Culture on My Mind
December 18, 2020
This week, I’m thinking Disney.
It’s been a weekend since the Disney Investor’s Call, but it’s taken a few days to parse all of the news from the four-hour long presentation on all things Disney, including Star Wars and Marvel Studios.
It was almost like a mini-D23 Expo to close out a troubling year. But it did come with news that the Mouse House was planning on expanding their streaming offerings within the next few years, including around 10 Marvel series, 10 Star Wars series, 15 additional series under the Disney banner (Disney animation, Pixar, and live action), and 15 completely new movies under those same banners.
There will be a price hike on Disney+ to cover it. The service is going to $7.99 a month in the United States, coming from the 86 million subscribers they picked up in the first thirteen months as well as anyone else who wants in on what the House of Mouse has in store.
Raya and the Last Dragon
Long ago, in the fantasy world of Kumandra in ancient Asia, humans and dragons lived together in harmony. But when sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, those same monsters have returned and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the last dragon in order to finally stop the Druun for good. However, along her journey, she’ll learn that it’ll take more than dragon magic to save the world—it’s going to take trust as well.
This computer-animated adventure film stars Kelly Marie Tran as the titular Raya and Awkwafina as Sisu, the last dragon. It is directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, co-directed by Paul Briggs and John Ripa, produced by Osnat Shurer and Peter Del Vecho, written by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim, and scored by James Newton Howard.
This film was originally set for a November 2020 theatrical release, but due to COVID-19 it was pushed back to late March 2021. The investor call revealed that it will be released to Disney+ on March 5th alongside a theatrical release. The streaming release will be on the Premium Access side of Disney+, meaning that it will require an additional fee to access. If it follows the Mulan model, it will likely become widely available around three months afterward.
The Star Wars news started with what might have been a no-brainer after this season of The Mandalorian.
There are a lot of dark clouds surrounding Rosario Dawson at the intersection of Star Wars fandom and the LBGTQ+ community, and she has a lot of work to do to regain trust given the allegations against her. I don’t discredit anything that the LBGTQ+ community has to say about it. Disney has made many strides forward in representation and diversity, but the casting of both Rosario Dawson and Gina Carano has told many people that there is still a long, long road to travel.
That said, given her status, I would have been very surprised if Disney had let Dawson go after a one-shot appearance as one of the most famous modern characters in the franchise.
There are not a lot of details surrounding the Ahsoka Tano limited live-action series, but Dave Filoni is slated as showrunner. Which, of course he is, because she is his creation.
I am excited about this for many reasons. I’ve loved Ahsoka since her premiere in 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars, even if my fellow fans were not. Trust me, despite what franchise detractors claim now, they were certainly not fans of her twelve years ago. But in that time, she has expanded the philosophy of the Force beyond the Skywalker films, and has been an avatar for Dave Filoni to take the reins of the Star Wars universe after literally studying at the feet of George Lucas for the animated series that followed the 2008 film.
I just wish someone else was in the lead acting role, y’know?
The Ahsoka series is apparently going hand-in-hand with Star Wars: Rangers of the New Republic, a live-action series from executive producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni that will intersect with future stories and culminate into a climactic story event.
Whatever that means, anyway. I’m guessing that either we’ll get some clues as The Mandalorian wraps its second season, or maybe we already have with that golden badge that Cara Dune received from the New Republic.
Last August, Lucasfilm and Disney announced that Ewan McGregor was returning to his prequel trilogy role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in a series set on the Tatooine dunes. We found out from the call that the series will take place approximately ten years before A New Hope, or effectively halfway into his self-imposed exile after Revenge of the Sith. The series will be helmed by Deborah Chow, who directed in season one of The Mandalorian.
The big news here is that Hayden Christensen is returning to the role of Darth Vader for the series. It’s only been relatively recently that Christensen has warmed up to Star Wars fans after the fire and venom they flung at him after the prequels. Seriously, if you want to see how bad some supposed fans can be, read up on the troubles that Jake Lloyd, Ahmed Best, and Hayden Christensen have had in light of the nastiness of fan letters.
It’s not clear if Christensen will be in flashbacks or in the Vader suit, but I’m eager to see how the story goes because I loved Ewan McGregor’s interpretation of Kenobi.
After that, they talked about the next feature film.
Patty Jenkins, director of Wonder Woman and Wonder Woman 1984 will be directing a Rogue Squadron film.
