In theory, paying $29.99 to watch the new live-action Mulan at home, versus what you would have paid for it in the movie theater, is probably saving you money. A trip to the movies with one kid, plus popcorn and drinks can easily cost a family 40 bucks if not a little bit more. So, roughly 30 bucks on Disney+ seems to approximate the cost of a couple of movie theater tickets, or, about what you’d pay for the nicest version of the film on DVD, but only early. But. It still feels like too much, right?
There are a few rational problems with paying movie theater prices for Mulan. This pricing, on some level, seems aimed at people without kids, and not families. And there’s basically one reason why: Going to see a movie in the theater, with kids, is an experience and activity. In pre-COVID times, the real reason parents were willing to drop 40 bucks to see something in the theaters wasn’t just to avoid Avengers-spoilers from their childless friends. The reason you go to the movie theaters with kids is that it’s somewhere to go and something to do. Watching a movie at home, even if you get popcorn and fancy speakers is not the same thing, meaning, the 30 bucks to watch Mulan feels like a rip-off for families. We don’t pay movie theater prices for early access. We pay movie theater prices because it’s a fun event, and, oddly, it usually kills more time than the runtime of the movie. You plan an entire day around going to the movies. You cannot plan an entire day around streaming one movie at home.
This isn’t Disney’s fault. And, on some level, they are doing the right thing by not putting Mulan in theaters. But, by making Disney+ the only way parents can watch this right now, and by asking for extra money on top of the subscription we already pay, seems bizarre. Also, for parents who have kids who are little too young for Mulan (it’s rated PG-13, though, as early reviews point out, this isn’t’ actually a big deal) it’s tough to justify spending 30 bucks to stream this movie now, just to see if your kid will like it a few years from now. On top of that, there’s a rumor that Mulan will become a regular Disney+ streaming title in December, with no additional fees. So, if you’re willing to wait until after Thanksgiving, you’ll save 30 dollars.
To extend the simulated movie theater analogy, this would be like if Toy Story 4 had only been in movie theaters for two months. Sure, most people go to see a movie within the first two months of it being out, but all of those viewing habits could change. The reviews of Mulan are mostly good, but if you’re a tired parent, that doesn’t really change your actual decision-making process whether or not you’ll pay for it. We’re all balancing a hassle-to-enjoyment-to-cost ratio with this stuff. And, as usual, Disney kind of has us by the lapels. Pay up or miss out.
Then again, some pundits believe that if Mulan makes a bunch of money this weekend, then that could change the way Disney thinks about rolling out its big blockbusters. Disney, of course, controls the Marvel movies, and as one expert noted in a Variety article this week, “If Disney does the same [release plan] with Black Widow we’ll know Mulan was supremely successful.” And, the fact is, the reviews of Mulan are overwhelmingly positive. And subjectively, this writer agrees with these reviews. It’s pretty good!
Still, for families, the high cost of a streaming movie like Mulan seems to set a bad precedent. We’re paying movie theater prices without any of the benefits of doing something cool with our kids. Naturally, I’m not arguing Mulan should have been released theatrically, because the benefit of safety, of course, trumps any fun times at the cinemas. The middle-ground would have been to have put Mulan in a bunch of drive-in theaters, in addition to the conventional theaters where it will play in countries that don’t have Disney+. Those new Walmart drive-ins could have all been paying Mulan, right?
Admittedly, for families, there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance with this kind of thing. $29.99 is the kind of money you can easily spend on accident buying random stuff for your kid. But, when you’re just kind of randomly paying to see a movie on Disney+ when you already have Disney+, it seems like you’re being cheated. Disney calls this “Premium Access,” which feels a little dirty. Disney and parents can rationalize the $29.99 price tag all they want. I mean, the movie costed a lot of money ($200 million) to make. They want to earn that money back. But those are stakes for Disney, not for families.
It may be silly to say $15 bucks would have felt more reasonable, but deep down, that’s how it feels. Back when contemporary parents were ’90s kids; Disney used to charge $30 or $40 bucks for brand-new VHS versions of The Little Mermaid or The Lion King. That era felt a little oppressive, and on some level, we’re right back there.