I took my ten year old son to see Lightyear on Friday and we had a wonderful time. The movie is a fun, science-fiction throwback adventure that shows us why Andy fell in love with Buzz Lightyear back in 1995. Despite being a great film, Lightyear fell short of expectations at the box office; it was projected to make $70M opening weekend but only made $51M. Jurassic World Dominion won the weekend with $58M for its second week in theaters. So here is the question we’re left with: what does this mean for the future of Pixar?
There isn’t an animation studio today that has the track record of Pixar. From Toy Story to Turning Red, they have created some truly incredible films in their history. Before Tangled, Pixar was releasing more critically acclaimed films than Walt Disney Animation Studios. Disney started to have an impressive run of films after Tangled (Wreck-It-Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, and Encanto to name a few), to the point where this period is considered the Disney Neo Renaissance. This is a tribute to the original Disney Renaissance, which was Disney’s run of films from The Little Mermaid to Tarzan from 1989-1999.
Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic entered our lives and changed everything. I saw Onward with my family in theaters before everything shut down and not too long after that, Disney made the decision to put the film on Disney+, which was smart. People can’t go to theaters, but people have streaming in their homes; it gives families a chance to see a new Pixar film from the comfort of their homes. Then, Soul got a Disney+ release the same year for Christmas, which was a nice way to spend the holiday with my family.
Luca and Turning Red would get the same treatment, even after theaters were opening and vaccinations were going up. It made sense for Disney to do this for Luca, especially after how successful the numbers were for Soul on Disney+. It was also the early period of vaccinations going up and people were still afraid to go to the theater with their children. The decision didn’t make sense for me with Turning Red in March, but people were starting to become comfortable with new Pixar films right to Disney+. It’s a shame because Turning Red is fantastic and would have done great at the box office.
I think Disney expected more from Lightyear at the box office, given the history of the character with the Toy Story franchise. I also think that Disney hurt themselves by putting the last four Pixar films onto Disney+. Families have become accustomed to watching the latest Pixar release from the comfort and safety of their homes. Why put their kids at risk of getting sick by taking them to the theater unvaccinated? Now that there’s a vaccine for children under 5, that may change moving forward; the comfort of home is much easier for parents of young children.
This makes me afraid and sad that Pixar will become a studio that makes films solely for Disney+, especially since their next film, Elemental, is another original film idea. They could take the risk of releasing it in theaters to low box office, or put it on the streaming service that continues to close in on Netflix. From a business side, it makes perfect sense; from a creative side, it makes me sad for the animators at Pixar. Their films deserve to be seen on the big screen because nothing will ever replace the magic of the theater, not even Disney+.