* “Toy Story 3” leads worldwide box office
* North American debut sets record for Pixar
* “Jonah Hex” a major flop (Adds ranking for “Jonah Hex” and other films)
LOS ANGELES, June 20 (Reuters) - Welcome back, Woody and Buzz.
After a decade-plus absence from theaters, the animated heroes of “Toy Story 3” sold $153.8 million worth of tickets during their opening weekend at the worldwide box office, according to estimates issued on Sunday by distributor Walt Disney Co (DIS.N).
Moviegoers in the United States and Canada accounted for $109 million, a new opening record for a film produced by Disney’s Pixar Animation unit. The old mark of $70.5 million was set by “The Incredibles” in May 2004.
Only two other cartoons have opened to more than $100 million — “Shrek the Third” with $122 million in 2007, and “Shrek 2” with $108 million in 2004.
Pundits had forecast a $100 million-plus opening for the film, which was universally acclaimed by critics and marks the debut appearance of Mattel Inc’s MAT.N Barbie and Ken.
Pixar’s perfect record of 11 No. 1 movies also remains intact, as expected. “Nobody’s had that kind of success,” said Chuck Viane, president of Disney’s theatrical distribution arm. “Everything about this movie just oozes success.”
Woody the cowboy (voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear the space ranger (Tim Allen) and their pals in the toy chest starred in Pixar’s debut release, “Toy Story,” in 1995. The film inaugurated the era of computer-generated animation. They returned in November 1999 with a sequel that opened to $57.3 million in North America.
Ticket prices have risen since then, and “Toy Story 3” received an extra boost from premium pricing for 3D screenings, which accounted for about 60 percent of sales, Disney said.
If Disney’s estimate holds when final data are issued Monday, “Toy Story 3” will rank as the biggest June opener in North America, breaking the record of $108.97 held by last year’s “Transformers” sequel.
While “Toy Story 3” was a preordained hit, the film did have to contend with a soft marketplace. Business was weak in May, the start of the lucrative summer moviegoing season, with movies such as “Sex and the City 2” and “Shrek Forever After” underperforming their predecessors.
Sales picked up last weekend when Sony Corp’s (6758.T) (SNE.N) “Karate Kid” smashed forecasts with a $56 million debut. The remake slipped to No. 2 with $29 million, taking its 10-day total to $106.3 million.
The international “Toy Story 3” total of $44.8 million included a combined $20 million from Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, despite intense interest there in the World Cup soccer tournament. China kicked in $9.5 million, setting a new record for a cartoon, Disney said.
Also new at the North American box office was the comic-book adaptation “Jonah Hex,” which is an early contender for biggest flop of the year.
The movie, starring Josh Brolin as a Western bounty hunter, earned just $5.1 million during its first three days, tying at No. 7 with Lionsgate Entertainment Corp’s <LGF.N “Killers.”. Pundits had generously forecast an $8 million-$10 million start for the $35 million-plus Warner Bros. release.
“It just didn’t work,” said Jeff Goldstein, executive VP of distribution at the Time Warner Inc TWX.N unit. He said the writing was on the wall about eight months ago when research screenings forced the studio to conduct re-shoots.
In its second weekend, “The A-Team” slipped to No. 3 with $13.8 million, taking the total for the slow-starting action-adventure to $50 million. The Russell Brand comedy “Get Him to the Greek” held at No. 4 with $6.1 million, for a three-week haul of $48 million. “Shrek Forever After” fell to No. 5 with $5.5 million, taking a big hit from “Toy Story 3.” Its five-week total stands at $223 million.
“The A-Team” was released by News Corp’s (NWSA.O) 20th Century Fox. “Get Him to the Greek” was released by General Electric Co’s (GE.N) Universal Pictures. The DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc DWA.O-produced “Shrek Forever After” was released by Viacom Inc’s VIAb.N Paramount Pictures. (Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Paul Simao)