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17 years after Disney's The Lion King became a box office phenomenon, the beloved cartoon returned to the top of the box office with the release of The Lion King 3D.

In one of the biggest surprises of the year, the limited release of The Lion King 3D pulled in $29.3 million on opening weekend - far ahead of what pre-release polling indicated.

That figure is more than the combined total of the three new movies released: Drive, I Don't Know How She Does It, and Straw Dogs. It is also twice that of last week's No. 1 film, Contagion.

The Lion King is the first re-release to hit the top spot in 15 years. Not since Star Wards Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, has a re-release fared so well.

Analysts predicted the cartoon to do a modest $14 million because of its availability on home video. The film more than doubled that.

Coming in second at the box office was Steven Soderbergh's thriller Contagion in its second week of release.

The highest grossing new release (of a previously unreleased film) was Drive, starring Ryan Gosling. The film took in $11 million in its opening weekend. The stylized action flick topped the remake of Straw Dogs and I Don't Know How She Does It, both of which took in a sluggish $5 million.

Meanwhile, critic and audience favorite The Help, remained strong after several weeks in theaters, coming in at No. 4.

Yet, The Lion King 3D ruled the theatrical jungle.

Families turned out in full force to see the 3D conversion of the 1994 animated classic (though some theaters are simply playing it in 2D). The release was largely intended to promote the Oct. 4 release of the Blu-Ray edition of the film, but the theatrical run is taking on a life of its own.

About 88% of the nation's reviewers recommended the movie, while 89% of fans gave it a thumbs-up, according to survey site Rottentomatoes.com.

Since its debut in 1994, The Lion King has grossed a remarkable $788.2 million globally. It is the highest grossing hand-drawn animated film of all time and is credited with ushering in what is known as the Disney Renaissance. The show spawned a highly successful Broadway production and several television knock-offs.

The Lion King 3D is performing far better than the Disney re-release of Toy Story 2 3D, which earned just $3.3 million on its first day in 2009.

Many credit the success of The Lion King re-release to the fact that the generation of people who grew up with the much-loved animated film now have kids of their own who they can take to the theater to share the experience.

Plenty of parents are interested in experiencing Simba's story on the big screen again while introducing the fun to a whole new generation, Gitesh Pandya, of Boxofficeguru.com, told USA Today. The theatrical experience still makes for an exciting family activity at the start of this new school year, especially since there has been nothing major for the kids since July's The Smurfs.

If The Lion King 3D continues on its track, it could become one of the top five grossing movies in box office history to for the typically sluggish month of September.

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