SUNDAY AM: The holiday movie season officially opened big this weekend with North American box office grosses up 29% over last year’s. Moviegoers once again had a huge appetite for Hollywood animation, even when it’s a sequel that broke absolutely no new ground with respect to the genre. So DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa distributed by Paramount had an even stronger opening than anticipated by movie analysts. It made $17.6 million Friday and $27.6 million Saturday from a very wide release of 4,056 theaters for a $63.5M first weekend including Sunday’s estimated take. Yowza! That far exceeds the performance of the 2005 original, which opened to $47.2M for the three-day Memorial Weekend. And it smashes Kung Fu Panda‘s June 6th-8th three-day weekend take from 4,114 venues of $60.2M that set Dreamworks Animation’s all-time non-sequel opening. It also turned out to be the biggest animated opening of the year above the $63.1M of Pixar/Disney’s Wall-E. Paramount boasted that this is the fifth $40 million opening it has released in one year — Cloverfield, Iron Man, Indy 4Kung Fu Panda, and now this film — and claimed it was a first for any studio’s distribution division. Madagascar 2‘s success just goes to show that the strategy of making 90-minute toons is shrewd: not only can theaters get in a lot of screenings, but both parents and offspring can sit through anything that short without too much squirming. Once again, my pet theory is proven: that almost any animated film featuring characters with fur does better at the box office.

Universal released one of those rare R-rated raunchy comedies not made by Judd Apatow and it far exceeded movie analysts’ expectations. The studio had projected no more than an $11 million opening for No. 2 Role Models whose tracking showed middling awareness but decent interest with the under-25 set (both males and females followed by older males). Even most rival studios thought the low-cost pic would make low teens. So it’s a surprise that Role Models debuted with $6.6 million Friday and $7.5 million Saturday (+14%) for a $19.2M weekend. There’s clearly pent-up demand for adult laffers and pairing Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd with director David Wain didn’t hurt. (I’m told that it was Rudd who suggested the studio hire Wain.) “We’ve had success placing R-rated movies against family oriented fare — American Gangster against Bee Movie, Wanted against Wall-E,” a Universal insider told me.

Disney’s High School Musical 3: Senior Year ended the weekend No. 3 by adding another $9.2 million for a fresh cume of $75.7M. I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney decides to insure Zac Efron’s six-pack abs for millions. Universal’s Oscar-touted Changeling directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Angelina Jolie came in No. 4 with a $7.2M weekend and new cume of $20.5M. The Weinstein Co’s holdover Zach and Miri Makes A Porno was No. 5 adding another $6.5 million weekend for a fresh cume of $20.9M.

As expected, The Weinstein Co/MGM’s Soul Men tanked for only 6th despite starring the late Bernie Mac which should have enabled it to overperform with African-American audiences. But it eked out $1.7 million Friday and $2.4 million Saturday from 2,044 theaters for just an estimated $5.6M weekend.

MGM/Sony’s Quantum Of Solace was the #1 film in every international territory where it opened this week. Its box office grosses also have been bigger in every territory than Casino Royale, which was Daniel Craig’s debut as 007, with 13 countries doubling the 21st Bond pic’s earnings. The sequel (No. 22) has now opened in 60 countries on 9,870 screens for a $106.5M weekend and new 10-day cume of $160.3M with the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, and Japan still to go. There should be $200M in the bank by the time Quantum Of Solace debuts in North America Friday. It enjoyed a record-setting debut in the UK, France and Sweden last weekend. Then on Wednesday it had the 2nd biggest opening day ever for a non-Chinese picture in China (behind Spider-Man 3) and scored the 9th biggest opening day ever in The Phillippines, the 4th biggest opening day ever in Indonesia, and 2008’s biggest opening day in Belgium. On Thursday, it had India’s biggest opening day of 2008 and the second biggest opening day ever for a non-Indian film (behind Spider-Man 3). Over this weekend, Quantum Of Solace scored within the Top 20 openings of all time in 35 territories.

Miramax’s Oscar-touted Holocaust drama The Boy In The Striped Pajamas based on John Boyne’s book, debuted in 17 theaters of 8 markets with $255K  for the weekend. Lionsgate’s Repo! The Genetic Opera, Darren Lynn Bousman’s Paris Hilton-Paul Sorvino starrer, opened in 8 theaters for a $51.5K weekend.

Overall, it looks like a big weekend at the box office with total grosses shaping up to approach $145M, +28.8% from last year’s $112.5M.

The rest of the Top 10 were holdovers:.

1. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) $63.5M wkd from 4,056 theaters.

2. Role Models (Universal) $19.2M wkd from 2,792 theaters.

3. High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Disney) $9.2M wkd from 3,464 theaters. $75.7M cume.

4. Changeling (Universal) $7.2M wkd from 1,855 theaters. $20.5M cume.

5. Zack And Miri Make A Porno (The Weinstein Co) $6.5M wkd from 2,735 theaters. $20.9M cume.

6. Soul Men (The Weinstein Co/MGM) $5.6 wkd from 2,044 theaters.

7. Saw V (Twisted Picture/Lionsgate) $4.2M wkd from 2,829 theaters. $52.3M cume.

8. The Haunting Of Molly Hartley (Freestyle Releasing) $3.5M wkd from 2,576 theaters. $10.2M cume.

9. The Secret Life Of Bees (Fox Searchlight) $3.1M wkd from 1,481 theaters. $29.9M cume.

10. Eagle Eye (DreamWorks/Paramount) $2.5M wkd from 1,407 theaters. $96.4M cume.