More bad news for movie theaters. Pixar’s ‘Soul’ goes direct to Disney+ for the holidays

A middle-school music teacher dreams of being a jazz performer in the Pixar animated film "Soul."
A scene from the upcoming Pixar animated film “Soul,” which has become the latest theatrical casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.
(Disney / Pixar)

In the latest domino to fall as the film industry continues to reel from the coronavirus pandemic, the Walt Disney Co. announced Thursday that it will shift its upcoming Pixar animated film “Soul,” which was originally slated to hit theaters on Nov. 20, to an exclusive Dec. 25 streaming release on Disney+.

A high-concept existential tale about a middle-school music teacher (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who dreams of being a jazz performer, “Soul” was originally scheduled to come out in June before being pushed back to November amid widespread nationwide theater closings. Now, as studios face an exhibition landscape that remains fraught with risk and uncertainty for the foreseeable future — with movie houses closed in the key markets of Los Angeles and New York and audiences wary of returning to those that are open elsewhere — Disney has decided to bypass theaters entirely and leverage the reach of its own streaming platform.

The move follows earlier decisions by Disney to move the films “Artemis Fowl,” “Hamilton” and “Mulan” to Disney+, as the studio looks to shelter its releases from certain box-office doom. Another major upcoming Disney title, the Marvel Studios film “Black Widow,” which was slated for a theatrical release on Nov. 6, has been pushed back to 2021.


Unlike the live-action remake of “Mulan,” however, for which Disney charged viewers a premium fee of $30, “Soul” — which was codirected by Pete Docter (“Inside Out”) and Kemp Powers and also features the voices of stars like Tina Fey, Angela Bassett and Daveed Diggs — will be free for subscribers to the service. Disney has not yet provided details on how “Mulan” fared as a rental title.

Also following the path forged by “Mulan”: In international markets where Disney+ isn’t currently available, “Soul” will be given a theatrical release, with dates to be announced.

In a statement, Docter, who serves as chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios, said, “The world can be an exhausting and frustrating place — but it’s also full of unexpected joys, even in seemingly mundane things. ‘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.”

Following the recent moves of “Wonder Woman 1984,” “Dune” and the James Bond film “No Time to Die” out of the holiday season to 2021, Disney’s decision leaves an already devastated exhibition industry clinging to life support through the critical year-end period that is normally home to blockbusters and Oscar fare alike.

Last week, in a sign of how dire the situation has become for exhibitors, the British-based Cineworld Group announced that it was temporarily closing 536 Regal cinemas in the U.S., a move that portends still more pain to come for theater owners.