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Hollywood sticking to familiar themes this holiday season

Fri., Nov. 5, 2010

Hollywood is getting serious about series this holiday season.

One of film’s biggest franchises is nearing an end. Others are returning after long absences. Still more releases are taking baby steps toward becoming their own brands.

“With any of these, it’s the unwritten rule: it goes without saying that if it works well commercially, if there’s a following, the sequel is almost inevitable,” says Will Ferrell, who provides the voice of the title character in the animated comedy “Megamind,” which opens today.

Other returning series and franchise wannabes this month and next include “Little Fockers,” reuniting the “Meet the Parents” gang; the C.S. Lewis fantasy “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”; “Yogi Bear,” a big-screen take on the TV cartoon; “Gulliver’s Travels,” transplanting Jonathan Swift’s classic to modern times; and the science-fiction follow-up “Tron: Legacy.”

Of course, the holiday heavyweight is the next-to-last big-screen adventure of the world’s favorite teen wizard. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the final book in J.K. Rowling’s fantasy phenomenon, comes to theaters in two parts: the first on Nov. 19, the second next July.

The finale sends Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and pals Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) out on the road toward a last showdown with evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).

Here’s a look at other holiday highlights (release dates subject to change):

Family fare

“Megamind” casts Ferrell’s bulbous-headed super-villain against superhero Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt).

Also featuring the voices of Tina Fey and Jonah Hill, “Megamind” forces Ferrell’s character to join the good guys to stop a new menace that threatens the city.

Other family tales this season include “Yogi Bear” (Dec. 17), featuring the voices of Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake as the picnic-pilfering bear and his sidekick Boo Boo; and “The Nutcracker in 3D” (Nov. 24), with John Turturro and Elle Fanning in a new adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s holiday favorite.

Long time gone

Returning after a six-year absence are Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro in “Little Fockers” (Dec. 22), the third installment in the “Meet the Parents” comedy series.

Back after a 28-year gap is “Tron,” with Jeff Bridges reprising his role as a computer genius trapped in a deadly video-game virtual reality. “Tron: Legacy” (Dec. 17) features Garrett Hedlund as Bridges’ son, on a search for his missing father.

Bridges also plays Rooster Cogburn, a role originated by John Wayne, for a new take on “True Grit” (Dec. 25). Joel and Ethan Coen direct and Matt Damon co-stars in the Western about a dauntless girl who hires a tough marshal to track her father’s killer.

Heroes in action

Russell Crowe is an average guy planning a prison break in “The Next Three Days” (Nov. 19), the latest from director Paul Haggis, who made 2005 Academy Awards champ “Crash.”

Crowe plays a college instructor rooting out weaknesses in prison security so he can free his wife (Elizabeth Banks) for a murder she claims she didn’t commit.

Among other action tales: “Unstoppable” (Nov. 12) stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pine as railroad workers racing to halt a runaway train loaded with toxins; “Faster” (Nov. 24) features Dwayne Johnson as an ex-con pursued by a retiring cop (Billy Bob Thornton) and a hitman; an extraterrestrial menace threatens to destroy humanity in “Skyline” (Nov. 12), as hypnotic lights appear over Los Angeles.

Women and song

Mandy Moore lets her hair down as Rapunzel, the fairy-tale princess whose long locks are her ticket out of imprisonment in a tower, in Disney’s animated musical “Tangled” (Nov. 24).

And Christina Aguilera plays a waitress aiming to join the flashy musical revues at the club where she works in “Burlesque” (Nov. 24), which co-stars Cher, Stanley Tucci, Kristen Bell and Julianne Hough.

Helen Mirren pulls a gender switch on Shakespeare in director Julie Taymor’s adaptation of “The Tempest” (Dec. 10), playing the traditionally male sorcerer who lures old enemies for revenge and redemption on her secluded island.

Mirren won an Oscar for “The Queen” as British monarch Elizabeth II, whose father, George VI, is the subject of “The King’s Speech” (Nov. 26). The film stars Colin Firth as the reluctant monarch who fought an agonizing battle to overcome his stammer with help from a wily speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush).

Mike Leigh’s “Another Year” (Dec. 31) features Jim Broadbent leading an ensemble cast in a story about British friends and relations struggling through hope and hard knocks.

Reese Witherspoon lands in a love triangle in “How Do You Know” (Dec. 17), co-starring with Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson in the latest mix of comedy and drama from director James L. Brooks (“Terms of Endearment,” “As Good as It Gets”).

“Love & Other Drugs” (Nov. 24) casts Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway into difficult romantic straits involving an ambitious Viagra salesman and a woman struggling with disease.

Career issues abound on screen. “Morning Glory” (Nov. 10) features Harrison Ford as a tough newsman and Diane Keaton as an ex-beauty queen who clash after their producer (Rachel McAdams) pairs them as morning TV hosts.

“The Fighter” (Dec. 10) presents Christian Bale as troubled real-life boxer Dickie Eklund, who helped guide his half-brother Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) to triumph in the ring.

“Black Swan” (Dec. 3) stars Natalie Portman as a ballerina whose dark side emerges amid competition with a new rival (Mila Kunis), while “The Company Men” (Dec. 10) features Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper and Kevin Costner in a tale of executives downsized out of a job.

Travelers and adventurers

“Due Date” (today), the new comedy from “The Hangover” director Todd Phillips, maps the nightmare road trip taken by an uptight expectant father (Robert Downey Jr.) and a calamity-prone actor (Zach Galifianakis).

“The Tourist” (Dec. 10) pairs Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in a thriller about a brokenhearted traveler swept up in danger with a mystery woman in Europe.

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (Dec. 10) returns some of the young Pevensie clan to C.S. Lewis’ fantasy realm, where they embark on a maritime adventure with old pal Prince Caspian.

Jack Black visits the little people in “Gulliver’s Travels” (Dec. 22), playing a modern guy who washes up in a lost land where the citizens are only 3 inches tall.

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