Why Lightyear Bombed At The Box Office, According To Pixar's Pete Docter

One of the most crushing disappointments any studio faced at the box office last year came from Disney in the form of "Lightyear." The unique "Toy Story" spin-off, which focused on the "real" Buzz Lightyear, telling a grounded, sci-fi tale in space, was Pixar's big return to theaters following two years of streaming releases due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, it was a massive misfire, with director Angus MacLane's film taking in just $226 million worldwide against a hefty $200 million production budget. So, what went wrong?

Pete Docter, the director of "Up" and the Chief Creative Officer at Pixar, recently opened up about the situation in an interview with The Wrap. So far as he (and seemingly the rest of the studio) sees it, the movie merely asked too much from the audience, while also suffering from a disconnect related to expectations.

"We've done a lot of soul-searching about that because we all love the movie. We love the characters and the premise. I think probably what we've ended on in terms of what went wrong is that we asked too much of the audience. When they hear Buzz, they're like, great, where's Mr. Potato Head and Woody and Rex? And then we drop them into this science fiction film that they're like, What? Even if they've read the material in press, it was just a little too distant, both in concept, and I think in the way that characters were drawn, that they were portrayed. It was much more of a science fiction. And Angus, to his credit, took it very seriously and genuinely and wanted to represent those characters as real characters. But the characters in 'Toy Story' are much broader, and so I think there was a disconnect between what people wanted/expected and what we were giving to them."

Other factors were in play as well

Docter certainly has some points. "Lightyear" was not at all like "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command." This was a high-concept sci-fi movie using a new version of a beloved character, voiced by a different actor. In this case, Chris Evans ("Captain America") took over Buzz duties, which didn't sit well with Tim Allen, who has voiced the toy version of the character in every one of the "Toy Story" movies. To that end, audiences may well have been confused about the fact that Allen wasn't back as the voice of Buzz. Either that or the recasting was off putting.

Beyond that, there was a bit of controversy over an LGBTQIA+ relationship between two major characters in the film. Controversy of that sort rarely helps a movie's box office prospects. We also need to look at the fact that the film faced incredibly steep competition from the likes of "Jurassic World Dominion" and "Minions: The Rise of Gru," both of which went on to become massive hits, taking in $1 billion and $934 million worldwide, respectively. And then there's the whole Pixar had been away from theaters for so long issue, which almost certainly set an expectation with viewers that these movies were no longer things one pays to go see.

The main thing is, there were certainly other factors at play here beyond getting audiences to buy into a unique concept. I, for one, quite enjoyed the movie and remain hopeful that big studios are willing to take more unique swings when it comes to expanding a franchise. They shouldn't look to this as a reason not to do it in the future. Much went wrong, and it wasn't all conceptual.

"Lightyear" is currently streaming on Disney+.