ROADTRIPPIN’ co-hosts Robert Meyer Burnett and Mike Bawden respond to letters from listeners proposing a variety of reasons as to why Pixar’s latest animated feature, LIGHTYEAR, didn’t meet expectations during its opening weekend. Was it a result of bad casting, a strained relationship between studios, convoluted marketing or stronger-than-expected competition? No one is sure – but it’s possible the problem runs much deeper than an origin story for an action figure might let on.
What’s behind LIGHTYEAR’s failure to launch?
by Mike Bawden
I saw LIGHTYEAR at the theater this Sunday with my family. Tickets for the four of us were just under $65, so by my figuring, we were just four of around 3 million people who saw that movie during its opening weekend.
And while that missed projections, it’s still a pretty healthy opener for an animated movie.
But should we evaluate it as “just” an animated movie? That may not be fair to the movie, to Pixar, to other animated features or to the legions of Buzz Lightyear fans who felt a little bit cheated by the movie.
And if not cheated, that at least confused (or possibly misled).
Robert Meyer Burnett and I discussed three letters from Imagination Connoisseurs who expressed their concern and disappointment about LIGHTYEAR – and while we didn’t agree entirely, we didn’t disagree either.
Why is that? Give the podcast a listen to find out.
All three letter writers presented their objections to the movie in terms of how it fit within the broader picture of the Toy Story “franchise” – meaning all of the movies and related media that work together to build a world where the toys of Toy Story (and especially Buzz Lightyear and Woody) live, interact and have their adventures. Just how was a movie about a character that inspired a major player in this universe supposed to fit?
Is LIGHTYEAR too clever for its own good?
There aren’t any hard and fast rules for this because, interestingly enough, I’m pretty sure this approach hasn’t really been taken before. I’m not saying it hasn’t, but I’m not aware of a time where characters have gone quite this meta.
This isn’t Deadpool-meta, either. That’s done for humor and Deadpool’s awareness that he lives inside a comic book universe is a key part of the “Deadpool-verse” (so to speak). And word on the street is that She Hulk will also explore some meta-ish commentary.
But this isn’t what Pixar has tried to do with LIGHTYEAR vis a vis the “world” Toy Story.
According to an opening title card in the movie, what we were about to see was “the” film Andy saw in 1995 that turned him on to Buzz Lightyear and ignited his interest (and, I presume, endless requests) in a Buzz Lightyear action figure. Then for a little less than two hours, we were witness to a beautifully animated story about a space ranger’s redemption and the birth of Star Command.
But this was an animated feature. And Toy Story was animated. And both Buzz Lightyears looked enough alike, they could easily have switched places – with the exception that the version of Lightyear voiced by Chris Evans played his part straight and the version of Buzz voiced by Tim Allen was an over-the-top version of the same character.
Are you confused yet?
Yeah, I think most of the movie-going public is, as well. And, honestly, I think that’s both the fault of Disney and Pixar. It seems someone forgot to read (or even issue) the memo that if you’re going to tell a story that’s part of a larger, meta-story, you need to have both stories figured out in advance to make sure they work together. That didn’t happen in this case, which is an unexpected failure on the part of Pixar.
But how much of the decision-making behind how that larger, meta-story was supposed to be told and sold to the public was Disney’s? Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like some of the reasons behind LIGHTYEAR’s failure to launch are also the problems underlying the confusion and frustration with recent Marvel and Star Wars releases.
Star Command, we might have a problem at Mission Control … and its location is on South Buena Vista Street in Burbank, California.
What do you think?
Remember, you can always send us a letter. Just click here and then send us a message to let us know how we’re doing and what’s on your mind. We look forward to hearing from you.
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I invite you to listen in on my weekday conversations with my friend and business partner, Robert Meyer Burnett, as we talk about the things we love: great movies, inspiring television programming, nostalgic genre entertainment, and pop culture.
This episode was recorded on June 21, 2022.
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