Coming to theaters in December 2023, this film will follow the next generation of starfighter pilots in the Star Wars universe. It also fulfills a dream since Patty Jenkins, the daughter of a fighter pilot, has always wanted to make a fighter pilot movie. She’s also a Star Wars fan. It’s a match made in heaven.
We’re also getting a film directed by Mandalorian and Marvel alum Taika Waititi, but no details are available.
Finally, we have a last bundle of television series.
Lando Calrissian’s getting a show, but we have no idea if it’s Billy Dee Williams, Donald Glover, or another actor in the svelte capes.
The Cassian Andor (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) series is finally being talked about. The Tony Gilroy spy thriller will star Diego Luna as Cassian Andor with Stellan Skarsgard, Adria Arjona, Fiona Shaw, Denise Gough, Kyle Soller, and Genevieve O’Reilly as Mon Mothma.
Leslye Headland, Emmy Award-nominated creator of Russian Doll, is in charge of a Dark Side mystery-thriller called The Acolyte, which is set in the final days of the High Republic era. That’s well before The Phantom Menace.
Star Wars: Visions will present ten short films in an anthology from the world’s best anime creators.
A Droid Story will take us on an epic journey with a new hero guided by R2-D2 and C-3PO.
And, last but not least, The Bad Batch will continue the Clone Wars story with the elite and experimental clones introduced in The Clone Wars: Season Seven as they navigate the turbulent times just after the fall of the Republic. This one might be the hardest for me to watch since I’m not a fan of the clones who executed Order 66. It all depends on what happened to the Bad Batch as Palpatine gave the order and what happens to them afterward.
I have seen people complain already that it’s too much, too soon. First, this is a plan for years, not months. Second, everything but Rogue Squadron and Taika Waititi’s film will be behind a paywall so you need to pay to play. Third, this is nothing compared to Marvel Studios.
The investor call brought the final trailer for WandaVision, a series dealing with Wanda Maximoff, Vision, the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, and the dawn of Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It premieres in January.
The series will also include Teyonah Parris as a grown-up Monica Rambeau (Captain Marvel), Kat Denning as Darcy Lewis (Thor and Thor: The Dark World), and Randall Park as FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Ant-Man and the Wasp).
We also got a first look at The Falcon and the Winter Solider, a post-Avengers: Endgame and post-Spider-Man: Far From Home series with the new Captain America (played by Anthony Mackie) and Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier as they take on Baron Zemo (Daniel Bruhl, Captain America: Civil War).
They briefly addressed Chadwick Boseman and the Black Panther legacy: Black Panther 2 is definitely happening with Ryan Coogler back at the helm, but they will not recast the role of T’Challa. I’m still pulling for Letitia Wright’s Shuri to become the new Queen of Wakanda.
Disney also announced a few new surprise titles for Phase Four.
Secret Invasion will star Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury as he battles a (ahem) secret invasion of Skrulls with shapeshifting Skrull ally Talos (Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Far From Home). This is probably going to be loosely based on the comics event of the same name.
Ironheart stars Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams, a young black girl from inner city Chicago who reverse engineers Tony Stark’s armor to become the protector of her neighborhood. I am definitely onboard for this.
Don Cheadle will return as War Machine/James Rhodes in Armor Wars as Marvel explores what happens when Iron Man tech falls into the wrong hands. We got a taste of that in Iron Man 2.
We’ll also get a “live action holiday special” with the Guardians of the Galaxy cast (written and directed by James Gunn) and a series of shorts featuring new characters in the Marvel universe via I am Groot.
Ready for another surprise? Just over a year after regaining the rights to Marvel’s First Family, director Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man: Far from Home, and the third Spider-Man MCU film) will be in charge of Fantastic Four.
The Fantastic Four have been notoriously difficult to capture on film, but with Watts in charge, I’m expecting about the same level of levity and charm as he’s shown through the two Spider-Man films so far.
We got a first look at What If…?, which explores stories of alternate Marvel Cinematic Universes where one little thing changed the whole world. What if Peggy Carter was the super soldier instead of Steve Rogers? What if T’Challa was taken by Yondu, thus becoming Star Lord? What if…?
There’s also a first look at Loki, a series that looks like a ton of multiverse-bending madness. It also features Atlanta’s famous Marriott Marquis hotel. I’d know those elevators anywhere.
