To stream or not to stream? That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler to project a new motion picture on the silver screen or to take arms against a potential flop and by a means save face?
Satiric poetry aside, Disney’s leadership continues to keep straight-to-streaming an equal distribution option for its feature films to the traditional theatrical release, and it is clear to this reporter that every decision is based on the company’s overall confidence in the project.
In other words, if it goes straight to –whether it is from , Animation Studios, , , or Star Wars/Lucasfilm–, that means the did not think it was not good enough for .
On the morning of June 6, 2022, Disney shared the first teaser trailer for its new animated feature film, Strange World. But unlike other upcoming films like Pixar Animation Studios’ Lightyear, Disney failed to specify if it was sending this movie to theaters or straight to streaming. Which tells me that they are not confident in what they are about to put out into the world.
Read More: Theaters or Disney+? Disney Remains Silent in ‘Strange World’ Trailer
A Movie’s True Success is Still Measured by the Box Office
Sure, hundreds of millions of views on a streaming service are great, and it is all the better if a new movie release can trigger a spike in new subscriptions. But I attest that does not mean a film was truly successful.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek said, “Audiences will be our ‘North Star’ as we determine how our content is distributed, and we do not subscribe to the belief that theatrical distribution is the only way to build a Disney franchise.” And I agree with him to a certain extent. It is not uncommon for franchises to be started with a straight-to-video or TV movie, and Disney+ allows the possibility of those kinds of movies to now have theater-level quality. But you cannot equate a movie’s streaming success to its theatrical success.
Once a new project is finished, people like the Chairman of Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, Kareem Daniel, have to ask a very important question: will this film get butts in the seats?
Is it attractive enough to get their target audience to put in the effort to get out of the house and pay to see in the traditional setting?
If a movie gets relegated to a streaming premiere–especially a streaming premiere with NO premier access–that means their answer is “no.”
Let’s use Disney’s Encanto as an example. This Disney film did not achieve its popularity until it was offered on Disney+ free for subscribers. Disney brass and others can try to hide behind long-stale covid-excuses and praise it for its “diversity and inclusion.” But the fact remains that it was a box office bomb and, therefore, can never be equated to having the same success as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and other Disney Renaissance classics.
Where is Disney’s Confidence in its Movies?
One look at Disney’s upcoming lineup shows just how confident they are in each project. Disney’s live-action remake of Pinocchio will be going straight to Disney+, and it will be the first remake to do so in a time where premier access does not serve as a necessary substitute for theater access, as the case was for Cruella and Mulan. Scarlett Johansson’s standalone Marvel film Black Widow was also sent straight to Disney+ while Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness retained its theatrical release. Pixar’s Turning Red and Luca were both relegated to Disney+ while the Toy Story prequel, Lightyear, starring Chris Evans, retains a theatrical run.
Harsh criticism and reviews from fans directed at Black Widow and Turning Red have seemed to prove to Disney executives that they made the right decision, incurring wide viewership without suffering the costs that came with maintaining a theatrical run. Now, I can only assume that the same disappointment and criticisms are going to come for the Little Wooden Boy as well.
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is another Disney+ original that arguably should have had a theatrical run. But it was experimental in its comedy (and use of Peter Pan) and targeted a rather niche audience which made Disney’s streaming choice reasonable. It is not that Andy Samberg and John Mulaney’s buddy comedy was not theater quality, but rather seemingly too much of a risk for too small of an audience to warrant a theatrical release. At least, that is my speculation on the matter.
Another notable “straight to streaming” choice was Disney’s Jungle Cruise starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. But it was done behind premier access and simultaneously with an official box office release. Released in the Summer of 2021, this movie is the last, in my opinion, that could use Covid concerns as an excuse to avoid the full committed return to a theater-exclusive campaign.
Now, Walt Disney Pictures has released the trailer for its next feature-length animated film, Strange World, and it did not specify where fans will be able to watch it this Thanksgiving. This noticeable omittance makes me believe that the powers that be are unsure of how good this movie is going to be and how appealing this will be to its audience before making a decision. But if audience reactions to a trailer result in no theatrical release, well, that just proves how good it is.
Box Office success will always be the gold standard for movie making, and, if anything, the increased focus on streaming services only increases the impressiveness of how well a movie does if people are willing to sit in a theater to watch it. At this point, only time will tell if Daniel and the rest of Disney’s leadership think Strange World is worth showing the world how good it really is.
In the meantime, we at Disney Fanatic will continue to update our readers on Disney Movie and Disney Plus news as more developments come to light.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article are the writer’s and may not reflect the sentiments of Disney Fanatic as a whole.