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'Ratatouille' Cooks Up Lukewarm Box Office Win

A rat chased millions of moviegoers into theaters, but the furry star of "Ratatouille" also whipped up one of the worst openings in the history of Walt Disney's cartoon powerhouse Pixar Animation.

According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, "Ratatouille" about a rat who aspires to become a gourmet chef sold $47.2 million worth of tickets during its first three days. It took the No. 1 slot ahead of the new Bruce Willis movie "Live Free or Die Hard" with $33.2 million.

It was the lowest opening for a Pixar-produced release since the studio's second effort, "A Bug's Life," launched with $33.3 million in 1998 on its way to a $163 million total.

By contrast last year's Pixar entry, "Cars," drove off with $60.1 million -- a figure regarded as something of a disappointment -- and finished with $244 million.

If "Ratatouille" follows the same pattern as "Cars," it will gross about $189 million, becoming the third consecutive Pixar release to underperform its predecessor. But Disney was confident "Ratatouille" would easily pass $200 million.

Opening weekend predictions among financial analysts for "Ratatouille" had ranged from $50 million to $65 million. But movie industry polling had a more realistic target in the low $40 million range, according to Chuck Viane, Disney's president of domestic theatrical distribution.

Tough Competition

Viane said the competition was unprecedented, with "Ratatouille" boxed in by "Live Free or Die Hard," which got a two-day head start by opening on Wednesday, and by the Monday night release of the hotly anticipated "Transformers."

Still, with a little help from the July 4 holiday, he predicted that "Ratatouille" would be "as successful, if not more successful, than most" Pixar films.

The most successful of Pixar's seven previous releases was 2003's "Finding Nemo," with sales of $340 million. It opened to $70.3 million. A year later, "The Incredibles" kicked off with $70.5 million, but lost steam and settled at $261 million.

Both "Ratatouille" and "The Incredibles" were directed by Brad Bird. His latest effort revolves around a Parisian rat named Remy who dreams of gourmet stardom.

As usual with Pixar releases, critics heaped superlatives on the film. But it was no secret that Disney faced a marketing challenge with the movie: A rat in the kitchen raises hygiene concerns for some people.

Disney is still proving to investors that last year's acquisition of Pixar is worth its $7.4 billion price tag. "Ratatouille" is the first Pixar film to be released that was still in production when the Disney-Pixar deal was sealed.

Willis' "Live Free Or Die Hard" has earned $48.2 million in its first five days. The fourth episode of 20th Century Fox's action series, predictably skewed towards older males, the News Corp.-owned studio said. It enjoyed a 20% bump from Friday to Saturday, indicating strong word of mouth; "Ratatouille," by contrast, rose 3%.

Last weekend's champion "Evan Almighty," the first big disappointment of the summer box office, slipped to No. 3 with $15.1 million and a two-week total of $60.6 million.

With a reported budget of $175 million, the Steve Carell movie was the most expensive comedy ever made. It was released by Universal Pictures, a unit of General Electric's NBC Universal.

The top-10 contained two other new entries. Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore's "Sicko" opened at No. 9 with $4.5 million, in line with expectations. The follow-up to Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" played in just 441 theaters vs. 3,940 for "Ratatouille." It was fully financed by the closely held Weinstein Co. and released by Lionsgate, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment.

The drama "Evening," starring a slew of heavyweight actresses such as Vanessa Redgrave and Meryl Streep opened at No. 10 with a modest $3.5 million from 977 theaters. It was released by NBC Universal's art house arm Focus Features.