Within the vague Variety write-up about a potential Black Widow release date change, which seems all-but-inevitable given the somewhat disastrous stateside response to Tenet and the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with the seasonal flu, creating a super-charged twin-demic in coming months, was a morsel that Disney and Pixar’s Soul, the latest film from Up and Inside Out director Pete Docter, would be headed to the company’s direct-to-consumer streaming platform Disney+. And, yes, this seems like a very real, viable possibility given the uncertainty of the current situation and Disney’s recent move placing the hotly touted live-action Mulan remake on the service (with a $30 premium) instead of theaters.
Onward Did Well
Earlier this year, Pixar’s delightful Onward was released days before the entire world shut down. (Its opening weekend tally was negatively influenced by the emerging fears about public spaces.) So, Disney regrouped and devised a new plan – the movie would first go to video-on-demand platforms for $20, making it a much more economically feasible proposal than, say, Trolls World Tour, which premiered on-demand for $25. And unlike Trolls World Tour, which was a rental, you could own Onward right away. A few weeks after it was made available on video-on-demand, Onward appeared on Disney+. It made subscribers feel special that they were getting what was essentially a new Pixar movie (and if not outright new than at least gently used) on a streaming service they were already paying for, and it probably encouraged families to sign up for Disney+, ahead of what would ultimately be a blockbuster summer (with things like Hamilton, Black Is King and The One and Only Ivan). And from what we understand, the strategy did well and Disney was happy with the results. They were able to turn a potentially disastrous situation (an expensive, highly anticipated original Pixar film unleashed into a marketplace on the brink of collapse) into something resembling a success. All these months later, they could do it again.
Soul Isn’t Going to Make $1 Billion
Everything we’ve seen so far from Soul makes it seem like another Pete Docter masterpiece – from its heady concept (about a soul that becomes disembodied from its human and has to go on a cosmic journey to return to life) t0 its warm, affable characters (including Jamie Foxx as the lost soul and Tina Fey as 22, a soul that wants nothing to do with earth) to its jaw-dropping visuals depicting “The Great Beyond” and modern-day, Pixarified New York City. And, to be sure, Docter is uniquely gifted in his ability to turn high-concept originals into giant, box office-dominating blockbusters. His first feature, 2001’s Monsters Inc, made almost $600 million worldwide; Up made more than $700 million and Inside Out made a whopping $858 million. These are huge hits, for sure, and his movies generally make more than other Pixar originals (Inside Out out-grossed Coco, released two years later, by $50 million). But they never threaten to crack the all-important $1 billion number, a feat accomplished by things like Incredibles 2 and last summer’s Toy Story 4. $1 billion adds a lot to a company’s bottom line, especially a company like Disney, which had seen major segments of its business shuttered completely during the pandemic. The possibility of a $1 billion gross for Black Widow has seemingly kept it from being released on-demand and while that was certainly a goal for Mulan, they still managed to figure out how to release it at home for a steep premium. By all accounts, Soul is maybe the weirdest Pixar movie yet.
It Can Still Be Nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar
Docter’s movies have, along with robust box office, been greeted with overwhelming critical adulation (Inside Out has a whopping 94 on Metacritic). And over the years he has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning two. In fact, in 2001 Monsters Inc was nominated for the first-ever Best Animated Feature Oscar (which went to, um, Shrek). Up and Inside Out won the award in their respective years. And he has been nominated for the Best Original Screenplay award for his work on Toy Story, WALL•E, Up and Inside Out. Not too shabby. And while having Soul debut digitally would seemingly knock it out of a potential nomination, that isn’t the case, with the Academy deeming movies with an intended theatrical release that had to go the home video route out of necessity, still eligible for nominations. So Soul could go on-demand and still win the Best Animated Feature Oscar (both Pixar movies could conceivably be nominated, leading to an adorable animated bloodbath).
The 2021 Calendar Is Filling Up Fast
One of the hard realities, with so many movies shuffled off the 2020 calendar and into next year, is that the release schedule for 2021 is becoming absolutely stuffed with huge movies. The amount of potential blockbuster titles being unloaded each and every week is almost unfathomable. This is the reality that Mulan saw itself facing down, which led to its release as a premium add-on to Disney+. And the same could be true for Soul, especially considering the limited bandwidth Disney has and all of the other properties it has to release next year (including two Walt Disney Animation Studios movies and another Pixar film). At some point elegant repositioning becomes a mad scramble. And that wall is ever-tightening.
It’s the First Pixar Film with a Black Main Character
One thing that might be keeping it from going fully on-demand (and for that announcement to be perpetually postponed) is the fact that Soul is the first Pixar film with a Black lead (Foxx). It would be a bad look to send the first film to feature this kind of diversity to a streaming platform that still has something of a stigma to it, like it’s not “good enough” for even a proposed theatrical exhibition. (This despite, of course, tons of wonderful original movies being released to Disney+ and other streaming giants.) It’s unclear if the optics of this are worrisome enough to keep it off the platform, perpetually waiting for an opportunity in theaters, but it is something to be mindful of. Wherever Soul winds up debuting, the fact that it has a Black lead is huge, long (l-o-n-g) overdue and very much worth celebrating.
We Might Not Know for a While
Even if Black Widow announces that it has moved from November, it could be a while before a decision is even made regarding Soul. November 20 seems like a long way away, even in our every-day-is-blurring-into-the-next landscape and since prints don’t have to be struck and shipped to theaters, decisions can be made incredibly last minute (the same goes for a digital release). These conversations are certainly happening all the time between Disney and Pixar and it could be weeks before a decision is ultimately made. One thing is for certain: we cannot wait to see Soul, wherever that might be.