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Box office: With more than $81 million in ticket sales, 'Moana' feasts on the Thanksgiving competition

Box office: With more than $81 million in ticket sales, 'Moana' feasts on the Thanksgiving competition
"Moana," which won the Thanksgiving box office, stars Auli’i Cravalho as a princess on a mission, and Dwayne Johnson as a tattooed demigod who accompanies her. (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

Disney's "Moana" sailed to No. 1 at the box office over the long holiday weekend, with estimated ticket sales of $81.1 million — more than enough to bump last week's chart-topper, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," to No. 2 on the U.S. tally.

Even more encouraging for Disney, though, might be that “Moana” — an animated musical about a Polynesian princess on a mission to save her island — now holds the record for the second-biggest five-day Thanksgiving opening.

Its haul from Wednesday to Sunday beat that of Pixar's "Toy Story 2," which raked in $80.1 million in 1999. Early box-office returns for "Moana" came close to matching figures for 2013's "Frozen," which leads the five-day Thanksgiving list. But in the end, Disney's summery adventure fell short of the wintry crown holder's unsurpassed $93.5-million opening.

In fact, with the addition of "Moana" (and Disney's 2006 acquisition of Pixar), nine of the 10 movies with the biggest five-day Thanksgiving openings are Disney titles, according to Box Office Mojo, including "Tangled," "The Good Dinosaur" and "Enchanted."

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The trailer for Disney's "Moana." (Walt Disney Pictures)

"We've created something of a tradition," said Dave Hollis, the studio's distribution chief, who described the Thanksgiving weekend as "an ideal corridor" for a family-friendly picture like "Moana."

"When you get multiple generations around a table, and they're looking to go to the cinema, this is the movie they can all go see," he said. Hollis added that Disney plans to maintain its hold on the time period, with a slate of upcoming films scheduled through "the next four Thanksgivings."

"Moana," featuring Dwayne Johnson as a tattooed demigod who accompanies a princess (voiced by 16-year-old Auli'i Cravalho) on her journey, was helped to No. 1 by rave reviews and an A grade from the audience-polling firm CinemaScore.

"Those seeking a vacation from everyday reality without springing for that last-minute island getaway will scarcely believe their good fortune," wrote Times film critic Justin Chang, who called the movie "bright, bouncy [and] insistently enchanting."

The animated film also benefited from widespread buzz about its songs co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the smash Broadway musical “Hamilton.” Early Sunday, the “Moana” soundtrack sat at No. 3 on iTunes’ album chart, ahead of titles by Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga and Miranda Lambert.

In a recent interview with The Times, Lin-Manuel Miranda said he was "pleasantly surprised" by the input he and his fellow composers, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa'i, had on the film.

In production meetings, he said, "I felt comfortable diving in with, 'You don't need three scenes about that, I can do that in four lines.'"

Disney's Hollis described Miranda as "a man of the zeitgeist" and said his songs "are a big part of why people have responded so favorably" to "Moana."

Another family-oriented picture, Warner Bros.’ “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” finished the holiday weekend behind “Moana” with an estimated $65.7 million in ticket sales from Wednesday to Sunday.

The spinoff from the blockbuster "Harry Potter" franchise — it's the first of five planned "Fantastic Beasts" titles — opened Nov. 18 and made $75 million in its first weekend in theaters, for a total of $156 million.

Starring Eddie Redmayne, the movie also notched an A grade from CinemaScore, though its reviews weren't as strong "Moana's." Rotten Tomatoes, the review-aggregation site, gave the film a 77% score on its "freshness" scale, compared with "Moana's" 98%.

The decidedly more grown-up "Allied" — Paramount's World War II drama directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Brad Pitt as a dashing intelligence officer — brought in $18 million over the five-day weekend to debut at No. 4, behind Marvel's returning "Doctor Strange," which made $18.9 million in the same period.

Two other new movies failed to meet pre-release expectations.

Broad Green Pictures' "Bad Santa 2," with Billy Bob Thornton in the title role, did $9 million in business from Wednesday to Sunday — considerably less than the $16 million analysts had predicted, and shy of the $16.8 million the first "Bad Santa" opened with in 2003.

And Warren Beatty's "Rules Don't Apply," hampered by mixed reviews, disappointed with $2.1 million over five days in theaters. Writing in The Times, movie critic Kenneth Turan said the 20th Century Fox film about Howard Hughes — Beatty's first directorial outing since "Bulworth" in 1998 — is "not without its charms, but there aren't enough of them and they don't readily cohere."

Outside the Top 10, the Weinstein Co.’s “Lion” — starring Dev Patel as an Indian man on a quest for his lost family — had the weekend’s highest per-screen average, pulling down an estimated $32,092 on four screens.

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