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Those Pixar Movies Disney Banished to Streaming Finally Get Their Day in Theaters

Look, we all made mistakes during COVID. Disney was no exception, banishing “Soul,” “Luca,” and “Turning Red” to streaming as Disney+ exclusives. It will now spend the first quarter of 2024 making it up to Pixar with what Disney called “special engagement” theatrical runs for each.

“Soul” was the first and truest COVID casualty of the bunch, and it will be the first to (finally) arrive in theaters on January 12. “Turning Red” is set for a February 9 release; “Luca” will arrive on March 22. All three movies will be screened along with Pixar shorts, just like in the good ‘ol days.

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Despite the “special engagement” designation, end dates have not been booked in advance, a source with knowledge of the plan told IndieWire. If a film performs at the box office, by all means, run free. Speaking of free, the movies are also expected to remain on Disney+ while they play in theaters.

This all leads up to “Inside Out 2” in June. The hope is Pixar fans fall back in love with the brand by then; Disney can’t afford another “Lightyear.”

Pixar for over a decade was one of the most reliable brands at the box office this side of Marvel (also Disney’s). But when the pandemic hit and the race was on to rapidly grow subscribers for Disney+ (remember those scale-or-die days?), then-CEO Bob Chapek downgraded Pixar titles to the small screen. When “Lightyear” finally returned the brand back to theaters in June 2022, it did not go to infinity and beyond: “Lightyear” made only $226 million globally, a low for a “Toy Story” movie. This year’s “Elemental” after a weak opening has bounced back to $495 million worldwide.

It is hard to say if a trio of long-available streaming movies could make a notable dent years later at the box office. Fortunately, there’s not much early-2024 competition for family films save March 8’s “Kung Fu Panda 4.”

This isn’t just a make-good, of course; the re-releases also help fill a “Turning Red”-panda-sized hole in Disney’s early 2024 theatrical schedule. The 2023 writers and actors strikes decimated the 2024 theatrical release calendar — for Disney in particular.

Disney had originally slated another original Pixar movie, “Elio,” for March 2024; it will now wait for June 2025. All of its Marvel movies were pushed back significantly, as was “Mufasa: The Lion King,” which moved out from Summer 2024 to December 2024.

As a matter of fact, the studio doesn’t have a single new movie on its ’24 slate until 20th Century’s “The First Omen” on April 5. (OK so Disney still won’t have a new movie until then, but it will at least have a theatrical presence.)

LUCA, from left: Alberto Scorfano (voice: Jack Dylan Grazer), Luca Paguro (voice: Jacob Tremblay), 2021. © Disney + / Courtesy Everett Collection
LUCA, from left: Alberto Scorfano (voice: Jack Dylan Grazer), Luca Paguro (voice: Jacob Tremblay), 2021. © Disney + / Courtesy Everett Collection©Disney+/Courtesy Everett Collection

To be fair to Disney (and Chapek), “Soul” never really had a chance for a theatrical run — not originally, at least. The Christmas Day 2020 release came just weeks after the FDA approved the first COVID vaccine. “Soul” still won two Oscars.

“Luca,” which hit Disney+ on June 18, 2021, was more of a judgment call, but it did make a huge splash on Disney+ as the biggest streaming movie — on any platform — of 2021. “Turning Red” also spent several weeks at no. 1 on the Nielsen streaming charts when it opened March 11, 2022.

Additional reporting by Tony Maglio

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