In a four-hour presentation to its investors on Thursday, Disney activated its full Death Star capacities and unveiled much of its upcoming slate of projects coming down the line. The announcements were surely designed to goose Disney’s stock price and cover for the damage done by the COVID pandemic, especially to its theme-parks business, and led with a real focus on the importance of Disney+ to the company. The service has already racked up 86.8 million subscribers in its first year, and the company is hoping to get 230 million to 260 million by 2024. Of the 100 projects that Disney announced, about 80 percent will debut on the service, and the price of it is going up a dollar a month, to $7.99, in March.
Blame or thank Baby Yoda, but Disney+ has become the heart of Disney’s ambitions, even though several of its films will still open in theaters first next year. That’s a difference from WarnerMedia, which has gone all in on its lagging service, HBO Max. Disney is also committing even harder to its big franchises like Star Wars and Marvel, and even a few names from newly acquired Fox, meaning that even if there are a lot of new shows and movies coming out, you’ve probably heard a little about most of them before. To help understand the onslaught of announcements, let’s break them all down in detail.
Thanks to its acquisition of Fox, Disney has taken over Hulu and turned it into the place for its more adult-focused programming. As part of that, Hulu’s getting more movies of its own, like Palm Springs and Happiest Season. Disney said that Searchlight and 20th Century Studios, the former Fox divisions that tended to produce indie, Oscar-y, and basically just non-franchise-y movies, will start to launch films straight to Hulu, though didn’t give any specific details on that plan yet. Further bolstering the service, Hulu’s also planning more integration between it and its sports coverage on ESPN+.
In terms of upcoming Hulu projects, Disney teased a few films and shows we’ve heard about before: the upcoming comedy Only Murders in the Building with Selena Gomez, Martin Short, and Steve Martin (which has been filming on the Upper West Side); the Kate McKinnon–starring Elizabeth Holmes drama, The Dropout; the Michael Keaton, Peter Sarsgaard, and Rosario Dawson opioid-crisis drama, Dopesick; and David E. Kelley’s mystery Nine Perfect Strangers, starring Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy. Plus, Disney promised that The Handmaid’s Tale will return in 2021 for its fourth season and revealed that it has been renewed for a fifth.
In a big mysterious coup, Hulu’s also gotten the Kardashians to mosey over to its service from E! They’ll be making “new global content” for Hulu with a multiyear deal that will start to premiere in 2021, though we don’t know exactly what that will look like.
Led by John Landgraf, who coined the term peak TV, FX had built itself into a prestige machine in the pre-Disney era, and looks like it’s planning to continue to do so afterward, though with a lot more production, with plans to do 30 original shows a year. To that end, FX said that new seasons of many of its shows are coming back, including Atlanta and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which it renewed for a grand total of four more seasons, making it the longest-running live-action sitcom ever (suck it, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet). Then Landgraf teased a bunch of new stuff coming to the FX on Hulu platform. Already known: The Old Man, starring Jeff Bridges; Ryan Murphy’s anthology series American Horror Stories; B.J. Novak’s anthology series, Platform; Taika Waititi’s comedy about Native American teenagers in Oklahoma called Reservation Dogs; maybe, finally, its long in the works Y: The Last Man series; and Shōgun, a series from Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo based on James Clavell’s novel that Landgraf described as capturing the “real life Game of Thrones” of feudal Japan (so, yeah, feels like FX is bullish on this one).
The big new FX on Hulu announcement: Noah Hawley, of Fargo and Legion, is making a TV series based on the Alien franchise, with the support of Ridley Scott, that will be set “not too far in the future” here on Earth. Hawley previously discussed his pitch for the idea as focusing on the “human drama” of the Alien universe, though good luck topping Scott’s bonkers Alien-ish HBO Max series, Raised by Wolves.
Everybody loves Baby Yoda and absolutely refuses to start calling him Grogu, and so while it looked like Disney might back off Star Wars projects after the disappointment of Solo a few years ago, it’s suddenly all in on the galaxy far, far away all over again. Stemming from The Mandalorian, Disney is developing two live-action Disney+ spinoff series that will operate in the same world and time as its flagship series: Rangers of the New Republic and Ahsoka, starring Rosario Dawson as the Jedi Ahsoka Tano. Those will also lead up to a crossover event between shows as Disney Marvel-izes its Star Wars content.
