The film will become available as a premium title on Disney+ the same day it debuts in theaters.

By Kelsey Sutton

4 mins ago

Disney will co-release the upcoming animated title Raya and the Last Dragon simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ as a premium movie offering, the company announced today. This marks the latest title that will see a joint theatrical and digital release as the unrelenting Covid-19 pandemic casts doubt on the viability of traditional theatrical showings.

The film, an adventure fantasy from Walt Disney Pictures and Walt Disney Animation Studios stars Awkwafina voicing the titular Raya. It will be released in theaters and on Disney+ as a premiere access title on March 5, 2021, the company said today during a virtual presentation to investors. Executives did not announce how much the title will cost as a premium title.

It’s the second such premium release on Disney+ after the company opted to make live-action remake of Mulan available for premium rental in September for $29.99. But it also comes as the theater industry grapples with what might be a bruising 2021 after the Covid-19 pandemic devastated traditional theatrical attendance.

Just last week, WarnerMedia, after announcing that it would release upcoming superhero movie Wonder Woman 1984 simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max on Dec. 25, made the stunning decision to make all 17 of Warner Bros.’ 2021 film slate available both in theaters and simultaneously on HBO Max. Those releases, unlike Disney, are not premium titles, and come at no additional cost after paying for an HBO Max subscription.

WarnerMedia’s decision spurred a flurry of backlash from within the industry and from theater owners, who said the decision could be ruinous. “Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service,” director Christopher Nolan said.

AT&T CEO John Stankey defended the move this week as one that would be a “win-win-win.”

“There’s a win for us, there’s a win for our customers, and there’s a win for our partners,” he said Tuesday. “And any time you’re going to change a model, I know it creates a degree of noise, and this is certainly no exception. But I think, ultimately, rational parties will step back and look at this and say, ‘Giving theater owners a predictable release of content over the next several months that they can plan around and start to work their business around is a good thing for them.’”

With this announcement about Raya and the Last Dragon, Disney is unlikely to ruffle industry feathers as much, since the decision only affects one title. But it highlights the challenges entertainment companies face heading into 2021, when many blockbusters that were delayed this year are slated to debut.  

And with many of those blockbusters still waiting in the wings for 2021 debuts, the simultaneous release is unlikely to be the last to be announced.