A week or so ago, we saw Disney make the first move against normal theatrical windowing by releasing “Frozen II” on Disney+ months earlier than anticipated. This was in response to the beginning of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic in the US. Since then, other studios have gone much further, releasing brand-new theatrical films on VOD just days after they hit theaters. Well, the Mouse House is ready to take that all even one step further with its recent debut, “Onward.”
According to Disney, “Onward” is getting a home release way earlier than anticipated due to coronavirus forcing people inside and out of theaters. Beginning today, the Pixar animated film is set to hit VOD, which is a similar tactic to what has happened with Warner Bros.’ “Birds of Prey” and Universal’s “The Hunt” and “The Invisible Man,” which are all newer theatrical releases that are going to be available to purchase. But what makes the “Onward” release way more interesting is the fact that Disney is going to actually release the new Pixar film on its streaming service, Disney+, on April 3, merely one month after the film arrived in theaters.
“While we’re looking forward to audiences enjoying our films on the big screen again soon, given the current circumstances, we are pleased to release this fun, adventurous film to digital platforms early for audiences to enjoy from the comfort of their homes,” said director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae.
To say the Disney+ release of “Onward” is unprecedented is an understatement. Up to now, it’s been obvious that studios were hoping to recoup money lost from the lack of theatrical distribution by charging for films on VOD. Disney, in essence, giving the film away to tens of millions of streaming subscribers so soon after “Onward” arrived in theaters is pretty crazy and points to the fact that the Mouse House is really wanting to attract people to its streaming service.
This also is the worst-case scenario for the theater exhibitors, who have obviously been worried that audiences would get used to the idea of films being available at home so soon after being on the big screen. The National Association of Theater Owners has already released a statement about how this is obviously a unique situation, but if “Onward” does drive a large number of people to Disney+, the studio could see this as a viable option in the future.