Oh, and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania! Peyton Reed is returning to direct, Kathryn Newton is taking over the role of Cassie Lang, and Jonathan Majors is Kang the Conqueror.
Is that enough? Of course not. Marvel still has Black Widow on May 7th, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings on July 9th, The Eternals on November 5th, and the third MCU Spider-Man film on December 17th.
Thor: Love and Thunder (enter Christian Bale as Gorr the God Butcher), Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (which just announced newcomer Xochitl Gomez to portray America Chavez!), the Black Panther sequel, the Captain Marvel sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and a Blade movie are still in the wings for 2022 and beyond.
We also have Hawkeye (Hailee Steinfeld is Kate Bishop), Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani is Kamala Khan), She-Hulk (Tatiana Maslany in the title role with Tim Roth and Mark Ruffalo returning as Abomination and Hulk), and Moon Knight being developed for Disney+.
Love ’em or hate ’em, Disney’s still revamping their back catalog in live-action/computer animated form. However, given the tumult presented by COVID-19 on the motion picture industry, the upcoming remakes of Peter Pan and Pinocchio will join Lady and the Tramp and Mulan on Disney+ instead of theaters.
Peter Pan and Wendy will star newcomer Ever Anderson (the daughter of Milla Jovovich and Paul W.S. Anderson, who also plays a young Natasha Romanoff in Black Widow) and Alexander Moloney. Yara Shahidi will play Tinker Bell and Jude Law will play Captain Hook.
Yes, a black Tinker Bell. Prepare yourself for a whole new crop of close-minded bovine excrement from that particular sector of the internet.
Pinocchio will star Tom Hanks as Geppetto and Alan Cumming as Honest John, with Robert Zemeckis at the helm. Tom Hanks is a universal treasure, so I’m excited to see what he does with this.
Jungle Cruise and The Little Mermaid will still be released in theaters, and we’re also getting sequels to Enchanted and Hocus Pocus. I get the former, but I’m hesitant about the latter.
On the success of the DuckTales reboot, Disney is breathing new life into Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, this time in the hybrid live-action/computer generated format. John Mulaney and Andy Samberg are the chipmunk brothers in a world where cartoons live side-by-side with humans. So, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? style?
Lin-Manuel Miranda is coming back to Disney animation with Encanto, a new animated film set in Colombia dealing with “the dangerously wonderful chaos of family” combined with elements of magic. Encanto will be the studio’s 60th animated feature film.
Princess Tiana (The Princess and the Frog) and Moana will be returning in their own respective musical animated series, and Baymax (Big Hero 6) and the characters of Zootopia will also be getting their own shows. Disney also announced that they’re teaming up with the Pan-African entertainment company Kugali to develop a science fiction animated series called Iwájú, which showcases a gorgeous, Afro-futuristic world.
We’re also getting another crack at A Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this time as a 3D computer animated series. Not my cup of tea exactly, but it will probably work for the fans. Blue Sky Studios is working on an animated sequel to Night at the Museum, which was a fun and chaotic trilogy.
Pixar also has some dishes for the table: We also get a Buzz Lightyear origin story and a Cars series. I’m skeptical about both of those, but they’re still working on feature films too, including Luca and Turning Red.
Lucasfilm also chimed in with news of a fifth Indiana Jones film with Harrison Ford back in the fedora, James Mangold in the driver’s seat, and a target date of July 2022.
They added a Willow television series to the mix, including Warwick Davis returning as the great sorcerer Willow Ufgood in a story set decades after the 1988 Ron Howard film.
Finally, Lucasfilm will be adapting Tomi Adeyemi’s New York Times bestselling novel Children of Blood & Bone, which features a young African girl in a coming-of-age adventure to restore magic to her forsaken people, the Maji.
Untitled Alien Series
To wrap this all up, the call also contained news of a television series coming to Hulu via FX based on the Alien film series.
Noah Hawley, the writer and producer known from his work on Fargo and Legion, has been tapped to run this series. Rumors abound that Ridley Scott, director of 1979’s Alien and sequels Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, is being courted as executive producer.
All we have so far is that this series will take place on Earth, a first in the franchise if you ignore the two Alien vs. Predator films. And, honestly, most people do.
That’s a lot to cover, but it’s also a bright future for Star Wars, Marvel, and Disney/Fox properties. Keep an eye out because the next few years are going to be packed.
I know I’m excited. If my social media feeds are any indication, I’m not the only one.
Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.
For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.