With ‘Simpsons’ Flick, ‘Shrek 3′ On The Way, Animation May Rule In ’07

'Ratatouille,' also set for release next year, reteams 'Incredibles' director Brad Bird with Pixar.

Take a look at the box-office reports for the weekend and you’ll likely see an animated film at or near the top. Never mind which film. Never mind which weekend.

It’s been that kind of year for fans of animation, with “Cars,” “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” “Over the Hedge” and “Happy Feet” all cracking $100 million domestically, and “Open Season,” “Monster House” and “Barnyard” right behind them. Sure, most of those films are about animals, but animation doesn’t have to be — it’s the most flexible of all the filmmaking methods.

Walt Disney once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Here are the 10 dreams we’re looking forward to in 2007:

10. “Surf’s Up”
Before you groan at the prospect of another penguin movie (and we feel your pain), consider that this one is told as a mockumentary. It’s “Spinal Tap” meets “Happy Feet,” with a story that suggests that penguins invented surfing. The trailer for “Surf’s Up” was one of the best of 2006.

9. “Meet the Robinsons”
Remarkably, this is the 46th feature from Walt Disney Studios — what a weird, wild trip it’s been since “Snow White.” “Meet the Robinsons” follows Lewis, an introverted inventor, as he’s whisked to the future to hunt the Bowler Hat Guy and save the world. Social outcast? Check. Missing parents? Check. Rollicking adventure wherein our hero discovers the importance of family? Check. Yup, this one’s a Disney film.

8. “Aqua Teen Hunger Force: The Movie”
Concerned about the escalating costs of Hollywood films? Try making one for under $1 million. Master Shake, Frylock and Meatwad team up for a low-budget, big-screen adaptation of their popular Adult Swim cartoon. Here’s hoping the filmmakers don’t water down their aggressive, mean-spirited humor to capture a larger audience.

7. “TMNT”
They may eat pizza covered in marshmallows and shout “Cowabunga,” but while Michaelangelo, Raphael, Donatello and Leonardo are stuck in perpetual adolescence, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ story is about to get all grown-up. The first film in the popular franchise in 14 years, “TMNT” promises a darker, grittier re-imagining of the titular turtles. All shell breaks loose March 23 (see “New Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Flick: Slightly Less Pizza, A Lot Less Cheese” ).

6. “Enchanted”
Has Disney gotten self-aware? A live-action/animation hybrid, “Enchanted” follows a fairy-tale princess (Amy Adams) banished to the real world, where she’ll learn whether or not all stories end “happily ever after.” It may poke fun at Disney’s past, but the talent behind the music is no laughing matter: Eight-time Academy Award-winner Alan Menken (“Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast”) teams with Broadway legend Stephen Schwartz (“Pippin,” “Godspell”). It doesn’t take a magic mirror to predict that we’ll be humming their songs all the way to next year’s Oscars.

5. “Beowulf”
First Gollum and Davy Jones, and now Grendel? “Violent and very, very weird” is how co-writer Neil Gaiman describes his adaptation of the Old English classic, starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Robert Zemeckis with the same motion-capture technology pioneered on “The Polar Express.” How do you get moviegoers interested in a 1,000-year-old epic poem? How about by making it NC-17? Filmmakers are currently debating simultaneously releasing two versions of the film (NC-17 and PG-13) when it hits theaters in November.

4. “Bee Movie”
Jerry Seinfeld starred in the most popular sitcom of the ’90s and ended the show at its height. Now he’s a bee in an animated film? Get out! Co-written by Seinfeld, the movie centers on a war between bees and humans — a big departure for a man whose show was famous for being about nothing. “Bee Movie” opens November 2.

3. “The Simpsons Movie”
How many times do you think Bart scribbled “We will not cash in on ‘The Simpsons’ until we have a great film idea” on the blackboard after school? A movie based on the longest-running sitcom in television history is the biggest no-brainer in animation. With legal eagle Erin Brockovich confirmed as a voice, early plot speculation has it that C. Montgomery Burns and his nuclear power plant will play a large role. Excellent!

2. “Shrek the Third”
Good things for this movie come in threes: There’s Shrek, Donkey and Puss in Boots, who together must convince young Prince Artie (Justin Timberlake) to take the crown in Far Far Away. Then there are appearances from Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel (the “SNL” triumvirate of Amy Poehler, Cheri Oteri and Maya Rudolph, respectively), who join Fiona to fight off a coup from Prince Charming. This one’s a guaranteed hit — the only thing greener than Shrek is the money the franchise continues to rake in.

1. “Ratatouille”
Remember the last time Pixar made a bad movie? Yeah, neither do we. “Ratatouille” reteams the wizards behind “Cars” and “Toy Story” with “The Incredibles” director Brad Bird for the story of a Parisian rat who dreams of becoming a chef. Will it make Patton Oswalt (the voice of Remy) a household name? Inspire a love of French cuisine? One thing’s for sure: It’ll be competing for best animated film at the Oscars come 2008.

Check out everything we’ve got on “TMNT,” “The Simpsons Movie” and “Shrek the Third.”

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