- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Hollywood was stunned when the can’t-miss blockbuster “Lightyear” sputtered in its opening weekend at the box office, but not conservatives, who blamed the animated film’s failure to launch on Disney’s ongoing lurch to the left.

The Disney-Pixar feature failed to dislodge Universal’s “Jurassic World: Dominion” from the No. 1 box office slot after grossing $51 million in its domestic debut, well below projections for the spinoff of the hugely popular “Toy Story” franchise.

Entertainment analysts attributed the lackluster showing to factors such as the movie’s “confusing premise” (Variety) and competition from the Disney+ streaming service (Deadline), while those on the right described the film as the latest casualty of corporate wokeness.

“Buzz Lightyear went woke. The movie went broke,” Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, tweeted.

Former Trump White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said she decided against seeing the movie last weekend over reports of its political messaging.

“I wanted to take my family to this movie. I chose not to because I’m just tired of a woke agenda,” Ms. McEnany said on Fox’s “Outnumbered.” “I don’t care what it is, any agenda, right, left, being pushed in my face. I just wanted to watch a movie about toys.”

The headlines in the conservative press included “Pixar’s new Toy Story spinoff just bombed on opening weekend and I wonder why,” said Not the Bee, while Breitbart called it “the latest woke box office flop.”

“Maybe Disney and Pixar could concentrate on telling a story instead of distributing propaganda to children,” tweeted Jordan B. Peterson, the University of Toronto professor emeritus and YouTube personality.

“Lightyear” flew onto the political radar months ago with the much-discussed lesbian kiss between two of the animated characters, as well as the decision to cast Chris Evans as the voice of Buzz Lightyear instead of Tim Allen, the role’s originator, who’s known for his right-of-center views.

The would-be blockbuster’s release also follows months of high-profile feuding between Disney and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, spurred by Disney’s pledge in March to help repeal what critics called the “don’t say gay” bill, which bans schools from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3.

The backlash intensified after Manhattan Institute senior fellow Christopher Rufo released internal video clips showing Disney executives discussing how to add LGBTQ themes and characters to shows.

The Florida clash followed reports that the kissing scene was cut but then added back after pushback from “LGBTQIA+ employees of Pixar & their allies,” who accused Disney in a letter of removing scenes of “gay affection.”

“Nearly every moment of overtly gay affection is cut at Disney’s behest,” read the March 9 letter posted by Popular Information’s Judd Legum.

As Galyn Susman, one of the “Lightyear” producers, told the Mercury News: “We got the opportunity to put it back in and that was really exciting.”

Mr. Evans blasted those objecting to the scene as “idiots” in a June 15 interview, two days before the movie’s debut.

“The real truth is those people are idiots,” Mr. Evans told Reuters. “I mean, I think throughout history, you can see every time there’s been social advancement as we wake up, the American story, the human story, is one of constant social awakening and growth. That’s what makes us good.”

Director Angus MacLane said that making the Space Ranger Commander Alisha Hawthorne character gay was important for “representation,” and that the public display of affection showed that she and her wife, Kiko, were in a “loving, lasting relationship.”

“We had a lot of queer personnel on the film,” Mr. MacLane told the Los Angeles Times. “There’s a lot of really fantastic representation that means a lot — more than I can understand. For them to be so excited about that and have it be so personal, it means a lot to me.”

“Lightyear,” which cost $200 million to make, had the lowest-grossing domestic opening since the 2017 sequel “Cars 2,” which earned $53 million. “Toy Story 4,” the last movie in the franchise, earned $120 million in its first three days of domestic release in 2019.

“They genuinely do not understand the moral disgust of parents in this nation right now who just want to enjoy good movies with their kids without having a sexual agenda shoved in their faces!” said Not the Bee.

The film may have trouble making up the shortfall internationally. Fourteen Muslim countries have banned the movie, including Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian territories, and screenings in China are also seen as unlikely unless Disney cuts the smooching scene.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said it would be a “wild twist” if Hollywood drew the line at “Lightyear” after years of kowtowing on content to Beijing censors.

“There’s significant discussion that China is not going to allow the movie in because of this scene, and I’ve got to say it’s a wild twist where Hollywood has been willing to grovel to China, to let China censor its movies, to embrace anti-Americanism, to avoid any criticism of China because they want to get access to the Chinese movie market,” Mr. Cruz said on his “The Verdict” podcast.

“But when it comes to their culture agenda, apparently now suddenly they’ve discovered, all right, give up the money because lesbian toys are more important,” he said.

“Lightyear” earned good but not great reviews, scoring 76% with critics and 85% with audiences on Rotten Tomatoes. A frequent criticism was that the movie fails to live up to the Pixar franchise’s high standards.

Hollywood in Toto film critic Christian Toto called the film a “generic space romp unworthy of what many consider the most impressive film studio around.”

He also described the big kiss as superfluous to the plot.

“The film arrives with plenty of pre-release buzz thanks to its same-sex buss. Suffice to say the moment isn’t necessary and the romance attached to it is the only romantic coupling in the film. The subplot, to be blunt, feels inorganic,” Mr. Toto said in his review. “Same-sex couples deserve representation in a more natural fashion.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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