Pixar may have been able to squeeze in a short theatrical release for Onward back in March while most of the world was still open for business as usual, but we now know its next feature won’t have the same fortune. Disney recently announced that after initially being moved from June to November, Soul will now release on December 25, exclusive to Disney Plus except in markets where the streaming service is not yet available.
Soul tells the story of music teacher and jazz musician hopeful Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who, after an untimely accident ends up having his soul transported to the Great Beyond, and later, the Great Before, in which he must work with young souls before they are sent to live their lives on Earth, including reluctant soul-in-training 22 (voiced by Tina Fey) in order to be able to return to his body before it dies.
In addition to the usual disappointment from avid moviegoers whenever an anticipated film that was originally set for a theatrical release is switched to the straight-to-streaming route, this announcement has raised a lot of questions and concerns about the optics of the decision as well as the future of similar projects in regards to theatres vs. streaming.
Let’s first address the elephant in the room: Soul is the first Pixar movie with a Black lead (as well as several other prominent Black characters).
So considering having a movie debut on streaming is generally considered less prestigious than having it premiere in theatres first, it’s understandable why so many are upset that a movie being the first in the studio’s history to have this kind of representation is being “downgraded”.
It’s especially hard to swallow considering all the other movies with other kinds of important representation that were gearing up for major theatrical runs only to have their plans forced to change due to the pandemic.
Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon is based on Filipino culture and has had its theatrical release date moved from November 2020 to March 2021. Candyman, Black Widow, Wonder Woman 1984, and are all live-action blockbuster movies directed by and starring women – in some cases, women of colour – have all been pushed back multiple times as the pandemic rages on.
And Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan, which also falls under this category, was released directly to Disney Plus in certain markers (albeit for an extra fee on VOD).
Why is Soul being released on Disney Plus rather than in cinemas?
The likely reason for Soul’s shift to being a Disney Plus exclusive instead of being delayed again is less of a knock on the film’s quality and more of a testament to it.
Director Pete Docter is known for bringing several major awards and accolades home for Pixar, most notably Best Animated Feature Oscars for Up and Inside Out, and a Best Picture nomination for the former.
While Pixar could have simply elected to push back Soul again and put it in the running for the 2021-2022 Oscar season, there are a few probable reasons why they did not.
The studio has another feature, Luca, planned for next year that they may think has a chance at awards season glory. Having them come out in different years rather than having them compete against each other in the same one (as well as potentially Raya and the Last Dragon, which is also under the Disney umbrella) means more opportunities for Pixar, and by extension, Disney, to win awards.
The timing of this release may result in even more accolades than originally thought.
At a time when so many movies are being delayed due to box office prospects or inability to be completed on schedule or their planned release dates, there will be less competition all around come awards season.
As previously stated, even though it’s uncommon for animated films to make that shortlist, it’s not unheard of for a Pixar move to get up in those big leagues.
With Pete Docter at the helm and less movies released before the (extended) deadline, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Soul nominated for the biggest honour in cinema (especially considering its stellar reviews coming out of the BFI London Film Festival).
Could Soul get an Oscar nomination?
If this really is the motivation behind the decision to move Soul straight to streaming, it certainly speaks well of the film.
And it’s clear that without the pandemic, the film would have gone to theatres like all of the studio’s other features.
However, all of this doesn’t change the fact that the first and currently only Pixar movie with a Black lead is also the first and currently only Pixar movie going straight to streaming instead of first getting a theatrical release.
Short of delaying the movie well into 2021 (and losing its chance at Oscar glory for this season) there isn’t much that can be done about Soul’s situation.
But perhaps this wouldn’t be as crushing a blow as it is to those who were highly anticipating finally seeing this kind of representation in a Pixar movie if it wasn’t actually the only one with it.
No one can change the fact that Soul is the first Pixar feature with a Black protagonist, but as the studio moves forward with future projects the creative team has the power to make sure it doesn’t stay that way.
Here’s hoping that Soul will be a big hit for Disney Plus
If we saw this sort of representation in movies – especially high-profile, family-oriented ones – more often, films like Soul wouldn’t have to bear the weight of being the “face” of an entire community within a studio’s library of content.
We wouldn’t have to question the optics of decisions like this and whether there are any other underlying reasons behind them other than an unprecedented global pandemic that has thrown the entertainment world for a loop.
Hopefully, Soul will turn out to be a big hit for Disney Plus and bring Pixar the Oscar glory it seems to be hoping for.
And hopefully, all of this will drive the studio to tell more Black-led stories in the future.
Pixar’s Soul will make it’s Disney Plus debut on December 25, 2020.
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