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Posted at 11:31 AM ET, 09/19/2011

BOX OFFICE: ‘Lion King (3-D)’ ascends box-office throne with $29.3M weekend

In the fading name of hand-drawn feature animation, Disney this weekend was the Mouse That Roared. Again.

The King isn’t quite dead. Long live the King.

As if reappearing from a land before CGI times, when painted cels roamed free, The Lion King dominated the domestic box office with its new 3-D release, grossing $29.3-million to exceed predictions and win the weekend, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. (Those are Sunday’s studio estimates; final tallies are expected Monday.)

Buoyed by 3-D ticket prices, the re-release of “Lion King” easily dethroned Steven Soderbergh’s breakneck breakout film Contagion (second place at $14.48-million), and also left in the dust the debut of Drive (third at $11-million), starring Ryan Gosling. (A reported 92-percent of the “Lion”audience attended 3-D screenings.)

The animated musical’s performance more than doubled the studio’s expectations for the 3-D release. Disney distribution exec Dave Holils told the Associated Press that he expected “Lion King” to gross between $10-million and $12-million this weekend.

“The Lion King (3-D)” is also the first re-release to win a box-office weekend since “Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi” in 1997, BoxOfficeMojo says.

This weekend’s take bumped “The Lion King” up an eye-catching eight spots on the all-time list — to No.-17 — with a $357-million total.

Powered by A-list voice-casting, lush artistry and Elton John/Tim Rice’s swelling songs (including “Circle of Life”), the original “Lion King” won audiences and two Oscars. It was released in 1994, in the wake of such Disney Animation comeback films as “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid” — among the Mouse House’s new round of “princess” films.

1994 represented a last roar, of sorts: The next year, Disney/Pixar unwrapped its first CGI feature film, “Toy Story,” for moviegoers that have been under Pixar’s industry-changing spell ever since.

Of the top-30 animated feature films all-time at the domestic box office, only two — the Hamlet-infused “Lion King” (No.-3) and “The Simpsons Movie” (No.-27) — are hand-drawn. Pixar films and DreamWorks Animation’s ”Shrek” franchise dominate the top of that list.

“But taking a page from the movie, there is a ‘circle of life’ thing happening,” Hollis told the AP (nearly 60-percent of its audience this weekend was younger than 25, Disney says). “You have children of the ‘90s who are now parents of the 2010s and they themselves are taking their kids to share what was, for them, a great experience two decades ago.”

The result: For one weekend, at least, the generation-spanning spirit of “Hakuna Mutata” is hoisted again atop the box-office perch.

By  |  11:31 AM ET, 09/19/2011

Categories:  Movies

 
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