So, how’s everybody doing? The best you can? Already straining your reserves of funny costumes to wear during work-from-home video chats and Zoom-assisted happy hours? Longing to leave the confines of your residence for a storybook realm that feels a little less magical than usual, but lack the resourcefulness to create your own miniature theme park? Missing family members and/or the gentle ribbing of professional movie pals, but you’ve already watched E.T. and all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films at your disposal? Are you an avid A.V. Club reader who’s just plain curious about how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will impact the established rhythms and traditions of the entertainment-industrial complex? Well, one of the biggest cogs in that machinery just might have an answer to these quandaries. And, fortunately, it isn’t a cease-and-desist notice for Jess Siswick’s #homemadedisney videos.
Disney and Pixar announced this morning that their latest animated feature, Onward, is getting an early video-on-demand release: Buy the fantasy-comedy starring Chris Pratt and Tom Holland digitally or on Movies Anywhere beginning at 8 p.m. ET tonight, or stream it on Disney+ beginning April 3. Both releases come less than a month after Onward’s theatrical debut; the latter sets up the perfect “epic journey involving dead or dying kin” double feature with fellow future Disney+ addition The Straight Story.
“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,” director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae said in a joint statement.
Those circumstances have already had their impact on the film’s commercial prospects. Ian and Barley Lightfoot’s mythic quest across a land that’s turned its back on myth is the lowest-grossing Pixar feature since 2015’s The Good Dinosaur, due in no small part to moviegoers staying away from theaters due to COVID-19, and then those same theaters closing up shop to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus. But just because you can’t leave the house doesn’t mean you can’t watch two elf brothers voiced by Star-Lord and Spider-Man do it.
The early VOD and streaming Onward experience is the latest and highest-profile in a wave of major motion pictures breaking the traditional theatrical window for home-video releases—a window that studios were already putting cracks in before the CDC recommended against touching windows (or any surface for that matter) in a movie theater. When they aren’t responding to COVID-19 by outright pulling or postponing tentpoles—as Disney did earlier this week with Black Widow, and last week with Mulan, New Mutants, and Antlers—they’re accelerating the on-demand roll-out of recent releases like The Way Back, The Invisible Man, and Bloodshot. Who knows how this will affect distribution strategies on the other side of the pandemic; then again, maybe that’s not what anybody should be thinking about right now. Instead, let’s put that energy toward slowing the spread of the virus in anyway we can—even if that way involves paying a small sum to stay put and watch a new, so-so Pixar movie.