UPDATE 1-Cartoon birds, bunnies rule world box office

* “Rio” earns $55 million at foreign box office

* “Hop” remains No. 1 in North America

* “Arthur” remake, Natalie Portman comedy both bomb
(New throughout with analysis, recasts lead)

LOS ANGELES, April 10 (Reuters) – “Rio,” the 3D animated
misadventure of a Brazilian macaw, soared at the international
box office, earning about $55 million in its opening weekend,
its distributor said on Sunday.

Ahead of its Friday debut in North America, the 20th
Century Fox release got an early start in 72 countries, opening
at No. 1 in nearly all of them.

Top markets included Russia ($10.4 million) and, naturally,
Brazil ($8.3 million), where it ranked as the biggest opening
ever for an animated cartoon.

The cartoon revolves around Blu, a rare blue macaw (voiced
by Jesse Eisenberg of “The Social Network”), who returns to his
native Brazil after a coddled existence as a smuggled pet in
America.

It was directed by Carlos Saldanha, the Rio de Janeiro-born
director of the “Ice Age” trilogy. Both those films and “Rio”
were produced by Blue Sky Studios, and distributed by News
Corp-owned Fox (NWSA.O: Quote, Profile, Research).

Animation also ruled in the United States and Canada, where
the Easter-themed romp “Hop” was No. 1 for a second weekend,
overcoming a challenge from a middling band of newcomers.

The live-action/computer-animated hybrid earned $21.7
million during the three days beginning Friday, taking its
10-day total to $68.2 million. Brash English comedian Russell
Brand voices the teenage son of the Easter Bunny who dreams of
becoming a rock’n’roll drummer in Hollywood.

The family picture was produced by Illumination
Entertainment, the animation firm behind last year’s hit
“Despicable Me,” and distributed by Universal Pictures, a unit
of Comcast Corp’s (CMCSA.O: Quote, Profile, Research) NBC Universal.

Brand also claimed the No. 2 spot in North America with the
costly new remake of “Arthur,” which opened with a
disappointing $12.6 million.

PORTMAN COMEDY DISAPPOINTS

But at least it did better than newly minted Oscar winner
Natalie Portman’s medieval stoner comedy, “Your Highness,”
which opened at No. 6 with just $9.5 million.

Also new were two films with young heroines. “Hanna,” an
action movie starring 16-year-old Saoirse Ronan as an assassin,
was No. 3 with $12.3 million. “Soul Surfer,” the true-life
story of a teen who lost her arm to a shark, was No. 4 with
$11.1 million. Both were in far fewer theaters than “Arthur.”

Stepping in for Dudley Moore, the star of the 1981
original, Brand plays a childish playboy. Helen Mirren fills in
for John Gielgud as his quick-witted nanny. The film’s
distributor, Warner Bros. Pictures, said it had hoped for an
opening in the mid-teen millions. The film cost in the mid-$60
million range to make.

The Time Warner Inc (TWX.N: Quote, Profile, Research) unit said older audiences
rushed out to see it — almost two-thirds of viewers were aged
25 and over — but those under 25 gave it a better rating in
exit polls. The studio said it will tweak its marketing to
focus on younger moviegoers during the spring break school
holiday.

“Hanna” drew a younger audience, with almost two-thirds of
viewers aged under 35, said distributor Focus Features. The
studio also noted a strong support from Latino and black
moviegoers. Focus is also part of NBC Universal.

“Soul Surfer,” an inspirational tale targeted in part at
religious audiences, exceeded expectations and received a rare
“A-plus” rating in exit surveys conducted by tracking firm
CinemaScore, said Sony Corp (6758.T: Quote, Profile, Research) (SNE.N: Quote, Profile, Research)-owned distributor
TriStar Pictures.

AnnaSophia Robb stars in the $18 million picture as Bethany
Hamilton, a surfer who overcame the odds to become a champion
again after losing her arm. Women accounted for 80 percent of
the audience, and 56 percent of viewers were aged under 25.

“Your Highness,” on the other hand, cost about $50 million
to make and received an ominous “C-plus” CinemaScore rating.
The spoof follows two royal brothers, played by Danny McBride
and James Franco, on a quest to rescue the former’s bride.
Portman plays a mysterious warrior. Universal Pictures said it
was disappointed that its “bold idea” fell flat.
(Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Eric Beech)

UPDATE 1-Cartoon birds, bunnies rule world box office