‘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 $155 million in estimated North American ticket sales from Thursday night through Sunday, ending a cold streak that began in March 2020, when theaters closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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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 $140 million in partial release overseas, bringing its worldwide opening total to around $295 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.

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% of its workforce.

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