In the content arms race brought about by the streaming revolution, Disney has been treating Pixar like cannon fodder. Unquestionably, Pixar is their most top-shelf marquee brand, not only a consistent producer of hits, but a winner of awards, too (to the extent that I call the Best Animated Feature Oscar “Pixar’s Annual Oscar”). But over the last couple years, there has been no greater Disney-owned casualty of the pandemic box office era than Pixar, which has seen a succession of films dumped on streaming. Onward, released in March 2020, didn’t have any other option, it was only a couple weeks into its box office run when everything shut down and it was shunted out of theaters and onto Disney+ (where it proved more popular than its initial box office suggested it would be). Soul was next, opening in December 2020 in whatever territories had opened theaters, and streaming simultaneously on Disney+ with no premiere surcharge. Then, in June 2021, Luca was released theatrically in countries without Disney+, but on Disney+ in any country with the service. Turning Red is following the same release pattern as Luca next month.
Now, I know, THE PANDEMIC, and studios are doing whatever they can to release films in sensible ways, and all of this comes with a huge asterisk. But like, Paramount has held onto Top Gun: Maverick for a reason. Some things are just worth more, in the intangible currency of pop culture, and again, Pixar WAS the crown jewel in Disney’s treasure trove of IP. And it feels like they’ve sacrificed all that cultural capital for Disney+, but to no real obvious result. Pixar movies, though they (usually) haul in massive audiences to theaters, have not been major drivers of new Disney+ subscribers. If anything, it feels sort of weirdly punishing, essentially junking Pixar’s pristine reputation for…what? The embarrassment of the John Lasseter mess, which was the only #MeToo scandal to hit Disney? I just can’t figure out why Disney—under the reign of new chief Bob II (aka Bob Chapek), has been so willing to play fast and loose with Pixar, which, AGAIN, is just SO VALUABLE as an entertainment brand. This is Lightyear Conspiracy #1: What is going on between Disney and Pixar, and will it affect Lightyear?
Lightyear Conspiracy #2 comes from the new trailer, released yesterday. This time, the balance is more Chris Evans, less David Bowie. It also seems that the “real” Buzz Lightyear, the inspiration for the toy featured in Toy Story, is stuck on a space colony and trying to find a way home for him and the other colonists, only to be attacked by evil space robots. We have two options here. One, this is actually a television show or movie happening within the Toy Story universe, and “Buzz Lightyear” is the main character. Or two, Buzz Lightyear died horribly in space and the toys are a cover up, a way of memorializing and mythologizing an astronaut whose death/disappearance is shrouded in mystery. I lean toward the “Buzz Lightyear is the protagonist of a children’s show” option, but the Pixar universe is a pretty dark place. It’s a place where sentient toys suffer the whims of capricious children, where humanity wrecks the planet and abandons Earth forever—maybe if Buzz Lightyear is “real”, he’s part of an attempt to form a permanent off-world colony to this purpose—so it’s conceivable the same people who run Buy N Large use toys to divert attention away from a failed space colony. Either way, the conspiracy goes all the way to the top!