‘Nemo’ Becomes the Big Fish at the Animation Box Office

Times Staff Writer

Nemo is nudging out Simba for a rarefied place in animation history.

Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Co.’s undersea adventure “Finding Nemo” is on track to become the highest-grossing animated film in the United States and Canada, surpassing Disney’s 1994 release “The Lion King.”

“Finding Nemo” took in $4.39 million over the weekend, bringing its total to $313.1 million in the nine weeks since its debut. “The Lion King” amassed $312.9 million during its domestic general release, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box-office sales.


The “Lion King” numbers don’t reflect the 39% rise in ticket prices since 1994. Nor do they reflect last year’s “Lion King” release on Imax Corp.’s wide-screen format, Exhibitor Relations said. Taking that into account, “Lion King” still is slightly ahead of “Nemo” in domestic box office.

But that’s likely to change in the next few weeks, Disney executives said.

“We’re just thrilled,” said Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook. “It’s going to be the biggest animated movie of all time, not only domestically but around the world.”

“Finding Nemo” is the fifth runaway hit for Pixar and Disney, whose four previous movies grossed $856 million in North America.

“It may be the most consistently performing collaboration in box-office history,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations.

The success is the latest good news for the Disney studio, which has been enjoying a strong year at the box office, most notably with the summer action movie “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

The success of “Nemo,” however, is a double-edged sword for Disney.

It is likely to give Pixar Chairman Steve Jobs more leverage to substantially change the economic terms of the partnership, giving Pixar a much greater share of the profit.

Under the companies’ existing deal -- which has yielded two “Toy Story” pictures, “Monsters, Inc.” and “A Bug’s Life,” in addition to “Finding Nemo” -- Disney and Pixar split production and marketing costs and share profit.

Disney takes home more than a 50% share because it also receives from Pixar a 12.5% distribution fee for releasing the movies in theaters and on video and DVD.

Emeryville, Calif.-based Pixar is said to be pushing for a deal similar to the one director George Lucas has with 20th Century Fox Film Corp. on his “Star Wars” franchise. The proposal would allow Pixar to retain ownership of its films while paying Disney a distribution fee of less than 10%.

“It bodes very well for Pixar in their negotiations with Disney,” said Ron Diamond, president and co-publisher of Animation World Network, a Los Angeles-based online animation service. “Most importantly, it speaks well for great, strong narrative filmmaking.”

Pixar is bound to Disney for two more movies: the 2004 film “The Incredibles” and the 2005 production “Cars.”

Sources say Pixar at the moment is negotiating exclusively with Disney.

Bloomberg News was used in compiling this report.



Animated hits

A look at the five top-grossing animated films in the U.S. and Canada.

Finding Nemo* (Disney/Pixar)

Released: May 2003

$313.1 million

The Lion King (Disney)

Released: June 1994

$312.9 million

Shrek (DreamWorks)

Released: May 2001

$267.7 million

Monsters, Inc. (Disney/Pixar)

Released: November 2001

$255.9 million

Toy Story 2 (Disney/Pixar)

Released: November 1999

$245.8 million

* In original release

Sources: Baseline, Walt Disney Co.

Los Angeles Times