The animated tentpole had been set to croon its way into theaters on Nov. 20. The decision to send the movie straight to Disney+ both underscores the precarious nature of moviegoing amid the ongoing pandemic, and the importance of Disney+ — which has amassed more than 60 million subscribers — to its parent company.
Unlike Mulan, which carried a premium price of $29.99, Disney+ customers can watch Soul at no extra charge. In markets where the streaming service isn’t available, the film will play on the big screen. Dates are to follow.
“We are thrilled to share Pixar’s spectacular and moving Soul with audiences direct to Disney+ in December,” Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Chapek said in a statement. “A new original Pixar film is always a special occasion, and this truly heartwarming and humorous story about human connection and finding one’s place in the world will be a treat for families to enjoy together this holiday season.”
Disney announced the seismic shift on Thursday following a tumultuous a week that saw MGM, Eon and Universal delay No Time to Die from Nov. 20 to April 2, 2021. The James Bond film had been determined to stick to its Thanksgiving date — like Soul, it had already pushed back its release once before because of COVID-19 — but came to the conclusion that a box office recovery in 2020 is unlikely.
Within hours of the No Time to Die delay, mega-theater circuit Cineworld revealed it is reclosing its U.K. and U.S. Regal locations because of a lack of Hollywood product.
The exit of Soul and No Time to Die from November mean that there isn’t another all-audience Hollywood tentpole hitting the traditional marquee until Dec. 25, when Wonder Woman 1984 is scheduled to unfurl theatrically. (The superhero sequel had been set for Oct. 2, but recently moved.) Box office analysts are predicting that Wonder Woman 1984 will have to move as well.
The Thanksgiving calendar does still include DreamWorks Animation’s event pic The Croods 2: A New Age (Nov. 25), although that film could end up on PVOD after 17 days per Universal’s new deal with AMC Theatres. Nor is it clear whether other big circuits will carry the sequel because of the AMC pact.
In reaching the decision to send Soul to Disney+, company insiders say the streaming service is an ideal destination for a broad family film amid current market conditions, and that it will keep current customers satisfied in addition to attracting new subscribers.
Separately, a debut on Disney+ does not exclude Soul from participating in the Oscar contest (Pixar has long been an awards darling).
Soul is directed by Pete Docter and co-directed by Kemp Powers from a screenplay by Docter, Powers, and Mike Jones. The film stars the voices of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, and Angela Bassett.
The movie follows middle school teacher Joe Gardner (Foxx), who dreams of being a professional jazz musician. After Joe gets the opportunity to be the opening act at the Half Note Club, he is in a life-threatening accident and his soul is separated from his body. His soul is then transported to the You Seminar, a center where souls develop and gain passions before being transported into a newborn child. When Joe learns that he is still alive, he asks fellow soul 22 (Fey) to help him get his soul back into his body. She refuses to help, though Joe accidentally involves her when the two fall down a tunnel that connects them to Earth.
“The world can be an exhausting and frustrating place – but it’s also full of unexpected joys, even in seemingly mundane things,” said Docter, who also serves as chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios. “Soul investigates what’s really important in our lives, a question we’re all asking these days. I hope it will bring some humor and fun to people at a time when everyone can surely use that.”
Oct. 9, 1:00 p.m. Updated with The Croods 2: A New age release date.