Luca is the second Pixar film in less than a year to debut exclusively on Disney+. When Soul sidestepped movie theaters to debut exclusively on Disney+ in December, many Pixar employees believed it was a one-time decision brought on by coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which shuttered theaters throughout 2020. But as the vaccine rollout has steadily expanded and theaters have begun to open back up, Pixar staffers are voicing their frustrations with Disney’s decision to apparently send only Pixar films straight to streaming on Disney+.
Several Pixar staffers spoke anonymously to Insider to criticize Disney’s decision to move the animation studio’s titles straight to the streaming platform Disney+.
“Luca doesn’t even have a premium price next to it,” one staffer told Insider. “Does it make it lesser? It’s hard to grasp.”
In December, Soul became the first Pixar movie in its 26-year history to not open in theaters. It was given an exclusive Disney+ release on Christmas Day, which reportedly disappointed director Pete Docter but thrilled Disney when the numbers came in, showing Soul to be a major success for Disney+.
“That’s what was so eye-opening. Disney was over the moon about the numbers,” one Pixar staffer said.
The numbers might have softened the blow over the first Black-led Pixar movie debuting straight to streaming, but several sources at the company still hoped that this would be the first and last time a Pixar movie would not open in theaters. The tide seemed to be shifting in this favor, as Disney’s animated epic Raya and the Last Dragon opened simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ Premier, meaning subscribers needed to pay the $29.99 premium fee that Mulan pioneered. Even with the unique release, Raya and the Last Dragon topped the domestic box office its opening weekends in theaters.
But in March, Disney announced that Pixar’s Luca would skip theaters and head straight to Disney+, without the premium $29.99 fee that Mulan and Raya and the Last Dragon cost. This was a sting to Pixar staffers who worked hard on the film and felt that this absence of a premium price meant Disney thought of Luca and other Pixar titles as “lesser.”
“We don’t want to be a title just on Disney Plus,” a staffer told Insider. “These movies are crafted for the big screen. We want you to watch these movies with no distractions, no looking at your phones.”
One has to wonder whether the reason Soul and Luca have been sent straight to Disney+ is because they aren’t considered surefire box office hits — the former due to the Black-led cast and high-concept premise, and the latter due to an untested director making his feature debut in a deeply personal story. Pre-pandemic, Pixar films like 2018’s Incredibles 2 and 2019’s Toy Story 4 both earned over $1 billion worldwide at the box office, but those films were both sequels of beloved properties. One animator wondered to Insider, “If these movies aren’t having $1 billion runs, does that hurt the company? You wonder that.”
Disney executive chairman Bob Iger recently defended the pivot to streaming, saying at the Clio Awards (via The Hollywood Reporter) Wednesday that the risk of moving from ” traditional forms of distribution — whether for movies or television shows, from linear channels, cable and satellite” to streaming has paid off.
“People have gotten a lot more comfortable watching movies and television shows in their homes, particularly using new technology to do so,” Iger said. “For the most part, that’s good for our business. And that’s certainly one example of disruption that was beginning, then hastened, and will probably be here to stay.”
Iger didn’t specifically mention Pixar movies or a plan to debut more theatrical releases straight to streaming, but it appears that this kind of exclusive Disney+ release won’t be going away with the pandemic. For now, Pixar’s fall release Encanto remains set for theaters.
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