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Posted at 01:05 PM ET, 06/26/2011

‘CARS 2’ LAPS FIELD: Pixar’s latest wins weekend with $68M debut


SPOKE-AND-DAGGER: “CARS 2” centers on the high-speed adventures of Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), left, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and spy Finn McMissile (Michael Caine). (AP — DISNEY/PIXAR)

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What the critics don’t know, John Lasseter understands.

The Disney/Pixar honcho’s “Cars 2” exceeded industry predictions, crossing the domestic-debut finish line with a $68-million weekend.

The undefeated Pixar is now 12-for-12, with every one of its feature films having won the opening weekend since 1995’s Lasseter-directed “Toy Story.”

Based on early critical drubbings, Hollywood prognosticators had said “Cars 2” would open in the $50-million to $55-mill range. So much for trying to outguess John Lasseter when assessing the public’s taste.


JOHN LASSETER (Matt Sayles/ - AP)
Perhaps what Lasseter knows is that not every Pixar film must tug at the heartstrings or be a three-hanky affair. Maybe he knows that American audiences like speed and spies and handy cross-cultural gags. Or that most 12-year-olds — let alone many grown-up 12-year-olds — pay no mind to reviews.

Mostly, he should know that after 16 years of building cinematic good-will with generations, Pixar stands for something that loyal fans appreciate. [For more on that, check out: “PIXAR PILE-UP: Is ‘Cars 2’ crashing into overheated expectations?”]

When final adjusted numbers are released Monday, “Cars 2” might even top Pixar’s beloved “Up,” which debuted with $68.1-million two years ago. The studio’s weekend record remains last year’s “Toy Story 3” and its $110-million domestic debut (“TS3” went on to gross more than a billion dollars globally).

The “Cars 2” opening allows Disney to leave the critics in the dust. Nearly 150 reviewers on RottenTomatoes.com cumulatively give “Cars” 2.0 a woefully low score of “33 percent” — a previously unheard-of figure for a Pixar release — and the public’s favorable rating was at 69 percent (not abysmal, but hardly Pixaresque).

“Cars 2” also scores a middling “58” on Metacritic.com — notably more than 20 points lower than “Cars 2: The Video Game’s” reviewer index.

Yet partly boosted by higher 3-D ticket prices, “Cars 2” had the fifth-biggest opening ever for a Pixar film and the fourth-biggest June opening ever for any film.

And who’s the record-holder in that latter category? “Toy Story 3,” natch.


"Toy Story: Hawaiian Vacation" — which reunites Woody, Buzz and the whole gang — is showing in theaters as the short film before “Cars 2.” (AP — DISNEY/PIXAR)
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Elsewhere, the debut of “Bad Teacher” grossed $31-million and Warner Bros./DC’s “Green Lantern” made nearly $18.4-million, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.

Another superhero film, “X-Men: First Class,” was sixth ($ 6.6-million).

It was also a good weekend for Owen Wilson: Besides voicing star-car Lightning McQueen in “Cars 2,” he also stars in the critical darling “Midnight in Paris,” the Woody Allen film was 10th ($4.5-million) and has now grossed more than $50-million worldwide.

By  |  01:05 PM ET, 06/26/2011

 
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