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What prevented Pixar's 'Lightyear' from reaching infinity and beyond at the box office?

Disney's 'Lightyear' has remained stubbornly earthbound in its box office debut, which is depressing, to say the least. The latest Pixar film's so-so $51 million opening weekend in North America has been met with a so-so response, at least.

Industry analysts found these sales surprising since Pixar had been box office royalty for many years and 'Lightyear,' a spinoff of the cosmically successful 'Toy Story' franchise, garnered decent - though not euphoric - reviews. Additionally, audiences (who gave the film an 'A' CinemaScore') seemed to enjoy the animation of otherworldly adventure, in which Chris Evans takes over the role of Buzz Lightyear from Tim Allen.

Lightyear was one of the best debuts for a kid-friendly animated film in COVID history with a $51 million opening weekend. It's a demographic that was largely absent during the pandemic, but it's returned intermittently. Disney was certainly hoping the $200 million-budgeted movie would make more coin in its first weekend.

Pixar ranked 'Lightyear' as one of its lowest starts, ranking behind 'Cars 3' ($53 million) from last year and ahead of 'The Good Dinosaur' ($39 million) and 'Onward' ($39 million) from the upcoming year. It's also one of the very few Pixar films not to take the top spot at the domestic box office, landing in second place.

So what stopped 'Lightyear' from going to infinity and beyond at the box office? Lightyear faces the limitations of the spinoff format, says David A. Gross, founder of the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. The elite business is still around, but it no longer defies gravity.'

There were other limitations, too: Lightyear's premise was unusually confusing, something that probably didn't seem so confusing to executives at Buena Vista than it did on the movie's strange marketing materials. How about Andy's favorite action figure from 'Toy Story'? And no, it isn't the cowboy voiced by Tom Hanks. It's the other one.

Well, here's the movie about the fictional astronaut who (stay with us...) later inspired the miniature that ended up becoming best friends with Woody and Mr. Potato Head. It's hard to explain to a 6-year-old. It's even harder to explain to an adult. Aside from the character himself, 'Lightyear' had no real connection to the four films in the popular kid-friendly franchise. Disney may not have realized how powerful nostalgia was.

“[The film's] marketing never quite made it clear that Andy's favorite toy was connected until the very last moment. Shawn Robbins, the chief analyst at Box Office Pro, says they've been marketing this movie for a long time.

Disney has a history of putting Pixar movies directly on its subscription service, 'Soul,' 'Turning Red' among them - a practice that may have inadvertently conditioned viewers to expect to see Pixar releases on their TVs.

The first Pixar movie to play in a theater since 'Onward,' in March 2020, might have been sullied by the experiment that took place during the pandemic. In the face of a weak word-of-mouth campaign, 'Lightyear' struggled to captivate audiences in the way 'Top Gun: Maverick' did - a movie that could have relied on its brand name, but also managed to more thoughtfully evolve the properties.

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