'Up' cleared for big overseas landing

Pixar film is on next leg of its strategic journey

"Up" soon should be moving up in the world.

Pixar's latest film release already has overperformed in the U.S. and Canada, proving wrong predictions its star-free voice cast and adult-oriented tone would hamper appeal among family moviegoers. As it turned out, Ed Asner and newcomer Jordan Nagai were fine for the lead roles as "Up" registered upward of $288 million domestically.

In fact, "Up" stands as the second-highest-grossing domestic release by Disney and Pixar after 2003's "Finding Nemo," which brought in $340 million.

Now, the film about a globe-trotting house hoisted by balloons finally is finding momentum in a growing number of foreign territories. So the question looms: Will the international campaign for "Up" also top other Pixar pics from the past six years, including 2004's "The Incredibles," 2006's "Cars," 2007's "Ratatouille"?

Like most Disney/Pixar releases, "Up" was slotted to open during a span of several months in different territories. In fact, that's often the norm for family films of all sorts -- the trend toward simultaneous global releasing notwithstanding -- as school schedules and local holidays vary worldwide.

"The movie was set up just right," Disney film group president Mark Zoradi said. "In a summer of mega-sequels, the right strategy with a new movie like this was to be very strategic and very targeted."

Rhapsodic reviews after the pic's world premiere at Cannes didn't hurt either.

"It was the first-ever 3D film there," Zoradi noted in a phone interview from Australia, where he's tubthumping for exhibitors a Disney slate featuring the Sept. 3 bow of "Up."

"The movie started with a great story and delivered on emotion and heart," he said. "The filmmakers came through with a movie that works on those levels, and therefore it can travel around the world."

So far, "Up" sits at $142 million and counting internationally. Eventually, it should fetch upward of $400 million abroad as Pixar pics tend to overperform internationally; even $206 million domestic grosser "Ratatouille" whipped up $415 million overseas.

The international appetite for animated features would seem high at the moment judging from the global appetite for Fox's summer opener "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs." The 3D threequel has more than tripled its domestic tally with a stunning $616 million in foreign lucre.

As a well-known franchise opening in July, "Ice Age" was able to stage a day-and-date global opening.

"The majority of kids around the world were on holiday," Fox international co-topper Tomas Jegeus said. "That very broad, dysfunctional-family sort of comedy really plays."

More emotionally nuanced than the Fox pic, "Up" also is set to overachieve abroad, Disney international distribution boss Anthony Marcoly predicted.

"This has proven correct in our results thus far," he said. "On a local-currency basis, 'Up' has outgrossed or is tracking to beat the previous two Pixar releases in every market of the world."

Although "Up" began its international run May 29, there are many offshore markets yet to play the pic. From September through December, "Up" will open in at least 15 territories including such key markets as the U.K., Australia, Germany, Italy and Scandinavia, with animation hot spot Japan getting the film Dec. 5.

Day-and-date releases enjoy boosted media efficiencies, with foreign marketing able to draught off of the earliest domestic buzz. But protracted overseas rollouts such as with "Up" allow marketing execs to "properly customize and localize our marketing and publicity campaigns," Marcoly said.

Combined with the challenge of finding school holidays in various markets, "it can take as long as seven to eight months" to travel the globe with a family film like "Up," he said.

Next up for "Up"? The little laugher that could will drift into Australia and Brazil next week.