Audience Analytics company Samba TV released some information on Lightyear‘s Disney+ launch a few days ago. Specifically, the release was a relative success but not on the same level as Encanto last December. Cole Strain, their VP of Measurement Products, offered this statement:
“Toy Story franchise prequel [sic] Lightyear debuted on Disney+ with 1.7 million households viewing the Pixar flick in its first five days. The movie landed a strong opening weekend on streaming after spending several weeks in theaters, but feel short of Disney’s last animated cinema to streaming release, Encanto, which saw over a million additional households watching during the same window.”
This comes after the film underperformed in theaters, especially for a Pixar franchise vehicle starring a popular character. The poor theater showing has been blamed on the film’s inclusion of a lesbian side character, lack of Tim Allen in the titular role, and a bland premise. I quite enjoyed Lightyear, certainly more than I expected. It’s not a perfect movie, and I think it sits middle-of-the-pack among Toy Story installments, after the first two movies but before 3 and the abomination known as 4. But it was more interesting than I thought Pixar would bother making it, exploring topics like letting go of guilt and moving on from the past.
I’m not surprised Lightyear isn’t matching Encanto‘s numbers on the streaming service. Encanto was an unexpected break-out success for Disney+, far exceeding the usual performance of their secondary releases. Encanto is a fast-paced musical exploring the culture of Colombia with fascinating themes of intergenerational trauma and healing. It has more interesting characters than Lightyear, but its wildly popular soundtrack likely had everything to do with its massive explosion on the service. Lightyear doesn’t have much to distinguish it from other, better films on Disney+. It doesn’t have an earbug soundtrack or an array of colorful characters. While Buzz Lightyear is a beloved character, the one in Lightyear isn’t the toy from Toy Story. They explicitly stated this numerous times before the film came out, and they say it at the beginning of Lightyear.
In my opinion, the real story here is that Lightyear was a success on Disney+ at all. You may expect me to rejoice; I just said I liked this movie more than I expected. I seem to have enjoyed it more than most people. But this is bad news. It’s bad for animated films produced by Disney, especially under the Pixar banner. Lightyear was their first theatrical release since 2020’s Onward, which hit cinemas the weekend before the COVID outbreak and bombed as a result. Encanto likely convinced Disney CEO Bob Chapek that these straight-to-streaming releases were the way. If so, as a Pixar movie that failed at the box office, Lightyear‘s impressive Disney+ debut could serve as the proverbial nail in the coffin. I love animated movies, and I live to visit the movie theater. My husband proposed to me at the theater, and we go more than once a month; it’s undoubtedly my favorite pastime. Pixar was once the mainstream art house, releasing award-nominated box office crushers yearly. It’s a tragedy to see Disney treat one of their premier partners as streaming fodder, the modern-day equivalent of the direct-to-VHS sequels DisneyToon once churned out. I usually laugh it off when people predict the death of theaters and the like; these days, the theaters seem to be back in full force. But Disney is destroying one of the greatest mainstream animation studios of all time, and this will only encourage them.