A young princess from an ancient island in Polynesia is set to conquer the Thanksgiving box office - with help from a demigod voiced by Dwayne Johnson.
Disney Animation Studios' Moana is projected to gross $75 million or more over the five-day holiday frame, which gets underway Wednesday when the family film opens opposite director Robert Zemeckis' World War II spy thriller Allied, starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard; director Warren Beatty's Rules Don't Apply; and the R-rated black comedy Bad Santa 2, once again starring Billy Bob Thornton as the ultimate anti-holiday hero, Willie Soke.
Moana's closest competitor won't be any of those films, but holdover Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the Harry Potter spinoff from Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling that debuted to $74.4 million in North America this past weekend and $220 million worldwide.
Newcomer Auli'i Cravalho voices the role of the movie's heroine, Moana, while Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the music with Opetaia Foa'i and Mark Mancina.
The appetite for PG family fare has shown no bounds this year. To date, three of the five top-grossing titles of 2016 are all animated, not a usual occurrence - Disney and Pixar's Finding Dory ($1.026 billion), Disney Animation's Zootopia ($1.023 billion) and Illumination's and Universal's The Secret Life of Pets ($874 million).
Critics have embraced Moana, which currently sports a 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. They've been far less kind when it comes to the adult, review-driven movies on the Thanksgiving menu.
Allied, with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 60 percent, is projected to serve up a five-day launch approaching $20 million, although Paramount is being more conservative and suggesting a bow in the mid- to high-teen millions. Ine the pic, Pitt plays a Canadian intelligence officer living in London who discovers that his French wife (Cotillard) may not be the kindred spy he thought she was.
Overseas, Allied opens in 25 international markets, and the $85 million film is the first test of Pitt's star status following his divorce from Angelina Jolie.
Bad Santa 2, from Broad Green Pictures and Miramax, is counting on nostalgia, as well as an appetite for raunchy humor, to fuel an opening in the mid-teen millions. Mark S. Waters directed the sequel, which also stars Kathy Bates, Tony Cox and Brett Kelly. Bad Santa was a sleeper hit when it opened to $16 million over the long Thanksgiving corridor in 2003 and topped out at $60 million domestically. The follow-up currently has a 36 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, compared with 78 percent for the the first film.
Beatty's Rules Don't Apply isn't expected to generate much beyond $7 million to $8 million over the five-day holiday frame. The movie, financed by New Regency and distributed by Fox, is Beatty's ode to old Hollywood and tells the story of a young woman (Lily Collins) and man (Alden Ehrenreich) who work for Howard Hughes. In addition to directing, Beatty plays Hughes in his first feature role since 2001's Town & Country. Rules Don't Apply currently has a 66 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Annette Bening, Beatty's wife, and Matthew Broderick also star.
There also will be a flurry of activity at the specialty box office. The Weinstein Co. and See-Saw Films open awards hopeful Lion in New York and Los Angeles, while Loving and Nocturnal Animals make major expansions.
Read more: 'Moana': Film Review