ShoWest: Pirates, rats on deck in '07

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LAS VEGAS -- Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook, buccaneering producer Jerry Bruckheimer and a gourmet rat named Remy made appearances Tuesday at the ShoWest Opening Day Ceremony. Their message: If you thought 2006 was good, get ready for 2007.

That sense of optimism ran through the two-hour program at the Paris hotel, with nearly everyone who took the podium sharing his or her conviction that the exhibition industry appears on its way to a record-breaking 2007 thanks to a parade of can't-miss titles from the major studios.

After opening remarks from National Association of Theatre Owners chairman Lee Roy Mitchell and an unexpected moment of group prayer, Cook introduced a slickly produced salute to the 19 films that crossed the $100 million mark at the North American boxoffice in 2006. Cook said that last year's $9.5 billion in domestic receipts proves "that moviegoing is alive and well" and that "nothing beats the experience of seeing a major motion picture in the theater."

The eclectic group of films acknowledged in the clip montage ranged from 2006's biggest tentpole titles to an eventual best picture Oscar winner: "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," "Night at the Museum," "Cars," "X-Men: The Last Stand," "The Da Vinci Code," "Superman Returns," "Happy Feet," "Ice Age: The Meltdown," "Casino Royale," "The Pursuit of Happyness," "Over the Hedge," "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," "Click," "Mission: Impossible III," "The Departed," "Borat," "The Devil Wears Prada," "The Break-Up" and "Dreamgirls."

Bruckheimer showed for the first time a trailer for the latest installment in his Disney franchise, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," to thunderous applause. Bruckheimer noted that, together, the first two films in the series, 2003's "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" and "Dead Man's Chest," have grossed more than $1.7 billion worldwide, and he went on to describe the upcoming action-adventure as the "culmination of our characters" and the "biggest, most exciting picture" of his career. "At World's End" is set for release May 25 to take advantage of Memorial Day weekend.

Director Brad Bird also made the trek to Las Vegas to screen a 12-minute preview from Pixar's latest computer animated entry, "Ratatouille," featuring the voice of Patton Oswalt as Remy, a rodent living in France who has a passion for gourmet food. Joking that his film, which is scheduled to open June 29, didn't quite fit into a summer season filled with so many high-profile sequels, he said the animation giant had considered calling the film "Ratatouille 1" and marketing it as "the prequel to the sequel."

Bird acknowledged that there were inherent challenges in making moviegoers care about Remy's peculiar dilemma, but he said that he and his colleagues have faced an "unbroken string of challenges" with their last few projects. "With 'Finding Nemo,' I don't think there had been a film that took place entirely underwater," Bird said. "With 'The Incredibles,' it's hard to get people to worry about superheroes. With 'Ratatouille,' how do you make a rat in a kitchen appealing? I think we found a good solution."
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