Why Disney’s treatment of Pixar versions is weird

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Turning Red is now the third Pixar film in a row to skip a theatrical release entirely – a treatment Disney isn’t giving its non-Pixar releases.

Turn red, which premieres on Disney + on March 11, is now the third Pixar film in a row to skip a theatrical release entirely, after Soul and Luca. While there are justifications that can be advanced for this exit strategy in light of the pandemic, those arguments start to fall flat when we realize that Disney is alone making these justifications for Pixar movies. All of Disney’s other big movies in 2021 and 2022 initially slated for theatrical release have stayed true to those plans, with delays or simultaneous VOD releases if needed, but Pixar, once Disney’s most trusted studio with the critics and audiences, now seems to be relegated to streaming content – at least when it comes to original stories.


When Soul dropped off on Disney + for Christmas 2020, that made sense. Pete Docter’s film had experienced multiple delays before, and at the time, theaters were facing challenges from the pandemic. Sticking to a 2020 version allowed Disney to submit Soul for the Oscars with limited competition, and his messages about living in the moment and appreciating the little things in life were incredibly appropriate for a year of such great uncertainty.

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Luca going straight to streaming in June 2021 was slightly weirder. By that time, Disney had already released Raya and the last dragon and Cruel simultaneously in both theaters and as premium content on Disney + and had similar plans for Black Widow and Jungle cruise later in the summer. However, two Pixar films in a row sent directly to free streaming would have hurt the morale of Emeryville’s animation studio.


Now, Turn red officially turns this from a coincidence into a pattern. You could attribute this to bad luck over the omicron wave, but it’s striking that Disney’s official press release doesn’t even mention the pandemic, but just “the delayed resumption of the box office,“Wording that makes it clear that the concern is not safety; it’s the money. If Disney were truly concerned about the increase in COVID cases, the company would surely pressure Sony to do so immediately. Spider-Man: No Path Home (a Disney’s Marvel Studios production) available for in-home viewing rather than embracing the film’s titanic box office.


Even if it’s all about the money, it’s still strange that it is alone affecting Pixar movies. It’s true that the box office has been much lower than usual for family animated films this year, but that hasn’t stopped Disney’s own. Raya and the last dragon and Encanto to come to the cinema. Maybe the decision of Turn red is a dramatic reaction to Encanto, which performed well in theaters but became a phenomenon by the time it hit Disney +.

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Disney Pixar Soul Header - Playing the Piano

However, while there is some sort of hard data supporting this publishing strategy, it doesn’t change the fact that the outlook for it is bad on many levels. After a run of mostly sequels for much of the 2010s, Pixar has made four original stories in a row, only to have all of their outings hindered in one way or another (Forward had the bad luck to come to the cinema just before everything closed). Also contributing to poor optics, these original films were also some of the studio’s first to truly embrace diverse voices: Soul had Pixar’s first black protagonist, and Turn red is her first feature film directed by a Woman of Color (Domee Shi). During this time, Light yearPixar’s upcoming white man-focused franchise film appears to be slated for theatrical release, so it looks like Disney is punishing Pixar for its originality (and arguably its diversity).


Bob Iger, who recently retired as CEO of Disney, said buying Pixar was his “proudest decision.” It’s possible that his successor Bob Chapek will see the studio as a lower priority, as a lot can be affected by changes in corporate regimes, and Iger himself has expressed concern that Chapek is becoming too reliant on data – and than movies like Pixar’s coconut or Marvel Black Panther would never be done as a result.

There’s no reason Disney couldn’t have delayed Turn red if a theatrical release in March was really not viable. Honestly, the “It’s Gonna Be Me” meme in the trailers would be perfect to sell for a May release. If it was absolutely necessary to move on to streaming, why is it that only the original Pixar movies have received this treatment so far? Whatever the motivation, it feels like Disney is punishing Pixar’s attempts at originality and diversity.


Turning Red will be available on Disney + (but unfortunately not in theaters) on March 11.

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