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Party 'Toons

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The cartoon war between Disney?s “The Little Mermaid” (opening tomorrow) and Fox?s “Anastasia” (opening November 21) erupted into full battle last weekend, as each studio tried to out-dazzle the other with eye-popping release parties.

On November 9, Fox commandeered the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City for a lavish, kiddie-packed event with stars arriving in blue horse-drawn carriages and tuxedoed trumpeters at the entrance blasting Fox’s signature da-da-da-daaaa! leitmotif. Avoiding a chilly stream of rain, Helen Hunt and boyfriend Hank Azaria (who provides the voice for Bartok, the albino bat) skipped the carriage ride. “They look cold,” said Azaria. “We’re going to take a nice, comfortable limo.” Anastasia herself, a.k.a. Meg Ryan, wasn’t much concerned about the coming ‘toon tug-of-war between Disney and Fox. “I’m so uninterested in that,” she said. “All I know is [Fox’s “Anastasia”] seems like a Disney movie, which is an incredible compliment.”

Ryan may believe that “Anastasia” lives up to Disney’s storied ‘toon tradition, but that point of view probably wouldn’t be shared at the Mouse House, whose party-planners transformed Madison Square Garden into a balloon-bedecked undersea grotto for the following night’s beach-themed “Little Mermaid” bash. Rented goldfish swam in bowls on every table; kids played with starfish and real crustaceans (contained in aquarium tanks) and got their photos taken with a larger-than-life Sebastian the crab; and the wait staff in loud Hawaiian-print shirts served a variety of seafood dishes. (Um, wouldn’t Ariel consider that cannibalism?)

“I think Disney is re-releasing the movie because it’s their signature film,” said Rene Auberjonois, the voice of “Mermaid”‘s Chef Louis. “But they may have some sort of Machiavellian business reason behind it.” (Translation: Industry insiders speculate that Disney is flooding theaters with “The Little Mermaid” to dampen “Anastasia”‘s ticket sales.) Either way, it’ll be up to the kids, not the hors d’oeuvres trays, to determine which ‘toon cutie is crowned Princess of the Box Office come November 21.

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