Animated Summer: When Three's a Crowd

The summer Olympics are more than a month away, but there's another titanic battle brewing in Hollywood. Generally, only two studio animated features are released between May and August, the idea being that family films have lasting power at the box office. This year, however, there are three big movies -- DreamWorks Animation's Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, Pixar's Brave and Fox's Ice Age: Continental Drift. Not only that, they will open within five weeks of one another. Madagascar 3 was first and bowed over the June 8-10 weekend to a stellar $136.7 million worldwide. This could be bad news for Brave, which rolls out in North America only two weeks later, on June 22 (Pixar's favorite weekend because schools are out). Brave is the first Pixar title to feature a female heroine and might not play to all demos if there are other options -- like Madagascar 3. At the same time, Pixar has silenced naysayers in the past by opening unconventional films to big numbers (its most recent nonsequel, Up, bowed to $68.1 million domestic in 2009). Also, Brave has the lucrative July 4th holiday in its favor. Ice Age 4 opens in North America three weeks after Brave, on July 13 (earlier in some overseas territories, further complicating the landscape), and observers expect it to be huge, even as parents are being asked to shell out for a third 3D family film. Why the crush this year? One animated creative exec notes that studios wanted to stay out of the way of May tentpoles The Avengers and Men in Black 3, both of which played to families. In 2010, there also were three animated blockbusters, but the first, Shrek Forever After, rolled out in May, a month before the next title unfurled.