Personally, I enjoyed the new Pixar film Lightyear, as I do all the Toy Story Shorts from director Angus Maclane. And I felt it was a well-deserved critical win for Chris Evans. But the numbers suggest audiences didn’t agree. No one could expect Lightyear’s box office performance to be so dismal. With a budget of 200 million dollars, the films current gross worldwide sits at around $155,962,936 worldwide. Something obviously must have gone horribly wrong. How could this have happened?
It comes down to policies and politics. Some people may suggest that the introduction of a lesbian couple impacted the box office numbers. Disney has a history of controversy with conservatives including recent Disney parks staff protesting the introduction of Florida’s Don’t Say Gay legislature. Over the past few months Right-wing media has done a great job of painting Disney as evil for their “Gay Agenda.” However, I do not think it had a significant impact on the film’s box office. I’ve even had conservative colleagues and friends who have seen the movie and didn’t think the gay couple was an issue at all.
Ignoring the conservative controversy , there must be some other for Lightyear’s failure. The main reason may come down to certain leadership decisions from Disney’s new CEO Bob Chapek. Handpicked by Bob Iger, Chapek has already had conflicts and casualties during his tenure. It seems no sector has been hit as hard as Pixar. Since the start of the pandemic, Disney began prioritizing streaming films over theatrical releases. This strategy from Chapek has sent a majority of Pixar films to Disney+ over the past few years. This includes Pete Doctor’s magnum opus Soul.
As you might expect the Pixar employees have not taken this news well. It’s understandable considering that Disney’s move has lowered the value of Pixar films due to them streaming directly. In contrast, Bob Iger, during his long tenure at Disney, brought a variety of products to the company, but the studio heads and creatives first, rather than dictating where everything went. Due to Chapek’s more hands-on approach to distribution, audiences are likely to be less interested in Pixar films on the big screen since they can wait for the films to appear on Disney plus for free.
It becomes much easier to understand why Lightyear is doing poorly at the box office when you recognize that a majority of its potential audienc is waiting to watch the film on Disney+. Bob Chapek’s decision to approve exclusive theatrical 45-day windows for Disney animated probably doesn’t help either. Last year Encanto was in theaters and Strange World is heading there in November. What type of statement is Disney making about their faith in Lightyear?
The main question now is what can Disney and Pixar do now that Lightyear has not lived up to expectations? I think the answer is not all that complicated; make Pixar an exclusive theatrical experience for again. The studio has a perfect opportunity to learn from the Lightyear experience. Pixar’s next film Elemental, the studios 27th film, has a June 16, 2023 release date.
The film is about two endearing beings made of fire and water. Despite their fundamental differences, the two discover they have a great deal in common. Could this film suffer the same fate as recent Pixar films such as Luca and Turning Red? Chapek’s contract as CEO recently being extended for three more years. Will there a change to move Pixar’s films back to theatrical? Overall, Pixar’s slate is healthy and growing after breaking free from the sequel cycle of the 2010s. In contrast, the studio is focusing on a greater number of innovative and original films, like Pete Doctor’s Soul, which deserves to be seen in theaters, and we should, as audience members, support those types of films.