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Lightyear, the first Pixar film to hit theaters since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, appeared on Disney Plus on Wednesday, more than six weeks after it landed in theaters.
It was Disney’s first attempt to give Pixar exclusive exposure back to the big screen, but so far Lightyear’s response has been lackluster — enough to prompt some outlets to dub the epithet “bombshell.”
Previously, every Pixar film from February 2020 onward essentially skipped theaters to stream on Disney Plus instead: Soul in December 2020, Luca in June 2021, and Turning Red in February 2022. And for Disney movies more broadly, the streaming strategy was all over the map. Encanto spent a month in theaters before streaming. For Marvel, there were two. West Side Story hit Disney Plus about three months after it was released exclusively in theaters.
The last time Disney moved an animated film from theaters to streaming, it became a phenomenon. Landing Lightyear on Disney Plus will prove whether the film can replicate the success of Encanto, or whether the launch of this Toy Story origin story has failed across the board.
Failed to launch
Last year, ticket sales for adult films began to recover as movie fans recovered from the pandemic and theaters began to reopen. But family films, Pixar’s specialty, have struggled with movie theater attendance. Parents, compared to other adult moviegoers, were more sensitive to the risks of taking their children to crowded theaters as the coronavirus continued to mutate and circulate. The COVID vaccine for children wasn’t available until the day after Lightyear opened, and a child’s coronavirus infection could mean missing weeks of school or daycare and derail other family plans.
Putting Pixar movies directly on Disney Plus was basically a strategy to attract more subscribers and keep the ones it has. Kareem Daniel, the Disney executive in charge of distribution calls like this one, noted in an announcement to Turning Red that both Soul and Luca were “enthusiastically embraced” by Disney Plus subscribers when they went live on the service.
And by sending three Pixar movies straight to Disney Plus, Disney may also have protected Pixar’s pristine reputation for critical and box office successes, according to some experts: If Disney doesn’t release Pixar movies in theaters, they can’t have disappointing theatrical releases.
Bust or push?
In the months leading up to Lightyear’s premiere, moviegoers flocked to see franchise films. Spider-Man: No Way Home was the first post-pandemic film to cross $1 billion at the global box office. Since then, so has Top Gun: Maverick, and Jurassic World Dominion and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness are close behind.
But so far, Lightyear’s box office has been underwhelming. Lightyear has grossed $222 million worldwide. Toy Story 4, Pixar’s latest release without any pandemic interruptions, was inches away from $1 billion at the global box office at the same stage. And it’s not like all family movies struggle. Minions: The Rise of Gru came out a month after Lightyear, but more than tripled Lightyear’s worldwide grosses.
For another Disney family film – Encanto – the theatrical exclusive period actually seems to have hindered its popularity.
Encanto hits theaters Nov. 24; one month later, it became available to stream on Disney Plus at no additional cost to all subscribers.
During Encanto’s exclusive theatrical run, its box office performance was mediocre. The film’s total ticket revenue was just $86 million during that period. Disney’s Frozen 2 jumped well above that in just its first weekend before the pandemic, and even Lightyear, at the one-month mark, had cleared $115 million.
But once Encanto started streaming, it became a phenomenon. Encanto’s soundtrack climbed the Billboard music charts to reach No. 1. The videos of its musical numbers are among the most popular songs on YouTube. We Don’t Talk About Bruno, the most famous song from the film, became a TikTok meme. But none of that happened until Encanto hit Disney Plus.
When Lightyear hits Disney Plus, it might get the rocket boost it’s needed all along.
“Lightyear” finally hits Disney Plus. That’s why it took 6 weeks to get there – Digital Tech Blog
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