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‘Cars’ hits the gas

China OKs pic; others still await ruling

After much wrangling and suspense, Pixar’s “Cars” will drive into Chinese multiplexes in late August, ending a summer season fraught with difficulties for Hollywood movies.

Yuan Wenqiang, general manager of the import and export division of China Film, said “Cars” had been approved.

Meanwhile, the fate of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” remains uncertain; the pic is awaiting approval from the Film Bureau, according to the official.

Chinese and foreign media have been flush with reports suggesting “Pirates” has been turned down on the grounds that its scenes of cannibalism would scare auds.

Mouse House sources said the Chinese government had previously ruled “Cars” inadmissible under its 20-title quota for revenue-sharing movies, but changed its position last week. The initial decision against a family-friendly film had puzzled the studio.

Disney spokeswoman Heidi Trotta confirmed “Cars” will be released in late August.

Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox is hoping for a positive ruling on its “X-Men: The Last Stand” in the next week.

“We’ve done everything possible on this one,” a Fox spokesman said, adding that star Hugh Jackman had done many interviews at last month’s Shanghai Film Festival, where pic was screened for 1,200 attendees.

Fox Intl. VP Joe Ortiz said tentative plans call for an August release for “X3” in China.

Even without import and release approvals, the “Pirates” sequel is being promoted on channels including Shanghai’s City TV, which is available on headrest screens in taxicabs. But it’s not clear whether marketing is being done with Mouse arm Buena Vista Intl.’s approval. Ads include the squid-faced Davy Jones character portrayed by Bill Nighy.

This summer the Chinese government also pulled Sony’s “The Da Vinci Code” out of theaters, amid complaints by religious groups, after it had grossed $13 million. The government also delayed release of “Mission: Impossible III” until July 20 due to concerns over how Shanghai was portrayed in the film.

(Dave McNary in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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