In completely unsurprising news, Pixar’s next film, Soul, will skip theaters and premiere on Disney+. It is shifting back one month from its previously COVID-adjusted release date of November 20 to December 25, when it will be available on the streaming service at no additional cost. In international territories where Disney+ is not yet available, Soul will be in theaters…eventually. Soul will have its world premiere at the London Film Festival, and it will open the Rome Festival Film next week. It was also an official selection of the cancelled Cannes Film Festival, and as much as everyone insists things will go back to “normal” once the pandemic is fully contained, a major studio movie chosen by Cannes debuting as a streaming film—Cannes being the most anti-streaming film festival—feels like a major paradigm shift.
The notable thing is not that Soul is going to Disney+, that was ever more obvious with every date change that left the film in 2020—which really makes you wonder what’s going on with Wonder Woman 1984, the last blockbuster standing in 2020—but that Disney is not repeating the premium pricing experiment of Mulan. I do not take this as an indication that Mulan failed. It strikes me more as gathering data in the ongoing “does releasing nine-figure movies work on streaming” experiment. Disney knows what Mulan did or didn’t do, and now they can compare whatever that is to how Soul does without the surcharge. Hamilton isn’t really a good data point because they’re not on the hook for those production costs, whereas Soul ran them an estimated $150 million (and Mulan is rumored to cost twice that). They need to know how streaming earnings compare to traditional box office when compared to nine-digit production costs.
These are the films no one is sure can make money on streaming, but Disney is gathering that data, learning every day what the limits are—or are not—for big-budget films on streaming. Soul will provide one more point for comparison. And it gives stir-crazy families something to look at on a major holiday, which will probably pay off in millions of new subscribers. (Disney has not released a ton of new originals on Disney+, the pandemic has delayed many of those projects, but every time they do drop something new on the platform, they pick up a surge of new subscribers.) This news also makes me wonder where Free Guy really stands. Releasing the movie on Disney+ would mean families could watch Soul together and then the adults could start Free Guy after the tots have gone to bed. If Disney released both movies on streaming in December, they would totally dominate the holiday movie season. Well, whatever passes for the holiday movie season in the middle of a pandemic, anyway.