An independent theatre in a small town in Oklahoma made national news when it issued issuing a warning/apology to its customers about a controversial scene in Pixar’s LIGHTYEAR which included a same-sex kiss between a female married couple. The 89er Theatre in Kingfisher posted the notice to alert parents about the scene so that they would not be surprised by it and would have an opportunity to choose not to see the film.
At one point, the theatre projectionist was instructed to fast-forward past the scene to avoid offending anyone in the audience. The theatre has subsequently walked back its stance, taken down its warning notice, and played the full film in its entirety. Barry Reid, a co-owner of the theatre commented, “It was an internal mistake and it’s been corrected. It won’t happen again.”
This kerfuffle is emblematic of a growing problem for Hollywood studios, especially Disney which has established itself as a global purveyor of family entertainment. Box office returns for its two most recent animated films, ENCANTO, and LIGHTYEAR have been disappointing, and the company has provoked anger from cultural conservatives for taking “woke” stances on a number of hot-button political issues.
While its own animated titles have foundered at the box office, Disney has watched as other studios have had more success, such as Paramount with SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 and Universal with SING 2 and THE BAD GUYS. Universal seems poised for another success when MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU opens next week, projected to become the highest-grossing animated film of the pandemic era.
While Disney has stumbled recently, a case can be made that this is good news for exhibitors. Disney will certainly take steps to regain its premier status, while other studios take advantage of the opening. Disney is notorious for demanding a high percentage of the box office revenue from exhibitors, and requiring even those theatres with fewer screens to hold their titles for three weeks or more. Perhaps Disney will have less leverage on both points, as films like MINIONS 2 lap the results of LIGHTYEAR.