In advance of Pixar’s Lightyear, Walt Disney just dropped a poster and a trailer for this November’s Strange World. The Disney press release doesn’t say “only in theaters” or even the word “theaters,” nor does it say “Disney+.” Back in the day, an exclusive theatrical window was automatically presumed. That presumption is partially how and why Scarlett Johansson ended up suing Disney over lost box office-specific profits after Black Widow got a hybrid theatrical/Disney+ Premier Access release.
Still, considering that the studio (speculation alert) probably forked over much of the raw Disney+ profits to Johansson when settling that case and considering that similar lawsuits were avoided partially/probably by overpaying Emma Stone for a theoretical Cruella 2 and/or Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt for a theoretical Jungle Cruise 2, the whole theaters/Disney+ release template may already be a past-tense notion. But again, that’s 104% speculation.
Anyway, the original animated film, opening (presumably theatrically) on November 23, stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Searcher Clade, a conveniently named son of a legendary explorer. Directed by Don Hall (Big Hero 6 and Raya and the Last Dragon) and co-directed by Qui Nguyen who co-wrote Raya), Strange World is being sold (understandably) on its borderline hallucinogenic visuals. I imagine this teaser will play very well on an IMAX or Dolby screen, especially sitting just a little too close to the screen.
The overall exploratory adventure set-up does slightly resemble Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire, a financial whiff ($186 million on a $120 million budget while DreamWorks’ Shrek was changing the landscape) that A) is one of many films that ended up somewhat resembling Avatar and B) was a violent PG-rated animated film back when such a thing was pretty damn unique. Speaking of films that resembled Avatar (not just The Battle for Terra), the fantastical world brought back fond memories of Dragon Hunters, a forgotten animated gem from 2008 that is worth your time if you’re so inclined.
Speaking of Avatar, this “travel to a fantastical world beyond your imagination” flick will debut theatrically just under a month before Avatar: The Way of Water, meaning that Disney has reverted to its pre-Covid release pattern. You’ve got a big MCU movie (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) in early November, a major animated flick over Thanksgiving and a year-end mega-bucks fantasy adventure spectacular the weekend before Christmas break.
Moreover, Illumination’s Sing 2 topped $400 million and even DreamWorks’ The Bad Guys earned $220 million and counting despite both films existing concurrently on PVOD for most of their theatrical runs. It’s now up to Disney to prove that they can still tower over their competition in terms of theatrical animation. Encanto barely cracked $250 million and Turning Red skipped theaters, so now the burden of proof has shifted from Disney’s competitors to Disney itself. Your move, Lightyear.