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Kids films are sleeper hits

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When My Dog Skip barked up a surprising $6 million last weekend, Hollywood tongues wagged: In its second week in wide release, the kid-friendly weeper had actually increased its take 3 percent from the previous week. But Skip is just the latest low-budget (a reported $7 million), low-expectation family film to score at the box office. The Tigger Movie (which cost $5 million) has grossed almost $40 million in five weeks, and Snow Day, starring Chevy Chase, is nearing the $60 million mark. Not bad for movies without big stars or the merchandising clout of last year’s Pokemon: The First Movie or Toy Story 2.

With Leo-mania ebbing, has kiddie fare become Hollywood’s one sure thing? ”There’s always been a need for good family movies,” says Paramount vice chairman Robert Friedman, but ”the quality of the last six months has kept families’ moviegoing appetite up.” The playground set, however, can be just as finicky as its parents: Last summer, Warner Bros.’ The Iron Giant opened to critical kudos — but proved a midget moneymaker. As DreamWorks goes prospecting this month with The Road to El Dorado, Skip director Jay Russell offers this wisdom: ”Our ace in the hole was the dog. People like dogs. That was, no pun intended, our leg up on the competition.”

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