panda" is set for release June 6, two months before audiences might be inclined to stay home and watch Olympics coverage rather than venture into a movie theater.

It's also a safe distance between Lucasfilm/Paramount's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" on May 22 and Pixar/Disney's "WALL-E" on June 27.

The advantageous timing is one reason Goldman Sachs analyst Ingrid Chung this week raised her six-month target on DWA shares to $32 from $30. The stock closed Thursday at $26.95.

Another reason is that she and her associates liked the portions of the movie they have seen so much that she is proclaiming it the next DWA franchise, predicting a sequel in 2011.

She upped her domestic boxoffice estimate to $220 million, which would make it the ninth-biggest CGI film in history, sandwiched between "Cars" and "Ratatouille" from DWA's primary competitor, Pixar/Disney.

After viewing some of "Panda," the analyst said the character development was good, the scenes were amusing and the concept will appeal to a broad audience.

Her enthusiasm is shared by others who have seen portions of the film, like Pali Research analyst Richard Greenfield who last month raised his worldwide boxoffice estimate to $563 million from $534 million.

"The film leverages elements of the 'Star Wars' franchise," Greenfield said. "The lead Panda character voiced by Jack Black is very entertaining."

Chung also is bullish about DWA's "master toy agreement" with Mattel that allows it to partake in more of the upside from "Kung Fu Panda" merchandise.

She notes that Mattel is planning a line of both plush toys and action figures based on the movie. Plus, Activision is partnering with DWA for a video game to be released the same day the film hits screens. Management teams at both Activision and DWA, Chung says, "are very excited about the game."

She also notes that "Panda" is the final release under DWA's HD DVD agreement and, since Toshiba no longer supports the format, the studio might have the option to release "Kung Fu Panda" on Blu-ray just in time for Christmas.
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