Disney announced this week it’d be releasing at least one of its pandemic-delayed films, not in theaters, but on its Disney+ streaming service. The live-action Mulan won’t be free, either — instead it’ll be the platform’s first-ever Video On Demand release. Depending on how long this pandemic lasts, it might not be the only one.
The Mulan live-action remake was originally intended to come out in March, but was delayed indefinitely after the COVID-19 pandemic forced theaters to close alongside everything else. It wasn’t the only film to get its theatrical release disrupted, but it was definitely one of the most anticipated films in that bracket. Disney‘s waffled on setting another release date, and it was only a matter of time before they either announced it was getting a delayed release date or even a staggered one, or was being shuffled onto one of many streaming platforms.
We’ve already seen examples of all three, with Tenet getting a staggered release, Black Widow a delayed one, and Onward being released on Disney+. So it’s a bit of a surprise that Disney‘s trying to have its cake and eat it too by releasing it on Disney+, but also charging for it.
Specifically, Mulan will cost $30 to watch on the platform, on top of the subscription fee. Disney CEO Bob Chapek made it pretty clear during an earnings call that the company is aiming to get what revenue it can from the movie while also adding to Disney+ subscriber numbers: “We see this as an opportunity to bring this incredible film to a broad audience currently unable to go to movie theaters, while also further enhancing the value and attractiveness of a Disney+ subscription with this great content.”
I don’t expect this to go down very well with some more vocal film fans out there, especially with that steep fee. There’s a strong argument to be made that, if it wasn’t going to get a theatrical release, Mulan should have been put on streaming services without the additional cost. But I think anyone who knows about the importance of the theatrical release cycle, especially to a company like Disney, could tell that wasn’t going to happen. Given the global pandemic, I think and experiment like this was eventually going to happen.
As much as I wish I could watch new Disney movies for free, this movie business is just that — a business. And I’m willing to bet Mulan was not cheap to make. As much as I would have liked to see Mulan on Disney+, Disney wasn’t going to let it go without trying to reap something resembling the theatrical revenue. I’ll be curious to see how many housebound Disney fans actually pay this toll.
Chapek made it clear this is a deal only for this movie, a one-time exception made only because of the coronavirus. At the moment, Disney has no plans to put out its other tentpole releases this way — Black Widow is still scheduled for a November release. But I’m willing to bet Disney is observing this release, just in case the world situation means a theatrical release is still untenable for future movies.
Mulan will release on Disney+ on September 4.