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Coming 'Toon

CG animation looks ahead with three new flicks -- With projects like ''Robots,'' ''Madagascar,'' and ''Chicken Little'' in the making, CG might mean the end of 2-D

The Best Picture Oscar race is getting all the attention, but to moviegoers worldwide, the Best Animated Feature nominees are a bigger deal. You do the math (or rather, let us do it): Shrek 2 has made $919 million worldwide, while the top-grossing Best Picture nominee, The Aviator, is flying considerably lower, with $152 million so far. Add Best Animated Feature candidates The Incredibles ($621 million globally) and Shark Tale ($325 million) and the other Best Picture nominees to the comparison pie chart, and the computer- animated trio has outgrossed the live-action quintet by nearly four to one. Can CG animation maintain its crowd-pleasing dominance? The studios are banking on it with three high-profile contenders.

ROBOTS

Who Made It Blue Sky Studios and Fox, the shop and sponsoring studio behind the 2002 hit Ice Age. Opens March 11, pretty much the same slot Ice Age had. The Premise A plucky robot inventor tangles with a creepy corporate boss who wants to declare lowly, working-stiff robots ''outmoded'' if they can't afford expensive upgrades. Look Who's Talking Ewan McGregor as the hero, Rodney Copperbottom; Mel Brooks as industrialist Big Weld; Greg Kinnear as the villainous Ratchet; Halle Berry as shapely Cappy; and Robin Williams as the motormouthed misfit Fender. High Stakes Blue Sky has a play-it-safer bet coming with 2006's Ice Age 2, but in the meantime, the future of original stories at the studio will depend on grosses for this picture — as will director Chris Wedge's ability to launch some other ideas he's kicking around with William Joyce, the guiding mind behind Robots' striking visual designs.

MADAGASCAR

Who Made It DreamWorks (Shrek, Shark Tale). Opens May 27, a prime Memorial Day weekend berth. The Premise Four pampered animals from the Central Park Zoo get shipped to the African wilds and must learn to survive. Look Who's Talking Ben Stiller as Alex, an uptight lion; Chris Rock as Marty, a zebra; Jada Pinkett Smith as Gloria, a hippo; David Schwimmer as Melman, a hypochondriac giraffe; Sacha Baron Cohen (a.k.a. Ali G) as a singing lemur; and Cedric the Entertainer as an aye-aye. Who's Not Talking Jason Alexander was reportedly initially attached as the giraffe, and Madonna was considered for the hippo. High Stakes This is DreamWorks Animation SKG's first project since spinning off from DreamWorks SKG into a stand-alone company last October, so the industry is watching — as are shareholders.

CHICKEN LITTLE

Who Made It Disney's in-house CG division. Opens Nov. 4. The Premise The sky really is falling�in the form of a possible alien invasion. But Chicken Little's neighbors leap to wrong conclusions and blame him. Look Who's Talking Zach Braff as the titular bird; Garry Marshall as his dad; Steve Zahn as a pig named Runt; Joan Cusack as Abby, the ugly duckling; Amy Sedaris as Foxy Loxy; and Don Knotts as mayor TurkeyLurkey. Who's Not Talking Holly Hunter, Elastigirl in The Incredibles, was cast as Chicken Little but lost the gig when the character changed from a girl to a boy. Says Hunter, ''They switched the sex, so, y'know, I couldn't take it too personally.'' High Stakes ''Disney needs to show that they don't need Pixar,'' says Braff. ''The pressure that they're under, I don't envy it. Those guys have so much riding on their shoulders.''

Originally posted Feb 28, 2005 Published in issue #809 Mar 04, 2005 Order article reprints
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