Lightyear, the first Pixar movie since the COVID-19 pandemic began hitting theaters, is coming to Disney Plus more than six weeks after hitting theaters.
It was Disney’s first foray into returning Pixar to an exclusive big-screen run, but so far the response to Lightyear has been disappointing — enough to prompt some outlets to give the epithet that it is is a bomb.
Before that, every Pixar movie since Onward in February 2020 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 airing. For Marvel, it was two. West Side Story hit Disney Plus about three months after it premiered exclusively in theaters.
The last time Disney moved an animated film from theaters to streaming, it became a phenomenon. Next week will prove whether Lightyear will replicate the success of Encanto, or whether the launch of this Toy Story origin story was a dud all around.
What is the release time for Lightyear on Disney Plus?
Lightyear will arrive on Disney Plus on Wednesday at 12:01 a.m. PT / 3:01 a.m. ET. It will be available to stream with a Disney Plus subscription at no additional cost.
Why did Lightyear take six weeks to start streaming?
Last year, ticket sales for adult-oriented films began to rebound as moviegoers emerged from pandemic lockdown and theaters began to reopen. But family movies, Pixar’s specialty, have struggled to hit theaters. Parents, compared to other adult moviegoers, were more sensitive to the risks of bringing their youngsters to crowded cinemas 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 derailing other family plans.
Putting Pixar movies directly on Disney Plus was, at its core, a strategy to both attract more subscribers and retain the ones it has. Kareem Daniel, the Disney executive in charge of cast calls like this, noted in Turning Red’s announcement that Soul and Luca were “enthusiastically embraced” by Disney Plus subscribers when they went straight to the service.
And by sending three Pixar movies straight to Disney Plus, Disney may have also protected Pixar’s pristine reputation for reviews. and Box office success, some experts say: If Disney doesn’t put Pixar movies in theaters, they can’t have disappointing theatrical releases.
In the months leading up to Lightyear’s release, moviegoers were flocking to the franchise films. Spider-Man: No Way Home was the first film since the pandemic to cross the $1 billion mark worldwide at the box office. Since then, Top Gun: Maverick has done it too, and Jurassic World Dominion and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness are close.
But so far, Lightyear’s box office has been disappointing. Worldwide, Lightyear grossed $222 million. Toy Story 4, Pixar’s last release without any pandemic disruption, was inches away from $1 billion at the global box office at the same point. And it’s not the case that all family movies struggle. Minions: The Rise of Gru was released a month after Lightyear, but it more than tripled Lightyear’s worldwide revenue.
For another Disney family movie — Encanto — the theatrical exclusivity period actually seemed to put a damper on its popularity.
Encanto was released in theaters on November 24; a month later, it became available to stream on Disney Plus, at no additional cost to all subscribers.
During its theatrical exclusive, its initial box office performance was poor. The film’s total domestic ticket revenue never exceeded $100 million. Disney’s Frozen 2 is well past that point in its first pre-pandemic weekend.
But once the film began airing, Encanto’s soundtrack climbed the Billboard music charts to No. 1. Videos of its musical numbers are among the most popular songs on YouTube. We Don’t Talk About Bruno, the film’s best-known song, has become a TikTok meme. But none of that happened until Encanto hit Disney Plus.
When Lightyear comes to Disney Plus, he can get the boost he needs from the start.