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‘Frozen’ stays hot at box office

The holidays are a time when family friendly films pack in audiences. But even in a season when G and PG fare comes with a built-in head start, it’s hard not to be impressed by what “Frozen” has done.

“Frozen” finished in second place at the box office last weekend, its fifth in wide release, with $28.6 million. As the numbers came in throughout the weekend, the film even challenged the more recently released “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” for the top box-office slot, and wound up finishing just $400,000 behind it despite playing in 600 fewer theaters.

“Frozen’s” total stands at nearly $250 million since it went wide in late November, a solid number.

But it’s the way the Chris Buck/ Jennifer Lee film – Disney’s musical retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” – has reached the milestone that is unusual.

Though “Frozen” was in 150 fewer theaters last weekend compared with the previous weekend, its ticket sales surged 46 percent, nearly unheard of in an industry in which weekly drops are the rule.

In its own way, “Frozen” has the kind of cinematic virtues we associate with legendary films from Hollywood’s past that we don’t see much in mainstream movies – likable characters, clever dialogue, great songs and big emotional payoffs.

In the last few years, animated movies that opened in the fall with an eye toward playing through the holidays – “Puss in Boots,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” a pair of “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movies, “Madagascar Escape 2 Africa” – were out of the top five by the time their fifth weekend of wide release rolled around. Even Pixar blockbusters such as “Toy Story 3” and “Finding Nemo” couldn’t stay in the top three during their second months of release.

In fact, films in general can’t sustain that kind of momentum. “Frozen,” then, is in the uncommon realm of general-interest, spectacle-driven phenomena such as “Gravity,” which hung on at No. 5 in its fifth week, and “Avatar,” which continued to win the weekend on its seventh weekend.

Some of “Frozen’s” success is due to timing – this is a propitious time of year for animated movies, and there isn’t a lot out there to feed that appetite.

There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of movie hits – the splashy release that catches fire pretty much the moment it comes out and the word-of-mouth hit that chugs along, performing well week in and week out.

In an age when most studio releasing is about hammering the audience early and grabbing the receipts quickly, the latter is more rare.

“Frozen” is the doubly rare species: the film that operates on both levels.

It’s certainly a movie that made its mark right out of the gate. It opened in wide release on Thanksgiving weekend to $67 million, just behind juggernaut “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” and went on to win the box office in its second weekend.

Over its first 12 days of wide release , the film had racked up a whopping $134 million. But it also has proved a word-of-mouth smash, thanks to its crowd-pleasing mix of stirring action, catchy music and stunning visuals.