In its latest salvo against cartoon kingpin Disney, DreamWorks has announced plans to go head-to-head with the Mouse House by releasing two highly anticipated animated features in 2004 on weekends traditionally reserved by Disney.
Shrek 2 will hit theaters on June 18, 2004, and Sharkslayer (featuring the vocal talents of James Gandolfini, Will Smith and Martin Scorsese in the undersea mob-like tale of a young fish whose father gets killed) will hit on November 19, just in time for Thanksgiving, Daily Variety reports.
By claiming those dates two years in advance, DreamWorks will force Disney either to rethink its upcoming slate and move its movies or risk having the box office undermined by the tough competition.
"The November period has always been one of the best times to have an animated picture because you have more available family audience. We think we can be that movie in 2004," DreamWorks distribution chief Jim Tharp tells Variety.
Disney has used the Thanksgiving date to launch both Toy Story films, as well as last year's Monsters, Inc.
Executives at Disney and Pixar have yet to reveal when the Brad Bird-helmed The Incredibles, a CGI adventure about a band of undercover suburban superheroes, is coming out, other than the vague "holiday 2004," which most Industry types assume to be November. Disney doesn't typically release exact dates more than a year in advance.
Meanwhile, the next Disney-Pixar offering, an underwater-themed 'toon called Finding Nemo, is due out in "summer 2003."
Ever since Jeffrey Katzenberg cofounded DreamWorks he has been trying to beat his former comrades at Disney at their own game. DreamWorks' first blow came in 1998 when the upstart studio unleashed Antz in October, a month before Disney-Pixar bowed A Bug's Life. Although A Bug's Life did bigger box office, both films were very successful, and DreamWorks became an instant CGI animation force.
Last November, DreamWorks took the unusual step of releasing the Shrek DVD on a Friday, apparently just to try and undercut the box office of Disney-Pixar's Monster's, Inc., which was heading into theaters that day. Shrek wound up grossing $110 million in video revenue that weekend, nearly double the $62 million business Monsters, Inc. did in theaters.
But Katzenberg's greatest triumph came in March, when Shrek--which just happens to mock Disney's classic fairytales--beat Monsters, Inc. to claim the first Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
DreamWorks execs are confident that they've got the goods to give Mickey a run for his money again.
"When you have a family movie, the neighborhood where you can put it is limited," DreamWorks marketing chief Terry Press tells Daily Variety. "But this is a no-brainer. The material is really funny."
Speaking of funny, DreamWorks has tapped ex-Monty Pythonite John Cleese to join Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz in Shrek 2. Cleese will voice the part of Princess Fiona's father.
As for Disney, the studio refused to comment on the DreamWorks' maneuvers.