‘Inside Out 2’ Returns Pixar to Box Office Heights

Pixar is finally back in fighting form.

The Disney-owned animation studio’s 28th movie, “Inside Out 2,” arrived to roughly $145 million in estimated North American ticket sales from Thursday night to Sunday, ending a cold streak that began in March 2020, when theaters closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was the second-biggest opening weekend in Pixar’s 29-year history, trailing only the superhero sequel “Incredibles 2,” which arrived to about $180 million in 2018.

“They’re back,” David A. Gross, a film consultant who publishes a newsletter on box office numbers, said of Pixar. “This is a sensational opening.”

Based on prerelease surveys that track audience interest, box office analysts had expected “Inside Out 2” to take in about $90 million in the United States and Canada over the weekend. That total would have been strong — on par with opening-weekend ticket sales for the first “Inside Out” in 2015.

“Inside Out 2” sold an additional $125 million in partial release overseas, bringing its worldwide opening total to around $270 million, analysts said. The PG-rated movie cost an estimated $200 million to make and at least another $100 million to market.

“Inside Out 2,” about a 13-year-old girl and the personified emotions inside her puberty-scrambled mind, received exceptional reviews. Ticket buyers gave the movie an A grade in CinemaScore exit polls, the same score the first film in the franchise received.

Pixar began to stumble in March 2020, when “Onward” rolled into theaters just as coronavirus infections were spiking. After that, Disney debuted three Pixar films in a row online — “Soul,” “Turning Red” and “Luca” — bypassing theaters altogether in favor of the company’s Disney+ streaming service.

All three received strong reviews from critics. Quality was not an issue. But Pixar’s connection to ticket buyers — its strength as a big-screen brand — began to fade.

“Lightyear,” a spinoff from Pixar’s “Toy Story” series, marked the studio’s return to theaters in 2022. It crashed and burned at the box office. Moreover, reviews were squishy, at least by Pixar standards. Did the studio now have a quality problem, too?

“Elemental,” an original Pixar movie that rolled out in theaters last year, also received less-than-sterling reviews and, at least initially, sputtered at the box office. But “Elemental” ultimately recovered, collecting a respectable $500 million worldwide.

Pixar has since overhauled its pipeline, delaying another original movie, “Elio,” which had been planned for theatrical release this year, and pushing forward sequels, including “Toy Story 5.” Last month, Pixar said it would stop making original shows for Disney+ as part of its retrenchment, and laid off 175 employees, or about 14 percent of its work force. Disney had pushed Pixar to begin making TV series as part of a broader effort — since abandoned — to flood Disney+ with content.

Disney notably used its streaming service as a sales tool for “Inside Out 2,” which was released exclusively in theaters. On Wednesday, Disney+ subscribers received an email alert for a promotion with Fandango, the online movie ticket seller: Get a $10 credit to use toward a ticket for “Inside Out 2.” The offer, which expires in July, subsequently received a splash of attention on Disney-oriented fan sites.

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