Is ‘Lightyear’ Too ‘Woke’?

Or are there other reasons why the latest Pixar movie flopped?

From the moment Disney and Pixar announced Lightyear, a film centered around the Buzz Lightyear character from the world-famous Toy Story franchise in December 2020, it seemed like a film destined for success. The spin-off expands on a well-known piece of intellectual property, has an all-star cast (including Chris Evans and Keke Palmer, two of the hottest names in the industry right now), and boasts a hefty $200 million budget. Additionally, Disney’s decision to release the film in movie theaters rather than Disney+ (unlike the other three Pixar films released during the pandemic). This further suggested the studio’s confidence in Lightyear’s profitability.

As Lightyear’s box office statistics show, what works in theory doesn’t necessarily translate to reality. In its opening weekend, the film fell dangerously short of industry projections. Instead, Lightyear opened in second place with a meager $50.5 million, a figure not even large enough to outgross Jurassic World: Dominion’s second weekend gross.

The reasons for Lightyear’s failure at the box office are complex. Let’s be clear, though, the absurd notion that the film is too “woke,” aided by one of the most mind-numbing controversies in recent memory, is not one of them.

Let’s put the film in some context. The Lightyear controversy began a couple of weeks ago and relates to a scene early in the film that features two same-sex characters sharing a kiss. The scene, which only runs for a few seconds in a longer montage, instantly led to outrage on social media. This was mainly led by conservatives claiming Lightyear was an attempt by Disney to indoctrinate children and shape their beliefs. At least, I think that’s the controversy. The reasons for the backlash are about as airless as the backlash itself.

Regardless, the controversy has had effects. A school in Ontario, Canada canceled a field trip to see the film. A theater in Oklahoma posted a sign on their door, promising that they would attempt to fast-forward through the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene (the theater has since removed the sign). Some politicians have even assumed the role of box office analyst (unsurprisingly, they’re bad at this job as well) to tie the film’s financial failure with their ideological agendas. Actions like these, aided by their prominence on social media, actively contribute to the false narrative that Lightyear’s “wokeness” lead to lackluster box office results.

Lightyear is far from being too woke. For starters, Disney almost avoided including the controversial scene in the final cut altogether so they could release the film in as many territories as possible. The studio only re-evaluated their decision after receiving backlash from LGBTQIA+ employees, making Disney’s lacking intentions when it comes to adding inclusive characters and scenes to their films alarmingly clear. Furthermore, the implication that Lightyear is too woke implies that the film has some sort of soul–a reason to exist, an ideal to stand for. Watching mere minutes of the film will prove that’s most definitely not the case.

Lightyear
The shocking scene that led to outraged audiences gasps in ‘Lightyear.’

Lightyear is another thinly veiled cash-grab attempt by Disney. It joins a long list of movies that have no compelling reasons to exist (I’m looking at you, live-action remakes), aside from their financial prospects. The factor Disney didn’t count on with Lightyear is: it takes a lot more than a name for viewers to shell out their money.

There are a number of reasons for Lightyear’s box office failure, not the least of which is the film’s shoddy marketing. As absurd as it sounds, until a couple of weeks ago, no one actually knew what the film was about. Was it a spin-off of the Buzz Lightyear toy after the events of Toy Story 4? Was it the origin story of the real-life Buzz Lightyear?

The film’s actual premise is even more uninteresting than both of those suggestions. According to the film’s opening title card, Lightyear is the blockbuster, released in 1995, that Andy (the young boy from Toy Story) adored, inspiring him to buy the Buzz Lightyear toy that ignites the main franchise. The issue: nobody cares about that. People come to the Toy Story franchise for the toys themselves. I mean, it’s literally in the name.

As such, Disney’s assumption that Toy Story fans would show up for Lightyear is flawed for two reasons. One, the film’s attempt of replicating a blockbuster action film renders it inaccessible for younger audiences, whose parents may deem it too “scary” or “intense” for them. Two, it chases people who grew up with the Toy Story films away, because the film barely has anything to do with the franchise itself. The sad reality is that Buzz Lightyear doesn’t even need to be in Lightyear. Remove the character and you essentially get the same film.

