Earlier this week, news broke that Disney plans to remake the 1955 classic Lady and the Tramp into a live-action movie. This doesn't come as much of a surprise. Live-action remakes have made a lot of money for the Walt Disney Company; last year, Beauty and the Beast was the second highest grossing movie worldwide with over a billion dollar gross. The interesting part of this announcement is how Disney plans to distribute the film. Instead of a theatrical release, the studio intends to release the new Lady and the Tramp on their yet-unnamed digital streaming service.
Disney's streaming service, due for release in 2019, stands to be a strong competitor with established companies like Netflix. On top of holding Disney's existing library of films and television programming, it will also reportedly feature "four to six" original works every year. The selection will come from across Walt Disney's holdings: Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Disney Animation, and so on. With a big name title like a Lady and the Tramp remake heading straight for streaming, it indicates how seriously Disney is taking this venture.
As an interesting note, it's worth pointing out that Disney currently stands to acquire streaming service Hulu. Walt Disney already owned 30% of the service, while 21st Century Fox owned another 30% — and with the acquisition of Fox pending, Disney will soon get a controlling stake. How Hulu will run alongside Disney's service remains to be seen.
So what does this mean for animation? It indicates another shift towards streaming as a distribution channel, to complement or even supplant theatrical and broadcast releases. We've seen steps in this direction with films like The Little Prince, which played theatrically around the world but in the United States released on Netflix. Major studios like DreamWorks have also released exclusive series for Netflix, featuring spinoffs of Puss in Boots and their Dragons franchise, as well as original series like Voltron and Trollhunters.
Disney's steps will probably point even more big-budget productions towards streaming first. For comparison, let's look at the recent Netflix original Bright, which turned heads with its $90 million budget. Now let's estimate the budget for Lady and the Tramp. The film will have the same producer as 2016's The Jungle Book, which cost $175 million. Even if that number shrinks a bit for Lady and the Tramp, it still looks to be one of the biggest productions to directly hit streaming services.
Streaming has already impacted the entertainment industry in different ways. It's already upset existing distribution channels, but it seems that the effects are not fully realized yet. A very big step looms in the future, and all eyes will watch to see if the step is solid or shaky.