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Disney is releasing the wrong Pixar movies in theaters to celebrate its 100th anniversary

Kirsten Acuna   

Disney is releasing the wrong Pixar movies in theaters to celebrate its 100th anniversary
  • Disney is re-releasing eight classic films in theaters this year for its 100th anniversary.
  • "Toy Story," "The Incredibles," and "Coco" are the Pixar picks.

Disney recently announced plans to re-release eight "classic" movies in theaters to celebrate the company's 100th anniversary.

Among the two-week limited engagements are three beloved Pixar films — 1995's "Toy Story" (July 21 - August 3); 2004's "The Incredibles" (September 1 - September 14); and 2017's "Coco" (September 15-28).

While this may be the first time some families get to experience these films together on the big screen, Disney chose the wrong Pixar films to celebrate.

Disney should be highlighting "Soul," "Turning Red," and "Luca," three Pixar titles that never received wide theatrical releases in most of the world. (The trio were released in international markets where Disney+ didn't launch. The latter two films received one-week theatrical runs at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood.)

Instead, the titles, all of which feature diverse leads and creative teams, were sent straight to Disney+ to bolster the company's burgeoning streaming service, which launched in November 2019, much to the dismay of Pixar staff.

"Soul" follows Joe, a school teacher who thought his days of becoming a jazz player had long passed him by. It's mind-boggling that the winner of best animated feature and best original score at the 93rd Academy Awards never received a major theatrical release, even after its accolades — especially since the studio proudly and heavily marketed the film as featuring Pixar's first Black lead.

In "Turning Red," the adolescent Mei transforms into a red panda, a metaphor for puberty. At the time, it had the "best weekend premiere" on Disney+.

"Luca" follows a close friendship between two sea monster boys in what many interpreted as a queer coming-of-age story. Director Enrico Casarosa told The Wrap they "talked about" making the leads gay, but decided to keep the focus on a "pre-romance" friendship.

The creation and distribution of a trio of diverse pictures that were never given the ability to be widely screened by the public at large feels exploitative and disingenuous, given that former Pixar chief John Lasseter told press in 2015 that the studio wanted to make more diverse stories about "female and ethnic characters."

Those sentiments ring hollow when you're creating those very films and shoving them onto Disney+. Pixar movies were once considered major theatrical events, but the latest strategy has left worthy films treated much like one of Disney's B-level straight-to-streaming live-action remakes ("Lady and the Tramp," "Pinocchio").

"Turning Red," "Luca," and "Soul" got a raw deal.

Disney's re-release choices are predictably lazy and safe

"Toy Story." "The Incredibles." "Coco."

Yes, it makes sense to re-release "Toy Story," "The Incredibles," and "Coco," three movies that most folks are probably aware of and have likely watched dozens of times at home. Two of these films have already been in theaters multiple times.

"Toy Story" was previously re-released in 3-D in 2009, earning $41.2 million worldwide. "The Incredibles" received a 2015 Australia re-release and a 2018 re-release as part of a double feature with its sequel.

Why release familiar hits instead of movies sent straight to Disney+?

From a business perspective, it makes sense.

Disney's box office is floundering this year. Its seven theatrical releases so far have grossed an average of $322 million. It's a far cry from 2019, when the studio had a record seven movies cross $1 billion.

The studio's highest-grossing film of 2023 will likely be "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" with $838 million. Of Disney's 10 remaining theatrical releases this year, a "Captain Marvel" sequel is the studio's singular hope for another big win, unless Gareth Edwards' sci-fi spectacle "The Creator" surprises.

MovieRelease dateWorldwide box office
"Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania"February 17, 2023$476,071,180
"Chevalier"April 21, 2023$3,942,014
"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3"May 5, 2023$838,313,750
"The Little Mermaid"May 26, 2023$527,549,654
"The Boogeyman"June 2, 2023$63,904,668
"Elemental"June 16, 2023$193,873,079
"Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny"June 30, 2023$154,039,953 to date

Re-releasing classics is an easy opportunity to try and make up some of that cash flow.

"Toy Story" is Pixar's most lucrative franchise. The four installments have grossed more than $3 billion combined. Meanwhile, "Incredibles 2" is Pixar's highest-grossing film ($1.2 billion). Re-releasing the 2004 original is a sly way to encourage parents to bring their kids to see the other film that likely came out before they were born. "Coco" was the fifth best-selling home entertainment release of 2018 and Oscar winner for best animated picture.

Disney is also re-releasing "Beauty and the Beast," "Frozen," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "The Lion King," and "Moana" theatrically for the 100th anniversary, a further sampling of risk-averse titles. ("The Lion King" is one of Disney's most successful franchises. It's had six separate home entertainment releases since 1995.)

The re-release of Disney's greatest hits feels less like a well-meaning nostalgic celebration of the company's anniversary and more of a tired, desperate cash grab to boost the studio's lackluster box-office.

Perhaps if Disney's 2023 performance was a bit stronger, the studio would've released "Luca," "Turning Red," and "Soul" in theaters as a special "never before seen" promotion. But releasing those films is risky.

Would they perform like a "Toy Story," or flop like recent Pixar titles "Lightyear" ($226 million) and "Elemental" ($193 million)? Since these films are easily available to stream, it's a coin toss. Despite being the right thing to do for the crew and talent who expected to see their work on the big screen, it may not have resulted in box-office dollars.

Unfortunately, these decisions often come down to the bottom line.

If Disney was really celebrating Pixar, the films that never had a chance to shine would get their due.

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