The decision to keep putting Pixar movies straight to streaming has frustrated theater operators, who rely on family films to fill the void between superhero releases. Pixar’s target demographic, family audiences, haven’t been eager to return to theaters with the ongoing pandemic
Disney hasn’t kept every animated movie away from cinemas. Raya and the Last Dragon landed simultaneously on the big screen and on Disney Plus while Encanto was available exclusively in theaters for 30 days. Yet two Pixar films in the same year, Soul and Luca, skipped theaters entirely to debut on Disney Plus.
Even with the lack of Pixar theatrical releases, box office experts reference the animation empire’s historic success, including Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Up, and Coco. Box office revenues matter, but Disney is equally concerned with growing their Disney Plus subscriber count.
But Disney still sees value in Pixar for its generation-spanning appeal. Other than parents with young kids, there still exists a fanbase of young adults who were raised on the adventures of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Nemo, and Dory. The studio has experimented enough between exclusive theatrical releases, hybrid rollouts, and Disney Plus-only premieres to discover how to maximize revenue and amplify its subscriber base at the same time.
Analysts don’t believe the rapidly spreading omicron COVID-19 variant will keep people away from theaters forever. Family films, a genre that generated more money than any other at the box office in 2019, will be key to the theater industry’s recovery when spiking cases eventually taper off.
Flexibility has proven to be central to Disney’s pandemic-era box office strategy. The next Pixar film that may hit theaters is Lightyear, the Toy Story spinoff scheduled for June that features Chris Evans as the titular character who inspired the popular Buzz Lightyear action figure. The upcoming film seems tailor-made for the big screen in association with the Toy Story franchise, but it may not land in theaters by the time summer rolls around.
For now, Pixar’s future is being charted on Disney Plus.