Disney’s announcement of the upcoming release of Moana 2 in theaters during Thanksgiving may be shocking but it is not surprising.
Why is it shocking? It goes back to the Disney Investor Day in 2020. Moana: The Series was among a number of Disney+ series announced at the time, due for release in 2022. At some point, the studio made the decision to rework the project as a sequel movie. Given how easy it is to lose things in the algorithm, this is the best decision. Theatrical releases ultimately help drive in ancillary revenue in a way that streaming films simply cannot replicate. Sure, a streaming movie might be a top ten film for a few days because of audience curiosity but it does not really make a cultural impact in the same way. Catfishing rom-com Love Hard is one of my biggest reviews because the film made its way into the Netflix top ten. But does anyone still talk about it? I doubt it.
Here is what we know about the sequel: Moana, Maui and a brand-new crew of unlikely seafarers will go on an expansive new voyage when the epic animated musical opens on November 27. Dave Derrick Jr. will make his directorial debut on Moana 2. Osnat Shurer returns as producer. Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear will write songs while Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina return to compose the score and pen songs. The synopsis is as follows:
After receiving an unexpected call from her wayfinding ancestors, Moana must journey to the far seas of Oceania and into dangerous, long-lost waters for an adventure unlike anything she’s ever faced.
We learned that both Dwayne Johnson and Auli’i Cravalho are coming back for the sequel. It wasn’t known on Wednesday but confirmation was made on Thursday. The film would not be the same without their casting. It is a bigger question of how Lin-Manuel Miranda’s absence will impact the film. Make no mistake that his music is a key factor in why the 2016 film became a hit. We won’t know until later as to if his absence will hurt. Meanwhile, the live-action Moana will likely move off of its June 2025 date. Let’s hope Disney learned from opening Solo way too close to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Franchise fatigue is real.
The past few years have not been kind to Walt Disney Animation Studios. Too many films were released direct-to-streaming. It isn’t just the case for Disney Animation but Pixar, too. Think of the impact on morale at the studios. I get the concern for health–believe me, I wasn’t seeing anything in theaters in 2020, let alone early 2021. They really need a hit this year during Thanksgiving. If the film underperforms, we can possibly place the blame on the Wicked Witch of the West. That’s right–guess what is also opening that weekend?!? Wicked! Can two musicals survive a Thanksgiving weekend opening? This is the question that we’ll be asking for the next several months.
Let’s be honest–Disney Animation really needs a hit over Thanksgiving this year. Strange World and Wish both underperformed domestically. Much of the blame can go to the pandemic for training audiences to wait for films to hit Disney+. It’s a shame but that’s the hard truth. Factor in foreign markets and Wish earned just shy of $250 million on a budget estimated between $125-200 million. It’s a better performance than Strange World, which crashed and burned. Marketing hid much of what the film is about. The other thing is that bigots stayed home because of a leading character being gay. The film couldn’t even cross $100 million in domestic and foreign markets combined. What a shame.
I don’t need to remind people about Encanto. The studio sent it to Disney+ after a month and it would grow a huge following. In fairness, December 2021 was not kind at the theaters and the Omicron surge did no favors. While the film went onto earn more than its production budget, other expenses still meant not breaking even. Gone are the days of the Disney Renaissance, Frozen, or Moana, where animated films can become a phenomenon. Those days are never ever coming back in all likelihood because a segment of the pre-pandemic audience is never returning to theaters. Sure, some films can become huge hits but these are the rarities. Animation has an uphill climb because ticket costs keep going up. This is why Disney and theaters both need Moana 2.
Disney makes so many films and TV series that it doesn’t matter how many people subscribe to Disney+. The app is a convenience when it comes to having so many titles in one place. It also helps that one can watch a film in 4K Ultra HD on occasion, even if there is no physical 4K release. Netflix may have disrupted things but I think we all knew that the day of the streaming bust was coming. It more or less came in 2023, leading to both writers and actors to go on strike. Animators are likely next if a deal if they do not make a deal with the studios in time. Anyway, theaters are probably breathing a sigh of relief for Moana 2, especially with all the strike delays.
Disney will release Moana 2 in theaters on November 27, 2024.
Please subscribe to Solzy at the Movies on Buttondown.