Triplets, Mansion Haunt U.S. Theaters

French director Sylvain Chomet’s animated masterpiece The Triplets of Belleville makes its eagerly awaited U.S. debut today, but the limited release will no doubt be overshadowed by Disney’s second theme park ride-based movie since Pirates of the Caribbean. The Mouse House hopes The Haunted Mansion will scare up laughs and high box office numbers over the long holiday weekend.

Triplets opens in New York and Los Angeles and will spread out to other cities in the coming weeks. Distributed domestically by Sony Pictures Classics, the beautifully animated 2D film tells the story of Champion, a competitive cyclist who is kidnapped by the French Mafia. His grandmother, Madame Souza, sets out to rescue him with the help of her overweight dog, Bruno, and a washed-up trio of music hall singers known as the "Triplets of Belleville."

The film masterfully balances quiet moments with absurd humor and even tosses in some madcap comedy for good measure. And for those who are opposed to reading at the movies, there are no subtitles because there is no dialogue. The film has qualified for Oscar consideration and is favored to be one of this year’s three nominees. It is rated PG-13 for some violence, crude humor and a scene involving an animated counterpart to Josephine Baker.

Directed by Lion King and Stuart Little helmer Rob Minkoff, Haunted Mansion stars Eddie Murphy as a workaholic who travels for a job interview and unwittingly checks his family into a haunted house. Bringing the ride frights to the big screen was the work of CIS Hollywood, SPI and Sony Pictures Imageworks.

Backed by good marketing, the supernatural family comedy/adventure should open well despite the specter of negative reviews. Cat in the Hat attendance is expected to drop off considerably in its second week, making some room for a new contender, even one perhaps better suited for release around Halloween than Thanksgiving. Murphy is also a proven draw for the target market, considering past hits like The Nutty Professor and Dr. Dolittle. The Haunted Mansion is rated PG.

Also being released today is Paramount’s EFX-laden time-travel actioner Timeline, based on the book by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton. The film stars Paul Walker as an archeology student who is transported back to the 14th century to find his father, who used wormhole technology to experience history first hand. Industrial Light & Magic provided the EFX work. The film is directed and produced by Hollywood veteran Richard Donner and co-produced by Lauren Shuler Donner.