Here’s why the Disney+ premiere of Luca might be better for Pixar in the current climate. Renowned for its critically acclaimed animated classics, Pixar has enjoyed great success with sequels to its biggest hitters. From Toy Story 4 to Finding Dory, bringing back the same similar faces has allowed Pixar to rake in the big bucks. But in a refreshing move, the studio pledged to focus on original content from 2020 onward. Unfortunately, Pixar’s planned run of non-sequel projects had the misfortune of coinciding with an unprecedented global pandemic that has changed the cinematic landscape entirely.
Following Onward and Soul in 2020, the next film on Pixar’s slate is Luca. Set in an Italian seaside town, Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) are young sea monsters who adopt a human form and follow their curiosity onto land, exploring the world above water. Since the townsfolk have a long-standing tradition of hunting and cursing mythical ocean monsters, Luca must keep his true identity hidden, or else meet the pointy end of a fisherman’s harpoon. Luca was one of many 2021 Disney releases left in limbo due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent closure of theaters, but a new Mouse House reshuffle has confirmed Pixar’s latest as a Disney+ exclusive set for June 18.
While there’s an inescapable disappointment that Pixar’s big new animation won’t feel the benefit of a big screen premiere, releasing on Disney+ gives reason for optimism in uncertain times. 2020’s Onward hit theaters right on the cusp of the pandemic, but middling reviews suggest Tom Holland and Chris Pratt’s magical quest was never destined to become the next Coco or Inside Out. Pixar’s original output will always carry a certain element of risk (see The Good Dinosaur), and with the theater industry so very uneven at present, it’s highly unlikely that Luca would’ve found success releasing exclusively in theaters as planned, especially without the kind of established audience Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Cars enjoy. Many countries are still in various stages of lockdown, and normality wouldn’t have resumed in time for Luca to receive a fair shake in cinemas.
This means Disney had to choose between either delaying Luca or streaming Pixar’s Italian-flavored tale on their in-house platform. Delaying is both expensive and unpredictable, since there’s no clear consensus on when (and, indeed, if) the theatrical model will get back on its feet. Pushing back Luca‘s date could also disrupt future Pixar projects. Releasing on Disney+ is far from ideal, but Soul demonstrates the benefits of streaming while the world remains in recovery. Released in October 2020, Soul performed strongly on Disney+. Despite not grossing cash in the traditional way, distributing via Disney+ brought Soul to far more eyes than a theatrical release would have, with bored kids (and even more bored adults) tuning in for a rare blockbuster from the comfort of their living rooms. In a world where big profit is all but impossible for movies, a big audience is the next best outcome.
Luca can benefit from the same viewership boost, and perhaps in years to come, Luca 2 and Soul 2 will become box office behemoths, building on the success of their respective first movies on Disney+. Luca‘s cancelled theatrical run isn’t only the least-worst option for Pixar, but also encouraging news for animation fans. In many areas of the world, indoor screenings are still considered unsafe by medical authorities, and premiering on Disney+ means families won’t have to take risks to see Pixar’s exciting new adventure.