Covid continues to wreak havoc on the theatrical animation schedule. The latest casualty is Disney-Pixar’s Turning Red, which will head straight to Disney+, the Walt Disney Company confirmed this afternoon.
The film will keep its March 11 release date and will be available at no additional cost to subscribers of the service.
The last two Pixar releases – Pete Docter’s Soul and Enrico Casarosa’s Luca – have also gone straight to streaming, while the pandemic-era releases from Walt Disney Animation Studios – Raya and the Last Dragon and Encanto – have had theatrical releases. Soul and Luca were made available for free to subscribers, whereas Raya was initially made available as part of Disney+’s Premier Access program, which required an added fee. Encanto was available exclusively in theaters for a month, before launching for free to Disney+ subscribers.
Pixar staffers have remained publicly silent about Disney’s release strategy, but a story in Business Insider last April cited anonymous workers at the studio who have grown increasingly frustrated by being downgraded to a direct-to-streaming division of Disney.
“We don’t want to be a title just on Disney+,” an unnamed Pixar staffer told Business Insider. “These movies are crafted for the big screen. We want you to watch these movies with no distractions, no looking at your phones.”
While Disney has not released detailed figures on how the Pixar films have performed on Disney+, third-party tracking firms like Nielsen have confirmed that the Pixar films do exceptionally well on the streaming service
Also consider that Disney executives readily acknowledge that their streaming service lacks content. Premiering some of their most valuable content on the streamer is clearly a strategic decision to ensure they don’t lose subscribers to churn, even at the cost of bruised egos at the company’s famed Emeryville animation studio.
Kareem Daniel, chairman of Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, explained the decision to re-route Turning Red in a statement:
Disney Plus subscribers around the world enthusiastically embraced Pixar’s Academy Award-winning Soul and the critically-acclaimed Luca when they premiered exclusively on the service, and we look forward to bringing them Pixar’s next incredible feature film Turning Red. Given the delayed box office recovery, particularly for family films, flexibility remains at the core of our distribution decisions as we prioritize delivering the unparalleled content of The Walt Disney Company to audiences around the world.
Pixar’s next film, Lightyear, is still scheduled for theatrical release in June, and given that it’s based on the company’s tentpole franchise Toy Story, it is more than likely to remain a theatrical release.
Turning Red marks the feature directorial debut of Domee Shi, who directed Bao, Pixar’s Oscar-winning 2018 short. This is the studio’s 25th feature, and Shi is set to become the first woman to get a sole directing credit on a Pixar feature.
Shi is directing from a script that she co-wrote with Julia Cho. Lindsey Collins (Finding Dory, John Carter) is producing the film. Dan Scanlon and Pete Docter are executive producers.
If you work at Pixar and want to share your feelings anonymously about the re-routing of “Turning Red” to streaming, drop me a a line at amid (at) cartoonbrew (dot) com.