Lightyear’s theatrical release didn’t do it any favors. This isn’t to say that Disney shouldn’t release their films in theaters. In fact, their deliberate attempt to make Pixar a streaming exclusive studio–barring audiences from seeing far better films like Turning Red or Soul theatrically in the process–is equal parts baffling, disheartening, and in poor taste. Releasing Lightyear–a movie that already has the look, premise and feel of a film that belongs on a streaming service–in a theatrical landscape currently dominated by high-profile, well-known franchise films like Top Gun: Maverick or Jurassic World: Dominion was a sure-fire way to solidify its failure. With those options also playing in cinemas, and limited moviegoer interest in the film itself, there are few people left to build an audience.

The truth is, the vast majority of the public claiming that Lightyear is too woke probably couldn’t care less about either of the concrete reasons for the film’s lackluster performance. After all, it’s easier to go viral igniting absurd controversy around a film than diving deep into its theoretical and situational flaws. But the real lesson Disney needs to learn from Lightyear’s box office results is that nostalgia doesn’t always sell. Pixar’s success stems from the studio’s ability to tell original, soulful and heartfelt stories that appeal to people of all ages and have something to say about the world. As Lightyear proves, when you get rid of those qualities, nothing remains–not even audiences.

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Kaveh Jalinous

Kaveh Jalinous is a New York City-based freelance journalist specializing in the world of film and television, as well as a working filmmaker and screenwriter. He is currently pursuing a degree in Film and Media Studies at Columbia University, and in his free time, he enjoys playing guitar.

22 thoughts on “Is ‘Lightyear’ Too ‘Woke’?

  • June 27, 2022 at 7:26 pm
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    No other comments? Gee wiz.

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  • June 28, 2022 at 8:30 pm
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    Even though several non-LGTB… supporting countries around the globe as well as a few groups in the US and Canada have banned the “non-controversial” movie, it couldn’t be about some of us “breeders” (my term not yours) not supporting a change that was controversial enough that pro LBGTQ staff were upset if it got left out? Yeah, right….

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  • June 28, 2022 at 10:34 pm
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    “New York City-based freelance journalist”

    Opinion on wokeness discarded.

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  • June 29, 2022 at 5:33 pm
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    It’s always been like this not only on movies but they’re pushing their LGBT propaganda all over the world and except to brainwash kids through story books,games and schools. It is banned in most countries even on malaysia and china and i’m fine with it. The movie would’ve been good if they just didn’t try to put this over a kids movie. It’s not normal and following that just would make the world confusing and just like what happened in babylon. Just keep it as simple as it was before with all the other toy story movies.

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  • June 29, 2022 at 10:14 pm
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    A false narrative that the wokeness caused it to flop?

    Do you have the numbers on the people who chose not to see it due to the same-sex kiss?

    How can you call it a false narrative? As if you can quantify anything you are claiming. It’s just your speculation. I know several people who refused to see it for the reason that it was too woke.

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  • June 30, 2022 at 12:09 am
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    While not the only factor, I guarantee that the “wokeness” of the film contributed in part to its failure. To discount the notion all together would be delusional, which is exactly what the author of this article is.

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  • June 30, 2022 at 3:18 am
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    It seems like Hollywood’s idea of diversity is just pairing a white male lead with a WOC love interest/sidekick. It’s nothing but a cop out – just checking the diversity box while maintaining the traditional straight white male protagonist. It underscores why I don’t watch Hollywood movies; they’re essentially all the same story told from the same perspective, even the so-called “woke” ones.

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    • August 4, 2022 at 2:51 pm
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      Typical woke turd

      Reply
  • June 30, 2022 at 3:49 pm
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    Author is queer and has no kids. Go figure. If you want to “queer” up entertainment for useless adults like yourself, go ahead. Fuck you if you think that this is good for young kids. If you can’t stand the world then kill yourself. You will be doing humanity a favor. You produce nothing of value and write like an emotional middle-schooler.

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    • July 14, 2022 at 3:55 pm
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      You sound like the exact type of hateful butthurt bigot that is upset that they might have to sit their kids down and explain to them that not everyone lives how Jesus wants them to. Fuck you and your sensitive worldview. You lash out online like an emotional teenager.

      Reply
      • August 5, 2022 at 11:16 am
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        You 2 belong together.

        I think what we’re seeing in the world today is the Tocqueville Paradox. Once greater social justice is achieved, there becomes less tolerance to small social injustices that were Inconsequential before. When your hammer everything looks like a nail.

