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Disney Investors Have a Friend in "Toy Story 4"

Rick Munarriz, The Motley Fool

The next huge Disney (NYSE: DIS) movie is about to hit a multiplex near you. Toy Story 4 makes its highly anticipated debut tonight, and the latest installment in the franchise that put Pixar on the map is going to be popular. Each Toy Story film has topped its predecessor, with Toys Story 3 cracking $415 million in ticket sales in 2010 to become the third-highest grossing animated film at the time.

There is no reason why Toy Story 4 shouldn't topple those numbers. It will open in more movie theaters than any previous Disney animated feature, and ticket prices inch higher with every passing year. Initial reviews have been glowing, just as they were for the three earlier movies. Disney also has also more riding on the franchise at its theme parks than it did last time out. In short, the stakes are high when the toys are back in town.

Buzz Lightyear, Jessie, and Woody as costumed characters at Toy Story Land in Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Image source: Disney.

To infinity and beyond

It's been 24 years since Pixar's original Toy Story ushered in the era of feature-length computer-animated features, and Disney's $7.4 billion deal to acquire Pixar in 2006 cemented the franchise's fate squarely in the hands of the media giant. Pixar on its own was reluctant to go the sequel route, but it's a different story for its financially fueled parent. Toy Story is as close as it gets to a sure thing in Hollywood, and Disney knows it. 

Disney has never been better suited to cash in on the franchise. It now has social media promotional tools that weren't fully developed when the last film hit theaters nine years ago. Its theme parks are also more Pixar-centric. The Toy Story Mania carnival shooting arcade ride existed at Disneyland and Disney World when Toy Story 3 rolled out in 2010, but the franchise's influence has expanded with Jessie's Critter Carousel opening at Disney's California Adventure in April. The bigger investment came last year when Toy Story Land opened at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida.

Merchandising is also getting a boost this time around. Toy Story 4 is introducing several new characters into the family of playthings that come to life when humans aren't around, and Disney's consumer products division is going to milk them as much as possible with new merchandise.

Disney itself was already having a hot 2019 at the multiplex before the new computer-animated film. This year's three highest-grossing movies -- Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, and Aladdin -- are all the handiwork of the House of Mouse. It will own the four top spots within a week. Disney has its finger squarely on the pulse of what consumers crave. This is the fifth year in a row that the world's highest-grossing film is put out by Disney. Toy Story 4 is here, and Disney isn't playing around. 

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Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.