Disney has announced it’s putting Pixar’s latest movie Onward on digital platforms tonight, and will be bringing the brother-road-trip-fantasy film on its Disney+ streaming service on April 3.
(Don’t let Disney know about the gay character who says one (1) line about her girlfriend’s kids though. Because that wouldn’t be very family-friendly, and that is grounds to get you removed from Disney+)
This is notable for several reasons, but to recap it for you, Onward, starring MCU mainstays Chris Pratt and Tom Holland, has only been in theaters for two weeks as of this announcement, with its United States release having been on March 6. In that time, the film is estimated to have grossed $103.1 million, which is just about half of its $200 million budget. However, given the coronavirus outbreak is keeping people in their homes and out of theaters, Onward’s poor box office performance isn’t saying much about the film or its quality (it’s a fine movie), and more about the state of things when it came out. In fact, last week, Onward’s second week in theaters, brought in the lowest number of ticket sales in over 25 years, largely because people are doing the right thing and staying home as much as they can. As of this writing, major theater chains like AMC and Regal are closing all their locations, as well as freezing customers’ subscription plans until they’re given the okay to re-open.
So it seems like this is Disney doing what it can to make back more money on Onward, as now people won’t have to leave the house to see the film. Then, should things still be a mess come April 3, they can possibly bring in more people to its streaming service. Even just last week, the company put Frozen II (a great movie), which had only just come out on home media, on Disney+ so it would be readily available to families who are self-quarantining.
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So this seems like a good arrangement for everyone involved, but it does beg the question of why Disney doesn’t go this route with other movies that are being affected by the coronavirus. Both Mulan and The New Mutants have been pushed out of their March release dates to some nebulous time in the future, and Disney clearly is willing to put brand new movies on digital platforms if it has to. Perhaps Onward is a testing ground for a new approach, and could determine if Mulan or The New Mutants could premiere on something like Disney+? Or it could just be a one-off as the company attempts to salvage a movie that was essentially sabotaged at the box office.
Not to say that I’m ready and eager to see Disney, or any company for that matter, abandon theaters. I love going to see movies, and now that I’ve got a subscription plan at Regal, I go see them more than I ever have. But it just makes you wonder what, if anything, Disney will realize by swapping its approach up.