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Pixar out on a high note

Co.'s last year the most profitable ever

Pixar disclosed Tuesday that profits and revenue had slipped in the fourth quarter as the company lacked the theatrical big bang of “The Incredibles” — even as it enjoyed what execs said was its most profitable year ever.

Net income fell by nearly half to $31 million, while revenue slid to $56 million from $109 million, but given that it had no major release in the frame, Pixar beat analysts’ estimates.

Earnings report is likely its last as a separate company before it’s acquired by Disney.

Company said it has a co-production deal with Disney for 2007 animated pic “Ratatouille” that will go into effect in the unlikely event that the Mouse House deal falls through.

Company has high hopes for “Cars,” the animated pic set for June that will be the last released under its former deal with Disney, in which the latter distributes.

Pixar was tight-lipped, deciding against the customary earnings conference call, likely because the Disney acquisition has not closed. Silence comes amid questions about how Pixar, under the creative leadership of John Lasseter, will mesh with Disney’s own animated division.

Even before the $7.4 billion acquisition, it was a banner year for Pixar. Company netted $153 million in profit, an 8% increase over 2004, partly because of spillover “The Incredibles,” which was released theatrically in the fourth quarter of 2004 and generated revs of $152 million during the year.

“Finding Nemo” has also proved surprisingly resilient. Licensing and homevid coin on the 2003 pic brought in $23 million in the fourth quarter, nearly half of all Pixar’s film revenue in the frame.

So powerful is company’s hold that “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” helmers Nick Park and Steve Box quipped after receiving the Oscar for animation, “we’re just glad Pixar didn’t have a movie out this year.”

But announcement of company’s banner year is bittersweet — it’s the last before division becomes subsumed on a much larger Disney balance sheet. Topper Steve Jobs took a terse approach, calling 2005 “the most profitable year ever” and thanking “every Pixar shareholder for their support over the past decade.”