Lightyear is coming to Disney+ in August, and while it didn’t do well in theaters, it could have a much brighter future on the platform, though that’s also a problem for Pixar. The world of animation has seen the rise of different studios over the years, but Pixar continues to be a powerhouse in it. The studio keeps treating its audience to, at least, one movie per year, and 2022 saw two very different releases: Turning Red, which was released directly on Disney+, and Lightyear, the first Pixar movie to be released in theaters since Onward in 2020.
There was a lot of speculation and confusion about how Lightyear connects to the Toy Story series as it doesn’t include the rest of the toys and is only focused on Buzz Lightyear, but the opening title card quickly cleared this up by revealing that Lightyear is the movie a young Andy watched in 1995 that made him a fan of Buzz Lightyear. The movie, then, tells the story of Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans), who tries to find a way back home after being marooned on a hostile planet with his commander and crew. His attempts to return home lead him to jump many years into the future, where he meets a new crew and comes across the evil Emperor Zurg (James Brolin).
Unfortunately, Lightyear wasn’t the success Pixar was expecting, and not even its connection to the Toy Story saga helped its box office performance. Lightyear is the lowest-rated movie in the Toy Stoy series, and it also underperformed at the box office, but it might have a much better future on Disney+ and actually become a hit, though that will be a problem for Pixar after its last four movies were sent to Disney+ and found big success there.
Lightyear being a box office bomb can be due to different factors, such as the story not connecting with the audience and its Toy Story references feeling forced, but it might also be that people just weren’t interested in watching it in theaters after the last four Pixar movies were released directly on streaming. Lightyear, then, might finally find its audience when it arrives on Disney+ on August 3, and while that will obviously be beneficial to Lightyear, it only makes a current Pixar problem a lot bigger and harder to fight. As previously mentioned, Pixar’s most recent movies were sent directly to Disney+ due to the coronavirus pandemic, starting with Onward, which was released digitally just two weeks after its theatrical debut. Soul, Luca, and Turning Red either skipped a theatrical release completely or got a limited one, but its biggest audience was found on Disney+. Lightyear, then, was supposed to be Pixar’s triumphant return to the big screen, but that didn’t go as planned.
Unlike other Disney+ releases like Mulan, Black Widow, and Cruella, Pixar’s movies weren’t released on Premier Access and were free for all subscribers, which was definitely a lot more comfortable and accessible to the audience. Releasing Pixar’s movies on Disney+ has worked well so far, but that hurt their return to theaters as seen with Lightyear, which didn’t feel essential as a theatrical run, leading to it becoming one of few box-office bombs for Pixar. While streaming won’t kill theatrical releases, Pixar is facing a big problem due to it being increasingly Disney+ focused, which is unfair to a studio that was a pioneer in the world of animation and which has consistently brought high-quality movies and short films for decades. While it might be hard for Pixar to recover and make a full, successful comeback to theaters after Lightyear, it’s not too late for that, but it will take time for the audience to get used to watching Pixar’s movies on the big screen and remember that these are stories made to be watched in theaters as a full cinematic experience.
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Author: Adrienne Tyler