November 5, 2005

‘Chicken Little’ reviews spark few B.O. concerns

By Gina Keating and Doris Frankel

LOS ANGELES/CHICAGO (Reuters) - The debut on Friday of
"Chicken Little," the first fully computer-animated movie by
the Walt Disney Co., was greeted on Friday with mixed reviews
that industry experts said would not affect the younger
audiences the film is aimed at.

Stock options trading, however, was active for Pixar
Animation Studios Inc. showing a range of speculation about how
the performance of "Chicken Little" would affect ongoing
Disney/Pixar talks over a new film distribution pact.

Disney's partnership with Pixar, in which it has shared box
office grosses of $3.2 billion since 1995 from movies like
"Finding Nemo," expires next year. Pixar wants to pay its new
distributor a flat fee instead of sharing profits.

Industry watchers believe it is crucial for Disney to show
that it can compete in computer animation on its own without
relying on Pixar's blockbusters to shore up the Disney brand
name in the film animation arena it once dominated.

"Chicken Little" reviews ranged from "a consistently
amusing, often inspired family romp" in The Hollywood Reporter
to "a terrible movie" in The New York Times.

Still, industry analysts expect the movie to take in $30
million to $35 million in ticket sales during its first
weekend, and one said the film must reach $200 million at North
American box offices to be considered a hit for Disney.

Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking firm
Exhibitor Relations Co Inc, said the lukewarm response was
unlikely to have any effect on the film's first weekend.

"The target audience doesn't read reviews and, moreover,
they don't care," he said. "If a child is aware of this movie
opening and a parent reads a poor review and the kid still
wants to go, they are going to see the movie."


Brandon Gray, president and publisher of online box office
tracking service Box Office Mojo, said the second weekend was
more likely to show the film's true potential.

"There are plenty of animated features in the past that
have done well that have been critically reviled."

One of those films was DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc.'s
"Shark Tale," which was released in October 2004 and was met by
reviews that slammed it. The New York Post critic described it
as "about as appealing as a two-week-old helping of sushi."

But the film went on to gross $367 million worldwide, and
to become this year's second-best selling DVD.

Wall Street also seems unsure of how to gauge the effect of
"Chicken Little."

Disney shares closed down only 0.36 percent at $24.81 on
the New York Stock Exchange.

Pixar's options, which gauge future sentiment, saw a
three-fold increase in volume but no clear direction on the
stock price, said Stacey Briere, chief options analyst at
Susquehanna Financial Group.

Jon Najarian, co-founder of financial-information Web site, said the critical reception of "Chicken
Little" appeared to have spurred "strong buying" in calls that
give the right to buy Pixar at $60 per share by January.

"Today's launch of 'Chicken Little' looks like a stinker,
but time will tell," he said.

Pixar's shares rose 3 percent to $54.11 on the Nasdaq.