Disney+’s premium Mulan experiment was a big swing, with the streaming platform offering a rental of the film for $30 on top of the monthly Disney+ subscription fee, and it seems to conducting a similar experiment with Pixar’s Soul, which will be available for free on Disney+ on Christmas. Both of those moves were made in response to the federal government’s complete lack of a reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, and with no sign of the pandemic ever ending, it sounds like Disney might be getting ready for a more comprehensive shift in its plans for future theatrical releases—as in, there might not be too many for a while.
According to Deadline’s sources, Disney is supposedly “looking at launching a number of its upcoming tentpole family films on Disney+” instead of sending them to theaters as originally planned. Specifically, the films involved in these talks are Craig Gillespie’s Cruella with Emma Stone and Emma Roberts, Robert Zemeckis’ Pinocchio with Tom Hanks, and David Lowery’s Peter Pan And Wendy with Yara Shahidi as Tinker Bell. Deadline doesn’t know if these will be “premium” like Mulan or free like Soul, but we would wager that Disney itself isn’t sure yet and is waiting to see if the debut of Soul coincides with an uptick in subscriber numbers.
This rumor is particularly interesting when taken in context with what Disney has been doing with theaters since they gradually started reopening—when it seems like things were actually getting better in the U.S. instead of simply slowing down before they got much worse. For those who don’t follow the Weekend Box Office reports, Disney has consistently been offering up two or so old movies every week for theaters to screen, making a few thousand dollars in ticket sales from people who feel comfortable enough to go to theaters. That seems to suggest that Disney currently just sees value in theaters as a cheap way to make a little bit of money, with Disney+ then being the real focus for movies that the studio cares about. If you’re wary of an all-streaming future, it could be a grim sign.