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Pete Docter and Pixar’s ‘Soul’ Skipping Theatres, Heading to Disney+

Disney makes the tough decision to cancel their highly anticipated animated feature’s planned November 20 theatrical release date, opting instead to debut exclusively December 25 on the company’s streaming platform.

Once again, a major movie studio been forced to make a hugely unfortunate call on when, if at all, they can get their film safely into U.S. theatres. And, in a move long anticipated but only just announced, in response to ongoing theatre closures and lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic that seems to be gaining, not waning, in ferocity, Disney execs have acknowledged the inevitable: Pete Docter and Pixar’s animated family film, Soul, is skipping theaters and will debut exclusively December 25 on Disney+, just in time for Christmas. In international markets where the streaming service is not available, the film will be released theatrically on a yet-to-be determined date.

According to Bob Chapek, The Walt Disney Company CEO, “We are thrilled to share Pixar’s spectacular and moving Soul with audiences direct to Disney+ in December. 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.”  

The company announcement went on to state, “Over the last six months, marketplace conditions created by the ongoing pandemic, while difficult in so many ways, have also provided an opportunity for innovation in approaches to content distribution. With over 60 million subscribers within the first year of launch, the Disney+ platform is an ideal destination for families and fans to enjoy a marquee Pixar film in their own homes like never before.”  

The year has been brutal for studios and movie theaters, with constant production delays, film release schedule upheaval, and in some cases, releases moved to the digital realms. The Walt Disney Company has been hit especially hard, taking into consideration their huge parks and recreation businesses shuttered by the pandemic. So far this year, Disney has moved The One and Only Ivan, Hamilton, and Artemis Fowl onto Disney+, forgoing cinema releases, in addition to the huge-budget and highly controversial action-adventure Mulan, released this past September 4 on Disney+ as a premium purchase. Recent days have seen release schedule postponement for a number of tent-pole films theatre owners had hoped might salvage their decimated businesses come holiday time: Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, Cary Joji Fukunaga’s No Time to Die, and Cate Shortland’s Black Widow, among others, were all pushed into 2021.

Disney’s upcoming movie schedule has been reshuffled on multiple occasions and following the domestic U.S. box office rout for Warner Brothers big-budget Tenet, just recently released in theatres rather than on-demand, hopes for a successful Soul theatrical release obviously dissipated. Disney’s next animated feature, Raya and the Last Dragon, starring Awkwafina and Cassie Steele, and directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, had previously been bumped to 3/12/21 from its originally scheduled 11/25/20 date; it took that spot from an Untitled Disney Live-Action film, which had been removed from the schedule.

Last month, DreamWorks Animation and Universal Pictures shifted the previously scheduled December 23, 2020 release of their upcoming animated feature, The Croods: A New Age, back a full month on the calendar to November 25, just in time for Thanksgiving. Industry reports at the time speculated the move was made in anticipation of a Disney reschedule of Soul, as well as MGM’s latest Bond film, the highly anticipated No Time to Die, both of which now have moved. It’s anyone’s guess at this point how big a piece of box office pie will be served in the upcoming pandemic-impacted holiday movie business.

It’s feels like years ago already, but Pixar’s last feature film release, Dan Scanlon’s Onward, hit theatres this past March 6, falling victim to the early days of the pandemic with an unfortunately poor box office performance before being released April 3 on Disney+.

Soul tells the story of Joe Gardner, a middle-school band teacher who gets the chance of a lifetime to play at the best jazz club in town. But one small misstep takes him from the streets of New York City to The Great Before – a fantastical place where new souls get their personalities, quirks and interests before they go to Earth. Determined to return to his life, Joe teams up with a precocious soul, 22, who has never understood the appeal of the human experience. As Joe desperately tries to show 22 what’s great about living, he may just discover the answers to some of life’s most important questions.

Featuring the voices of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett, Ahmir Questlove Thompson, Daveed Diggs, Soul is directed by Docter, co-directed by Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami) and produced by Academy Award nominee Dana Murray (Pixar short Lou). Globally renowned musician Jon Batiste is writing original jazz music for the film, and Oscar-winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network), from Nine Inch Nails, have composed an original score that will drift between the real and soul worlds.

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Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.