Animated feature releases to duke it out today

— The battle for animation supremacy between Disney and DreamWorks hits a fever pitch this weekend. Today, Disney launches the latest computer-animated feature from Pixar, "Monsters, Inc." at more than 3,000 theaters, certain to come out on top at the weekend box office. On the same day, DreamWorks releases the top-grossing picture of the year, "Shrek," on DVD, backing it with an aggressive ad campaign including a Burger King tie-in.

The competition is not to be taken lightly. Nowadays, new DVD titles often make more money in their first week from sales and rentals than the top movies in theaters do. Although there has been no sign that DVDs eat into box office receipts, the "Shrek" vs. "Monsters, Inc." bout marks the first time that two heavily-promoted computer-generated family movies have gone mano a mano on the same day.

What makes today's release of "Shrek" eyebrow-raising is that almost invariably new DVDs are released on Tuesdays, even major titles like "Star Wars: Episode I � The Phantom Menace" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Further fueling suspicion of DreamWorks trying to take out Disney is the fact that "Shrek" is still playing in theaters, ranking No. 25 last weekend.

"Nobody sat in a room and decided on a Friday because of 'Monsters, Inc."' DreamWorks' head of marketing Terry Press told the Los Angeles Times. "The reason was to have a big opening weekend. It doesn't make sense to release DVDs on Tuesday anymore. I don't see us cutting into their opening weekend at all. The 'Shrek' DVD won't keep one parent from taking their child to see 'Monsters, Inc.' opening weekend."

However, DreamWorks' next two DVD titles, "Almost Famous: The Bootleg Cut" and "Evolution," will be released on traditional Tuesdays.

"Do I take it personally? Sure I do," said Disney marketing chief Oren Aviv. "Did they have to go out on our date? No. They chose to put it out on our date. It's obvious that it's not strategic, it's personal; otherwise there's no reason to do it."

The feud is rooted in Disney head Michael Eisner's firing of the K in DreamWorks SKG, Jeffrey Katzenberg, who has been often credited for Disney's animation renaissance in the 1990s. Katzenberg then formed DreamWorks SKG with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, who make up the other initials. He also waged a legal battle claiming that he was still owed money, ultimately winning a $250 million settlement. During those proceedings, Eisner, who had been Katzenberg's mentor back in their days at Paramount, had to answer the charge that he called Katzenberg "a little midget." The two honchos issues are still bitterly unresolved.

It should be noted, though, that Disney has in the past used similar tactics to what DreamWorks is doing now. In 1994, the studio rereleased "The Lion King" on the same date as New Line's "The Swan Princess," squashing it. In 1997, it reissued "The Little Mermaid" just a few days before Fox opened "Anastasia" nationally.

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