European cinema operators have said they’re devastated by Disney’s decision to release Pixar’s “Soul” directly on streamer Disney Plus, saying the move has “shocked and dismayed” them and deprived many audiences across the continent from watching the film.

A statement from the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC), which represents European cinema operators, said: “The vast majority of cinemas across Europe and indeed many regions of the world are now open and able to offer a safe and enjoyable return for audiences. Cinema operators have invested massively in offering the safest possible experience to their audiences on the basis of a promising schedule of new film releases.”

“Yet again, however, they find a distributor delivering another blow. The decision on ‘Soul’ is doubly frustrating for operators who were counting on the release after the film was previewed at a number of key European film festivals.”

“Soul” had its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival on Saturday and is set to play at the Rome Film Festival later this week.

“There is compelling evidence that where audiences have returned, they have found the experience both safe and enjoyable,” the UNIC statement said. “But it is also clear that it is the release of new films that will make all the difference in encouraging people back to the big screen.”

“Indeed, across Europe, many cinemas have — since re-opening successfully — screened countless local releases, underlining that first-run titles are now more important than ever.”

“Mulan” bowed directly on Disney Plus in September, even in territories where cinemas were operating.

“Decisions to postpone titles, to bypass cinemas and the value they create are extremely disappointing — and concerning — and will only delay the day that the whole industry is able to put this crisis behind it,” UNIC said. “It is not only cinemas and audiences who are missing out — this situation must surely also be deeply frustrating for the creators and talents who want to see their films on the big screen.”

UNIC also sounded a note of warning for studios, forecasting a death knell for some cinemas.

“While cinemas will struggle to recover without new releases, so in truth too will our studio partners, whose decisions in such circumstances risk causing irreparable damage to key markets, many of whom will be less well-placed to support their films when they do decide to release them,” said UNIC.

“It is no exaggeration to say that by the time some studios decide the moment is right to release their films, it may be too late for many European cinemas.”