Meet Sox, Disney’s “Lighter” Breakout Star and Next Hot Toy

Disney showed the first 30 minutes of its new Pixar film Lightyear at CinemaCon in Las Vegas on Wednesday, but it wasn’t the protagonist at the center of Toy Story’s origin story that generated the biggest buzz among attendees.

This award went to a small robotic cat named Sox.

The red and white mechanical cat is a personal companion given to Buzz Lightyear after a failed mission. Sox, a therapeutic device of sorts, is designed to do everything Buzz needs, including monitoring his mental health and creating nighttime sleep sounds.

Regular audiences taunted Sox in the first trailers for Lightyear, which hits theaters on June 17th. But CinemaCon attendees’ long exposure to the little robot cat solidified the consensus that it’s destined to be the next hot toy.

Like many of Disney’s and Pixar’s animal and robot companions, Sox has a vibrant personality and adds moments of frivolity to difficult times. During the preview at CinemaCon, his reaction generated the biggest laugh in the crowd.

“Cat Sox is going to steal the whole movie,” Fandango Editor-in-Chief Eric Davies tweeted after the preview. “Disney is going to sell so many Sox cat toys.”

Sox, voiced by Pixar veteran Peter Sohn, has a dry sense of humor and edgy vocals reminiscent of Rogue One’s K-2SO, as well as an innocent and caring personality like Baymax’s from Big Hero 6. He also has a data probe in his tail a la R2-D2 which will come in handy when Buzz is in the pickle.

Audiences leaving the Caesars Palace Colosseum after Disney’s launch heard rave reviews of the new character. In meetings later this week, box office exhibitors and analysts told CNBC that Sox clearly stood out in the highly anticipated animated film, with many imitating the cat or repeating his lines seen in the footage.

“No spoilers. Just know that everyone will want [Sox] buy the toy as soon as this movie comes out,” tweeted John Rocha, film reviewer for The Outlaw Nation, a publication that offers different perspectives on the world of entertainment. “So start buying them right now or as soon as they become available.”

Disney has made significant strides in turning its pals into big toy sellers. In recent years, The Mandalorian’s Grog and Frozen’s Olaf have dominated toy shelves, clothing lines, and household items. Old characters like R2-D2 from Star Wars and Mushu from Mulan continue to sell.

“I looked at the list of the top 50 movie characters and 17 of them were animals, 24 were human or humanoid, and nine were a mix of monsters and robots,” said Richard Gottlieb, CEO of Global Toy Experts. “I was interested in the fact that being cute and fluffy in itself is not a guarantee of success. The character, whether it be an animal or a monster, must be perceived as human.”

Mattel, which owns the master toy license for the Toy Story franchise, has created several plush and figure versions of Sox, but its protagonist for the toy line is an $80 animatronic interactive version of the character.

“Sox has been number one since we saw the movie Lighter,” said PJ Lewis, executive director of Mattel’s Action & Plush division. “We knew he was much more than a helper and came up with several ways to innovate the Lightyear line. In addition, there are several cat lovers on our team who were amazed.”

In addition to a Mattel product, Sox can be found in the toy department as Funko Pop and Lego figures, and in the candy department as a Pez dispenser.

Studios and toy makers are well aware of how consumers of all ages can quickly embrace characters from movies and television. When these characters prove successful in the toy and clothing market, they are often made into household items such as kitchen towels, spatulas, and plates, as well as other merchandise such as jewelry, bandages, greeting cards, and pet toys.

This is a profitable business. Global revenue from sales of licensed goods reached nearly $300 billion in 2019, according to Brandar Consulting’s Licensing International annual industry survey. The entertainment and character sector accounts for $128.4 billion, or about 44% of global sales.

According to Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian, the Sox has every chance of being the next hot toy to make a profit for Disney.

“A star was born this week at CinemaCon,” he said.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Fandango.

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