Despite being a Toy Story spin-off and a sci-fi action film with stars like Chris Evans and Keke Palmer serving as its voice talent, Lightyear simply failed to launch.
Given Lightyear's name recognition and its franchise connections, the Disney film's lackluster performance was puzzling.
But now, Pixar's own Pete Docter has addressed why he believes Lightyear failed to take the box office to infinity and beyond.
Why Lightyear Flopped, According to Pixar
In talking with TheWrap, Pixar CCO Pete Docter commented on Lightyear's critical and financial disappointment and why it failed to connect with audiences.
Docter's diagnosis is that Pixar "asked too much of the audience" in terms of Lightyear's premise:
“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?”
Since the Toy Story spin-off was intended to be the movie that Andy's Buzz Lightyear toy was based on, it didn't make sense for the franchise's other toy characters to be involved.
Also, since Lightyear's Buzz was human and not a toy, he was voiced by Chris Evans instead of Tim Allen.
While some have credited Lightyear's poor performance to audience confusion, which may be true, Docter also thinks that the film and its characters were "a little too distant" from Toy Story's iconic characters and their design:
“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 [MacLane], 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.”
Why the Toys Are Back in Town
In an era where blockbusters are typically tied to franchises, Pixar deserves credit for managing to create an original concept that still fell within the Toy Story anthology.
However, as Pete Docter noted, the leap between the traditional Toy Story films and Lightyear was just "too distant" for the general public.
While, again, the lack of familiar characters no doubt left some confused, others likely resisted the idea of a Buzz Lightyear movie that didn't include the Buzz they knew.
Still, there's another factor that Docter didn't mention and which may have contributed to the film's disappointing release.
The Pixar film enjoyed an exclusive theatrical release after nearly two years of Disney sending Pixar movies straight to streaming.
It's possible that audience expectation of the Disney+ release model may have hindered Lightyear's box office numbers.
Regardless, Buzz Lightyear won't be out of theaters for long.
Disney CEO Bob Iger recently announced that Toy Story 5 was being developed which will no doubt bring the toy version of Buzz back to the big screen, along with the rest of the franchise's familiar characters.
Given the traditional Toy Story films' record of success, it makes sense for Iger to stick to what works. But it's hard not to wonder if Lightyear's disconnect played into the CEO and the studio's decision.
Lightyear is available to stream on Disney+.