Is Hollywood seeing double?


This week’s movie openings include an animated comedy about animals that escape from a New York zoo and end up in their natural habitat in Africa. No, not that animated comedy about animals that escape from a New York zoo and end up in their natural habitat in Africa.

Yes, this week’s “The Wild” sounds an awful lot like last year’s “Madagascar,” and it’s not the first time the original minds of Hollywood have cooked up two nearly simultaneous movies that seem to have been separated at birth. For a variety of reasons, it happens all the time:

‘The Wild’ (2006) ‘Madagascar’ (2005)

Creating a movie frame by frame means animated movies take longer than any other kind of movie to make, so there’s lots of time for word to get around Hollywood that Disney or Dreamworks or Fox or whoever has a new cartoon in the works. And lots of time to take that same basic idea and develop a spin on it.

So, “The Wild” and “Madagascar” could be a coincidence, and it could have been a coincidence when both “A Bug’s Life” and “Antz” came out within weeks of each other in 1998. But Pixar, which made “Bug’s,” didn’t seem to think so – ever since, they’ve been mum about upcoming projects. After this June’s “Cars,” nothing has been announced, although there’s something called “Ratatouille” in the hopper, and that probably means some other studio is shoving “Bouillabaisse” into pre-production even as you read this. (Pixar had the last laugh, anyway – “Antz” beat it into theaters, but “A Bug’s Life” was pitched as a follow-up to the hugely popular “Toy Story” and outgrossed “Antz” by $70 million.)

‘Dante’s Peak’ (1997) ‘Volcano’ (1997)

Based on the multiplex, 1997 was the biggest year for molten lava since Krakatoa erupted – not because of any climatological changes, but because Hollywood was riding the crest of renewed interest in disaster movies. Earthquakes? Floods? Fires? Hollywood had already been there/exploded that, so volcanoes were a natural. The conventional wisdom is that the first of a pair of look-alikes usually does best at the box office, and that was the case here, with “Dante” earning $67 million and “Volcano” $47 million.

‘Deep Impact’ (1998) ‘Armageddon’ (1998)

Just as 1997 was the year for mountains to explode, 1998 was the year for meteors to plummet toward Earth while young lovers (Elijah Wood and Leelee Sobieski in “Deep,” Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler in “Armageddon”) spooned. Both films earned more than $150 million, but, even though it opened later, “Armageddon” was more successful because it had a choice summer release date and boasted bigger stars.

‘Capote’ (2005) ‘Infamous’ (2006)

One of the stranger instances of Hollywood doubling its pleasure is this coincidental confluence of Truman Capote biopics. Capote’s books, particularly “In Cold Blood,” have sold well for five decades, but recent interest seems to have been kicked off by publication of a couple of biographies of Capote in the “90s. Last year’s tragic “Capote” was based on Gerald Clarke’s sympathetic portrait of the boozing, bitchy writer. The upcoming “Infamous,” stuck with the tag of “the other Capote film,” has struggled to define itself, as evidenced by its three titles: “Have You Heard,” “Every Word Is True” and the current “Infamous.”

Inspired by George Plimpton’s oral history of Capote’s life, it has big stars in supporting roles (Sandra Bullock plays the part of Harper Lee, which earned Catherine Keener an Oscar nomination in “Capote”; Daniel “007” Craig is murderer Perry White; and Gwyneth Paltrow shows up as Peggy Lee), but an unknown Brit, Toby Jones, plays Capote.

It’s apparently a sharper comic film that deals more with Capote’s relationships with the society women who broke his heart (Hope Davis as Slim Keith, Sigourney Weaver as Babe Paley).

‘Chasing Liberty’ (2004) ‘First Daughter’ (2004)

Two studios thought a comedy about the romantic tribulations of the president’s spawn seemed like a swell idea. But both movies bombed, and who even remembers which one starred Mandy Moore and which one starred Katie Holmes?

‘Big’ (1988) ‘Like Father Like Son’ (1987) ‘18 Again’ (1988) ‘Vice Versa’ (1988)

Sometimes an idea is so elemental that you can easily imagine how somebody pitched it at a meeting and the next day every studio in town was working it. In this case, a hokey concept that was, let’s face it, a rip-off of “Freaky Friday” – man is transplanted into the body of a kid – nevertheless flourished when Tom Hanks appeared in the fourth and final grown-man-acting-like-a-kid comedy.