“Lightyear,” Pixar’s first theatrical release since before the pandemic, debuted to $50.58 million last weekend in the United States and Canada, missing (already low) projections by about $20 million. (Over the previous week, it generated an additional $12.43 million.) Buzz isn’t necessarily destined for the trash can of misplaced toys, though: Following their release on Disney+, recent Disney animated films experienced a meteoric rise in popularity, and “Lightyear” is expected to join them.
Google Trends revealed that searches for “When will Lightyear be on Disney+” were slightly more popular than searches for “Lightyear movie times” over the past week. On June 17, the day the film was released in theatres, “Lightyear streaming” search popularity reached its peak. Comparatively, “Encanto” searches peaked on December 26, two days after it was released on Disney+. In other words, parents (and other nostalgic adults) are eagerly awaiting the release of the “Toy Story” origin story on home television.
The $27.2 million opening weekend for “Encanto,” which also debuted in November, seems meagre in comparison to the $71.3 million domestic debut of the live-action MCU entry “Eternals,” which debuted on Disney+ two months later. But by now, we are aware that a film’s success or failure is not solely based on its theatrical performance.
In actuality, “Encanto’s” quick ascent to the status of cultural touchstone was made possible by the Disney+ release, which came 30 days after its theatrical debut. Less than two weeks after the movie’s streaming debut, the original song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It quickly climbed to No. 1 and remained there for five continuous months. Both songs were played at the ceremony. “Dos Oruguitas,” another song from “Encanto,” received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.
Another way to view “Encanto’s” popularity is through Nielsen ratings. It was among the top 10 movies on all major services in each of the 21 weeks between December 27 and May 22 with a total of 20.09 billion minutes streamed. During that time, it was unquestionably the most watched movie on Disney+. “Turning Red” was the Disney+ runner-up and received 7.58 billion streaming minutes in its first two months. It should be noted that the fact that “Turning Red” came out almost three months after “Encanto” helps to explain some, but not all, of the enormous gap in streaming time between the two albums.
With a 72 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, “Turning Red” was able to find success. The current rating for “Lightyear” is 85%, indicating that the general Disney+ audience may like it even more. (The audience approves of “Encanto” 93% of the time.)
Additionally, according to Nielsen data from that time, Disney’s most popular animated films may outperform live-action productions, including Marvel movies. The third-most watched Disney+ movie over the course of the measured 21-week period was “Moana,” which debuted in theatres in 2016 and has been available on Disney+ since November 2019. The number five movie, “Eternals,” which debuted on Disney+ January 12, was outperformed by it by almost 60%.
The fact that “Encanto,” a brand-new animated movie, and “Moana,” an older animated movie, both dramatically outperformed a Marvel entry, suggests that audiences’ preferences for theatres versus streaming are beginning to emerge. When it comes to Disney animated films, it may be preferable to wait for streaming because parents can expect to watch a title on Disney+ repeatedly for their children. Although the movies’ box office performance might suffer, parents’ need for constant access to “Frozen” or “Moana” has the potential benefit of reducing Disney+ churn and nourishing the beast of IP, which is ever-important.
A movie can be valuable in many different ways, so for a business that also deals in theme parks and consumer goods, it’s all just a long play. CEO Bob Chapek stated to CNBC in February, “We’d love for theatrical to come back for family movies—we hope it does—but if it doesn’t, we know we’re very secure in being able to use our own platform, Disney+, to help [build a franchise].”
How long until “Lightyear” is available on Disney+ for families? Although the studio hasn’t yet specified a timeframe, a 45-day window would put “Lightyear” on Disney+ and PVOD in the first few days of August; any earlier would enrage theatre owners. We’ll learn if Buzz can actually fly at that point.