        Reply
  • July 1, 2022 at 12:03 am
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    My ten-year-old nephew thought this was a really dumb idea for a movie. But he ended up seeing it because the trailer sold him on, among other things, the robot cat. Amusingly enough, despite the main impetus for his parents even wanting to watch the movie at all being the whole lesbian kiss thing, he didn’t even slightly remember that part of the story.

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    • July 19, 2022 at 1:39 pm
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      Oh don’t worry, they won’t remember the scene isn’t a very good rationale IMO.

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  • July 3, 2022 at 6:00 pm
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    Just took our 3 young kids to it. Super disappointed. Had no idea was going to be cramming a biracial lesbian couples immaculate conception down my kids throats 20 minutes in. All the main characters battle depression and constant failure during the film and in the end Buzz gives up on his mission after spending the entire movie saying he’d never give up on his mission. My kids said it was boring and not enough action. Agree and don’t appreciate the weird vibes from this film. Had to Google it when we got home (now). Lol

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  • July 23, 2022 at 9:39 am
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    Im glad I read this. I usually do some research into new movies and make sure not to watch it if it’s too “woke”. Movies arrant enjoyable to watch anymore because you can’t get your mind off of the forced propaganda. Kind of takes away from the point of watching a movie. When I watch a movie I want to escape my reality and any signs of wokeness will take me out of that so I’d rather not even waste my time sitting and watching a screen for 2 hours if there is no authenticity and originality and magic to a movie. No one wants to see it either. Even people of those communities. As a man of color I’d hate it if they put my kind in a movie just to make it feel more inclusive. And as a straight man I’d hate it if I felt like they were making a point to show how straight something it just to check off a box. Just make the goddamn movie with no real world objectives.

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  • July 23, 2022 at 12:00 pm
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    The author “forgot” to mention that Disney canned Tim Allen as the traditional voice of Buzz Lightyear because of his conservative views.

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  • July 27, 2022 at 9:41 am
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    I will put it this way…I don’t like onions, I can’t eat them, the flavor is not nice to me. But. I don’t hate onions. The many letters community needs to understand that if I don’t like to see them having a kiss or more, it is my right to avoid the movie. That doesn’t means that I hate them. Don’t try to force me or label me because I choose to do whatever I want.
    Like me, there are a silent gigantic group that doesn’t bother to say anything. This issue is not political or religious..it is personal.

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  • August 4, 2022 at 2:00 pm
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    New York WOKE journalist defending the right of woke movies to indoctrinate children and shape their beliefs is akin to the SS defending the use of concentration camps to reduce the belief in Judaism. Far from convincing I feel.

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  • August 5, 2022 at 8:04 pm
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    I think that the film lacked Pixar magic regardless of the lesbian kiss scene. The wokeness prevented some people from viewing the film in the first place, but it was not a major part of the film. It only lasted a couple of seconds, and I barely noticed it. The film had some other issues that were more apparent. It wasn’t attention grabbing enough for kids, and it didn’t relate enough to Toy Story. Toy Story needs Buzz and Woody, with Tim Allen and Tom Hanks.

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  • August 6, 2022 at 4:50 pm
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    I’m glad I live in a country where any bigoted, narrow-minded, religious-zealot snowflake can go online and safely (and anonymously, you big heroes, you!) proclaim their bigotry, narrow-mindedness and religious zealotry as they melt down from the smallest things – unlike those countries they hold up as their dream societies where no unapproved thoughts can be expressed. You do know that the opposite of “woke” is “asleep,” right – as in unconscious, clueless, thoughtless, unchallenged self-involved dreams and delusions? Propaganda? You think it’s propaganda just because you’re trying to deny that the world around you is more than heterosexual white couples with shiny manicured lawns and 401Ks, and you’re literally trying to blind your children to this world, as well; you’re trying to manufacture good little robots and you cry in your coffee that someone might actually open your window shades so they can see the neighbors you’re so afraid of. You can’t even come up with your own arguments – you just pass around the “woke” label and think it makes you sound smart; if you were smart, you’d know that “woke” is a verb, not a noun and not an adjective. And then you attack the author personally because you’re too damn stupid to even understand what he wrote.

    It’s a movie. It’s less than 2 hours of hang-up-your-brain action and adventure – it’s not even a ‘serious’ film, and there are hundreds that are better. Don’t have an aneurysm just because you can’t stand the fact that in one little way, it’s actually close to reality.

    Reply

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