Exhibitors in the U.K. have reacted badly to Disney's shock decision to scrap Mulan's several-times-postponed theatrical release and take it straight to its Disney+ platform in certain markets.
The controversial new release strategy was revealed on Tuesday, with the live-action family adventure — expected to be one of the first major blockbusters to be come out as exhibitors emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown — now set to be offered to Disney+ customers in the U.S., U.K. and other select markets for the premium price of $29.99 beginning Sept. 4, forgoing cinemas in many territories altogether.
In a letter sent to British cinemas on Wednesday and seen by The Hollywood Reporter, Disney apologized for the decision, which it said was one that was "not taken lightly."
"Given that COVID-19 has disrupted large parts of the content pipeline and markets are in vastly different situations right now, and after delaying the global theatrical debut multiple times, we are subsequently taking a tailored approach to this release," it said.
However, the move to bypass cinemas altogether and not even give Mulan a day-and-date release has rattled the U.K.'s already beleaguered exhibitor industry, which had been counting on both Disney's blockbuster and Warner Bros.' Tenet — now due to launch overseas Aug. 26 — to draw back customers.
"The decision not to give cinemas a chance to play the film (even if day and date with Disney +) is frankly bewildering and something we’ve of course gone back to them on," said Phil Clapp, chief executive of the U.K. Cinema Association, in a letter set to its members and seen by THR.
In a later statement, Clapp said the move would seem a "step backwards rather than forwards" by much of the industry.
"With cinemas across the U.K. now continuing to re-open and welcome back their customers, the decision by Walt Disney Studios yesterday to put Mulan on their Disney+ service and not into cinemas will be seen by many as hugely disappointing and mistimed," he added.
"A trip to the cinema to see one of the event family films of the year would have been hugely popular, successful and a welcome escape for many after months of restrictions on out of home entertainment. It would also have provided a much needed boost for both audiences and cinemas who need a supply of new films after Christopher Nolan’s Tenet hits cinemas at the end of August."
Kevin Markwick, who owns the independent Picture House cinema in Uckfield, was more descriptive in his response, joking that he'd be homeless by the time Disney decided to return to exhibitors.
"Thanks Disney chums, we'll be here warm & waiting for you when you plan to return, having existed on thin air and love & cuddles and happy thoughts. Just give us a buzz when you are ready. I'll be sleeping in a doorway outside the bank soaked in my own wee," he tweeted. He later added: "One other thing special Disney cuddle bums, if sectors of the industry are so sure that VOD and cinemas can live together, why not let us have a bash at showing Mulan at the same time?"
Another U.K. exhibition executive said the decision was perhaps taken because Disney didn’t want to "risk cinemas refusing to play the film" if it were to be released day-and-date on Disney+. "If Disney think they don’t need cinemas anymore that’s pretty much game over for us all."