This was the weekend that adults came back to the multiplex. And, for the most part, what brought them back was a Disney movie about a city of talking animals.

"Zootopia," which opened at No. 1 with an estimated $73.7 million, broke a number of records. It was the largest three-day opening ever for the Walt Disney Animation Studios brand, beating "Frozen" (though that film's $67.4 million weekend was diluted a bit from having opened on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving). It's also the fourth-largest March opening weekend in history. Having opened abroad three weeks ago, "Zootopia" is also setting records in various South American and Asian countries; it's earned a total of $158.8 million overseas so far.

That the film opened so big in North America surprised no one. It had great reviews (98 percent fresh at Rotten Tomatoes) and great word-of-mouth (A grade CinemaScore). These factored into family audiences packing the multiplex this weekend, but it wasn't just families that came out to see it. According to Disney's exit polls, some 46 percent of the audience was over 25. Granted, a lot of them came with their kids. Still, a full 21 percent of the ticketbuyers were adults on their own.

Disney's been especially good at drawing adults to its cartoons over the past quarter century, ever since its animation renaissance began with 1989's "The Little Mermaid." For all its kid-friendly, furry adorableness, "Zootopia" seems even more squarely aimed at adults.

The movie's premise is essentially that of a mismatched-buddy-cop comedy, only with sleuth partners who happen to be a rabbit and a fox. Much of the humor comes from animal-themed parodies of the frustrations of adult life, like the slow-moving sloths who run the DMV. And the film is rated PG, which suggests that there may be some material in it that's not perfectly kid-friendly.
Disney also smartly marketed the movie to grown-ups, by attaching trailers to "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." It created a series of posters that were parodies of some of 2015's more grown-up films, including "Straight Outta Compton" and "Mad Max: Fury Road." It also cast Shakira as a slinky pop singer and had her create a typically hip-swiveling song for the film.

"Zootopia" was especially fortunate, however, in its timing. Besides having the family market to itself, the film was fortunate enough to open opposite some fairly weak adult competition. "London Has Fallen," sequel to the sleeper hit "Olympus Has Fallen," could have been a contender, but critics found it a disappointment (just 25 percent fresh at Rotten Tomatoes), and poor reviews likely kept the older audience away. As a result, the movie opened in second place with an estimated $21.7 million, well below the $30.4 million debut of "Olympus" two years ago.

TIna Fey's war comedy "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" was also supposed to attract a grown-up audience. But Fey's not a proven box office draw outside her usual wheelhouse (broad farce), and "WTF" is a semi-serious satire based on recent real-life wartime events. Mixed reviews (60 percent at Rotten Tomatoes) didn't help. Predicted to open between $10 and $12 million, "WTF" premiered instead with a fourth-place finish of $7.6 million.
And then there's "Deadpool." After three weeks on top of the chart, "Zootopia" ended its reign, knocking the superhero adventure to third place with an estimated $16.4 million. (Don't weep for Wade Wilson; the mouthy Marvel hero has earned $311.2 million to date.) Now, maybe there's not a lot of audience overlap between an R-rated comedy about a raunchy, pansexual superhero and a PG-rated Disney cartoon whose heroine is a chirpy-voiced bunny named Judy Hopps.

Still, as the residents of "Zootopia" learn, it's not wise to underestimate Officer Hopps or the power of her perky persistence.

Zootopia
PG2016
Based on 43 critics

Police rabbit Judy Hopps works with a wily fox to solve a mystery in the metropolis of Zootopia. Read More

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December 26, 2016
1:00pm
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categories Movies, Box Office