Earlier this summer, Disney released the latest film from Pixar, “Elemental” in cinemas around the world, however, the film suffered from one of the lowest opening weekends at the box office for a Pixar film, leading many to speculate that Pixar’s box office drawing power had faded. However, over the course of a few months, with lots of positive feedback from audiences, the film slowly pulled in just under $500 million globally at the box office, which is more than “Lightyear”, “Luca”, “Soul”, and “Turning Red” combined.
Over the last few years, during the pandemic, Disney ended up sending three films, directly to Disney+ because families couldn’t go to the cinema due to many restrictions still being in place around the world. However, releasing three films directly onto streaming has caused major problems for Disney, as families became used to the concept of watching the latest animated films at home, rather than heading to theatres, especially with the price of tickets and snacks costing so much.
Following on from the box office success of “Elemental”, the film then went onto become the most-watched movie across all streaming services when it was eventually released on Disney+ three months after its initial release. Indicating that releasing the film in cinemas for a few months first, not only resulted in the film making money in cinemas and on home video release on digital and physical media, but it also barely made any difference to how many people watched it at home when it was released.
According to the New York Times piece, during the pandemic, Disney became too eager to send its films like “Turning Red”, “Soul” and “Luca” directly to Disney+ in the hopes it would grow subscriber numbers, which would help keep Wall Street happy and stock prices higher. And with families not returning to cinemas as quickly and many wondering if cinemas would ever recover. But since the pandemic, Wall Street shifted its focus from subscriber numbers to profits. Releasing films in cinemas first ultimately has proven to work out better financially and also hasn’t hurt their viewing numbers on streaming services when they’ve eventually been released.
Recently, Pete Docter, Pixar’s chief creative officer, spoke about how having Disney send Pixar’s films directly to Disney+ has caused problems for the animated studio.
“There has been an overall shift in viewing habits as a result of the pandemic, but it’s also specific to Disney+. We’ve told people, ‘Hey, all of this is going to be available to you on Disney+!’”
In 2023, Disney has been leaving films in cinemas much longer than in 2021 or 2022, in the hope of retraining audiences that while a film will eventually head to Disney+, it won’t be for months and that going to the cinema to see a film should be a higher priority.
Disney’s next big challenge is going to be “Wish”, which arrives in cinemas for Thanksgiving and Pixar’s next big test will be “Elio”, which arrives in cinemas in March. The success of “Elemental”, will hopefully help give Disney’s animated films a boost, which will ultimately help them in creating new and ambitious new films in the future. Though it’s likely the budgets on new projects will be much lower, considering the latest releases have struggled at the box office. And it’s also likely that Pixar and Disney are going to be changing the types of stories they are making in the future, following the negative feedback they’ve had over many of their recent releases. With Pete Docter saying:
“I always felt that ‘Elemental’ would speak to a lot of people, and I’m so happy it has. But we have also taken another look at the projects we’re working on now. What are the kinds of films we want to be making? I really think I want to double down on what allowed us to speak to audiences to begin with.”
Pixar is also currently working on a new “Toy Story” film, but with audiences not as enamoured by Pixar as they once were, Disney is forcing Pixar to return to its roots and to create films which appeal to a bigger audience, rather than more niche stories that have been highlighted in recent films. This along, with longer exclusive runs in cinemas, will likely help Pixar in the future, though it might take years to fully recover from the damage of sending so many of its films directly to Disney+ had.
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Roger has been a Disney fan since he was a kid and this interest has grown over the years. He has visited Disney Parks around the globe and has a vast collection of Disney movies and collectibles. He is the owner of What's On Disney Plus & DisKingdom.