Finding Nemo's $70.6m domestic number one bow rewrote the record books over the weekend as the Disney/Pixar collaboration scored the biggest opening ever for an animated film.

The superb three-day estimated total overtook the previous high-water mark set by Pixar stablemate Monsters, Inc, which opened on $62.5m in Nov 2001.

Finding Nemo's record opening also marked the fifth consecutive number one bow for a Pixar film, which started back in 1995 when Toy Story raced to the top of the chart on $29.1m.

The critically-lauded film, directed by Andrew Stanton, averaged $20,924 from 3,374 venues.

Albert Brooks provides the voice for Marlin, a gutsy clownfish who embarks on an underwater odyssey in search of his kidnapped son Nemo.

A string of star vocal performers includes Ellen DeGeneres, Geoffrey Rush, Willem Dafoe and Eric Bana.

This is the first time a Pixar film has been released in the summer - a clear sign that Disney regards its production partner's films as box office winners that can hold their own during blockbuster season.

Disney has handled all distribution on Pixar films since 1995. However, its contract with the animation wizards is due to expire after two more films.

Work is already underway on The Incredibles, which is due to open in summer 2004, and Cars, which will follow a year later.

Pixar is reported to have started work on it a "secret" picture that does not have a distribution deal.

Pixar chief executive officer Steve Jobs said he hoped to have a new distribution deal in place by the end of the year.