Disney is making a surprising move by releasing three Pixar films in theaters this coming year, each of which has been streaming on Disney+ for a few years. Why is the company making this odd move?
To kick it off, Disney has confirmed that three major Pixar releases are coming to theaters in 2024: Soul on January 12, Turning Red will be on February 9 and Luca will arrive on March 22. They will be accompanied by the short films “Burrow,” “Kitbull” and “For the Birds,” respectively.
All three films are notable for being meant for theaters but banished to Disney+. Soul at least has a good excuse, as it was meant to be Pixar’s big summer 2020 release. Obviously, the Covid-19 pandemic changed that with another planned release in November, which was likewise delayed.
The movie, about a jazz musician who accidentally dies and tries to get back to the world of the living, did get good reviews and won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, so it worked out okay.
Luca is different, as being bumped to Disney+ in June of 2021 seemed off. The movie about a pair of young mermen traveling to the human world could have made decent business, although the box office at this time was still tricky to figure out.
But Turning Red is a different story. The saga of a girl discovering that puberty turns her into a giant red panda could have been a fantastic theatrical hit, with movie theaters getting back into full business by the spring of 2022. Instead, Disney sent it to Disney+ and then backed Lightyear, which turned into Pixar’s biggest flop.
So, after banishing these three movies to streaming, why is Disney giving them theatrical releases now? One word: Desperation.
Why Disney needs more theatrical hits
It’s no secret that 2023 has been a bad year for Disney at the box office. Yes, they’ve had a few successes, like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, but other films have either underperformed or outright bombed. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and Wish are among them, while even the once mighty MCU is now struggling.
Ironically, a saving grace this year was Pixar, as Elemental looked like a flop after a bad opening at first. But thanks to strong word of mouth, the movie kept steady at the box office to become a sleeper success. As 2024 dawns, Disney’s theatrical slate is more empty, with both Marvel and some animated films put off until 2025 as the company tries to regroup.
So, re-releasing these Pixar films, each of which already earned a lot better reviews than, say, Wish, is Disney trying to fill up their slate and hopefully improve their box office numbers. That’s something they need as they can hopefully move to smaller-budgeted films, as the massively high budgets are a reason their 2023 flops are bigger.
A question is if moviegoers will come out to three movies that have been available on Disney+ or home video for a couple of years. Disney wouldn’t be doing this unless they were sure of some turnout, and they may be right. A common reaction of many seeing these films was how each would have been far more stellar on a big screen than a TV or computer.
Soul has some spectacular visuals, some of Pixar’s best ever. Luca has a fun vibe, and its story of acceptance is wonderful. Turning Red is one of Pixar’s best films from the 1990s, with a great soundtrack and a lovely tale of mother and daughter bonding over problems. So all three have the potential to bring in moviegoers, even those who have already seen it at home and wish to experience Pixar's magic on the big screen again.
In a way, this is Disney acknowledging the mistake they made by not releasing at least Luca and Red into theaters in the first place. So it’s “better late than never,” yet it will be good for each to have their shot at the big screen at last.
It also shows that Disney needs some major rethinking of their theatrical slate in 2024, and if these movies succeed, it can be a reminder of what Disney used to be for moviegoers and hopefully get back to that.
Soul, Luca and Turning Red all streaming on Disney+.