Thanksgiving Movie Preview (11.23.11)


Thanksgiving is all about family after all, so maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that all three of this five-day weekend’s big releases are geared towards families and children. First comes the long-awaited return of “The Muppets” followed by Aardman Animations’ “Arthur Christmas” and Martin Scorsese (yes, that Martin Scorsese) 3D adventure, “Hugo.” Worried about deciding which to see? Don’t fret too much, as all three films have over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. Hard to go wrong there.

New This Week

The Muppets

Directed by James Bobin
Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, Jim Henson (characters)
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, etc.

Summary: When an oil tycoon makes plans to drill under their old theater, the Muppets and two human fans named Gary and Mary (Segel and Adams) must reunited the Muppets after years of being apart in order to save it.

The Word: We haven’t seen the Muppets on the big screen since 1999′s “Muppets from Space.” The beloved trademark and brand of The Jim Henson Company looked to be endangered (or doomed to a life of television specials) until Disney bought the rights in 2004. Lifetime Muppet-lover Jason Segel (as evidenced by his all-puppet Dracula musical in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) pitched his new take to Disney and wrote the film with “Marshall” director Nicholas Stoller.

Rotten Tomatoes: 97% (excellent)

My Thoughts: I can’t think of a better way to bring the “Muppets” to a new generation of kids who deserve them. Henson’s creations shouldn’t feel like relics to today’s Disney channel generation; there’s a reason these characters have been around more than 40 years. With fresh blood repurposing these characters for the modern world and modern humor this could be huge for Disney and the Muppets.

Recommendation: Great for nostalgists, great for kids.

Arthur Christmas

Directed by Sarah Smith
Written by Peter Baynham, Sarah Smith
Starring: (voices) James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Bill  Nighy

Summary: Ever wonder how Santa Claus gets all those presents out in one night? He uses a giant space ship and highly skilled elf operatives, of course. Arthur is the runt of the Santa family, so when he learns of a child who did not get her present, he sees an opportunity to prove himself, but he’ll have to use his grandfather’s “old school” methods to do it.

The Word: Aardman Animations (of Wallace and Gromit fame) and Sony Pictures Animation team-up for this Christmas film with an especially modern twist. Although director and co-writer Sarah Smith is new to this game, Peter Baynham, who helped write “Borat,” “Bruno” and coincidentally the remake of “Arthur” assists her on this one.

Rotten Tomatoes: 94% (excellent)

My Thoughts: I like Aardman and I think “Arthur Christmas” looks clever and funny despite its overuse of conventions. Although average American parents and kids won’t be too impressed by the voice cast, I most certainly am. “Arthur Christmas” might not win a battle against “The Muppets,” but this looks like a rollicking good time

Recommendation: This one might be worth saving until it gets closer to Christmas time so that families have an excuse not to see the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movie.


Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by John Logan, Brian Selznick (book)
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baren Cohen

Summary: A 12-year-old orphan in 1930s Paris has lost his brother and his uncle’s gone missing, so he comes to live in a train station where he becomes preoccupied with finding the parts to make his father’s invention, a robot of sorts, work again. He eventually meets a girl his age who has the key to making it work.

The Word: No matter how many times you try and get used to the idea of Scorsese directing a 3D family film, it still doesn’t make more sense. The revered director has never confined himself to any particular genre, but this would be the greatest departure to date. We do know he can work with young people (see “Taxi Driver”) and Butterfield and Moretz are two of the finest young talents. The question is what did he see with in Selznick’s novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” to convince him to make a 3D family film?

Rotten Tomatoes: 96% (excellent)

My Thoughts: I don’t doubt that Scorsese will make fabulous use of 3D (he’s had good things to say about the medium since wrapping this one) and a visually arresting film, but I wasn’t so sure about his skills in terms of making a feel-good family adventure (that includes humor). With the great reviews that have come in, I feel better.

Recommendation: Of all the family offerings, this would be for slightly older kids and adults to enjoy.



Box Office Predictions

Normally all the anticipated films come out the weekend before Thanksgiving, so we have a really unique Thanksgiving box-office situation with three new and promising family films going up against a second “Twilight” weekend.

I have my faith in The Muppets. The marketing has been the most aggressive of any film this year. Disney has done really well this weekend in years past with “Tangled” and “Enchanted.” Expect somewhere between the two, perhaps just over $40 million. This should be enough to edge out The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1. Two years ago, “New Moon” fell 70 percent over Thanksgiving weekend and that movie opened better than “Breaking Dawn.” Expect “Part 1” to finish just a hair south of $40 million.

Thanksgiving weekend is anything but typical as far as family films are concerned. The glut of them make it particularly hard to pinpoint. As much as I want to root for the underdog, therefore, I have to go with the more alluring property and choose Happy Feet Two to edge out Arthur Christmas. The latter should do better long term, but as we saw with “Puss in Boots” a couple weeks ago, coming out a week early doesn’t hurt you that much. The penguin-filled sequel should see little decrease from this past weekend though it’s hard to calculate how much with so much family competition. I think $17 million at the least. With so many movies trying to appeal to parents, “Arthur Christmas” seems like the least sure thing for your average parent, though that will change with word of mouth. Expect $15 million for the English import.

Fifth place will be tough. With so few theaters, expect “Hugo” to get largely overlooked and make no more than $8 million. As families reign supreme, however, Jack and Jill will hold up better than expected, with probably a hair less than $10 million.

1. The Muppets
2. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
3. Happy Feet Two
4. Arthur Christmas
5. Jack and Jill


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