Toy Story: How Buzz Lightyear keeps making millions

Buzz in a box Image copyright Disney
Image caption Disney says Buzz “is the best selling toy of all time” in its UK stores

When Buzz, Woody and Jessie return to our screens on Friday with the release of Toy Story 4, it’s not just cinemas that will be hoping for queues at their doors.

Retailers also hope the sequel will get their tills ringing too.

Why? Nine years ago, when Toy Story 3 was released, sales of toys, T-shirts and other merchandise in the UK were greater than takings at the box office.

The Buzz figure is already the Disney Store’s best selling toy of all time.

The film – which will be released on 21 June – could provide a boost for the UK toy industry after a 7% fall in annual sales last year.

“The more successful the movies, the more likely (but not always) it will correlate with toy industry sales,” says Rebecca Deeming of the British Toy and Hobby Association.

Franchises are an important fuel for toy sales. Data from market research company NPD shows that 23% of toy sales in the UK last year were generated by franchises – and almost half of that was related to films.

Image copyright Disney/Pixar
Image caption Toy Story 4 is released in the UK on 21 June

“The good thing about toys from licenses is that they can encourage role play and imagination and children can recreate what they’ve seen in films,” says Ms Deeming.

Toy Story is an extra special gift for retailers: a film based on toys and with an added dose of nostalgia. The children in the mid-1990s when the first film was released – 1995 in the US, 1996 in the UK – are now adults and may well have children of their own to take to the latest film.

Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, says the new film will “reinvigorate interest and excitement in the merchandise among a whole new generation of fans”.

Amy Pearson, marketing director for Disney Store Europe, says Toy Story appeals to fans of all ages.

“It’s not just for kids. It’s for everybody,” she says, adding that in the UK it “is by far the biggest franchise for us”.

Even before the film’s release, last week a fifth of sales in the 42 UK Disney Stores and online were being generated by Toy Story.

‘Woody’s a great leader’

Image copyright ANDRETAYLOR

Andre Taylor was born in 1996 – the year the first Toy Story film was released in the UK.

Browsing in the Disney Store on London’s Oxford Street, he says he is a “big fan”.

He has fond memories of playing with the toys with his brother when he was younger.

“It’s just been something I hold on to for a very long time. I’ve always identified with Woody and I’ve liked his character development from the first film… They really do put detail into the stories they are making,” he says.

“[Woody’s] a great leader. When times get tough, he never ever gives up,” he says.

A toy collector, he keeps the toys in their boxes and intends to get characters such as Bo Peep and Bullseye after payday.

New toys were added to the range in April, including those based on the new character, Forky – a spork given a makeover who does not want to believe he is now a toy.

But Ms Pearson says that an updated version of the original Buzz Lightyear figure launched almost 25 years ago is still the main attraction. “He’s the best selling toy of all time,” she says.

‘The year of the movie’

Alice Enders, director of research at Enders Analysis, says expectations are high that the latest Toy Story release will do well for Disney – and not just in the UK.

“It’s a family movie… the timing is for the 4th of July [independence day holiday] in the US,” she says.

Analysts have been expecting 2019 to be a good year for Disney because of the slate of films being released. The sequel to Frozen is due before Christmas, while Avengers: End Game – based on the Marvel superheros – has already been released.

Rivals have major releases too: Lego Movie 2 and How to Train Your Dragon: the Hidden World have already hit our screens.

Image copyright Disney/Pixar
Image caption Forky is a new character in this film

Frederique Tutt, global industry analyst of toys at NPD, describes 2019 as “the year of the movie”.

It is one of the reasons she is hesitant to predict that Toy Story 4 can smash records like its predecessor did.

Her data shows that toy sales from Toy Story 3 generated £104m of sales in 2010 – breaking the then-record for franchised-related toy says in the UK.

Data provided by Disney shows that box office receipts in the UK for Toy Story 3 were £74m, which it says still makes it the UK’s highest grossing animated film.

It also says more than a million Buzz Lightyear action figures were sold that year.

Image copyright Disney
Image caption Disney also tries to make money from sales of Toy Story-themed clothing

Ms Tutt reckons £80m of toy-related sales in the UK would be a very good figure for this year’s Toy Story release.

While the week after the release of the film will be a crucial indicator for sales, she points out that there is not always an immediate correlation.

Frozen was released in 2013 but its biggest year in retail was 2015, when it grabbed Toy Story’s 3’s crown for the most film franchise-related toy sales in the UK. (That has since been broken again by Star Wars).

And while Avatar from James Cameron has been the best-selling film at the box office worldwide up to now, it has no sales in toys. “This was a miss. I’m sure this will be different when Avatar 2 comes out,” says Ms Tutt.

She says sales of the new Toy Story toys were already making up 1.2% of the UK’s toy market in the week ending 8 June. Compare that with 2010, during the record year, when Toy Story made up 3.7% of total toy sales in the UK.

For now, toy retailers will be hoping their sales catch a bit of that famous Buzz catchphrase: “To infinity and beyond.”


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