Coming sooner, there’s the Rogue One spinoff series, Andor, starring Diego Luna and written by Tony Gilroy, which Kathleen Kennedy described as a sort of spy thriller. That’s in production in London, and, as Kennedy revealed, it has added theater’s own Fiona Shaw, Denise Gough, and Kyle Soller to its cast as well as Genevieve O’Reilly as rebel leader Mon Mothma.
Disney previously announced that it found a way to coax Ewan McGregor back into playing Obi-Wan Kenobi for Disney+, but it upped the ante by adding that it has somehow gotten Hayden Christensen to come back from his farm in Ontario to play Darth Vader in the show as well.
For some other takes on the Star Wars galaxy, Lucasfilm also gave a preview of its animated series, The Bad Batch, and said that it’s working with anime creators on a series of Star Wars shorts called Visions. There’ll also be a Disney+ droid series called A Droid Story. Lucasfilm has gotten two big TV writers to take a swing at Star Wars as well. Kennedy announced that Dear White People’s Justin Simien is making a Lando spinoff series, though didn’t mention who might play Lando (has Donald Glover’s deal not closed yet?). She also revealed that Russian Doll creator Leslye Headland’s Star Wars series is called The Acolyte and is a “mystery thriller” about the emerging dark side set in the “High Republic era” — a.k.a. we’re getting a Coruscant show!
On the feature-film side, Disney confirmed that Waititi is indeed making his own take on Star Wars and brought out the biggest Star Wars news: Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins is directing her own feature, titled Rogue Squadron, which will be about Rebel fighter pilots and recalls the name of the far too difficult to pilot video-game series about the squad led by Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles.
As a reminder that Lucasfilm doesn’t just do Star Wars (though, yes, it mostly does Star Wars), Kennedy mentioned three other projects in the works. Warwick Davis is coming back for a Willow Disney+ series, with a pilot from Jon M. Chu. Tomi Adeyemi’s novel Children of Blood and Bone is being developed by Lucasfilm and 20th Century Studios. The fifth Indiana Jones movie, directed by James Mangold, will come out July 2022 — not that any announcement about that movie has stuck.
Disney does informational stuff too! It’s got a feature documentary, Cousteau. Then a bunch of stuff coming to Disney+: a new installment of Genius about Martin Luther King Jr., a documentary; Secrets of the Whales, a documentary; A Real Bug’s Life; a nature documentary, America the Beautiful; Chris Hemsworth challenging himself to do crazy things with his body in a series called Limitless; and a Darren Aronofsky series with Will Smith about a “journey to unlock the secrets of this planet’s most extraordinary, unexplained phenomena.” Maybe they will explain Mother! along the way.
Disney+ TV series
Various Disney+ franchises and concepts you’ve heard of in the past are also becoming Disney+ series in their own way. As we’ve heard before, coming in 2021 are a Mighty Ducks series, a Turner & Hooch series with Josh Peck, a girls’ high-school-basketball series with John Stamos called Big Shot, and The Mysterious Benedict Society with Tony Hale and Kristen Schaal.
Its big-name bets: the previously announced Beauty and the Beast Gaston-focused prequel with Luke Evans and Josh Gad; the newly revealed version of Swiss Family Robinson from Outlander’s Ron Moore and Crazy Rich Asian’s Jon M. Chu; and its previously announced TV adaptation of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series that is really trying to make up for the sins of the film franchise.
Get excited for Disney+ movies that are by and large, as usual, somewhat familiar. Disney confirmed that it is indeed making a Hocus Pocus sequel, directed by Adam Shankman, and the Zac Efron Three Men and a Baby remake. Following up its film Safety about football star Ray McElrathbey, it also announced three new sports movies based on the lives of Chris Paul, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Keanon Lowe.
I have no idea what to make of the above movie Flora & Ulysses, but it seems wild! Then there’s also Black-ish creator Kenya Barris’s updated version of Cheaper by the Dozen, which was previously announced, but Disney revealed it will star Gabrielle Union. Disney is also making an animated Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie, defrosting the Ice Age franchise for a movie called The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild, and making an animated Night at the Museum film. All of this will, yes, be on Disney+.
Some of the more exciting projects also coming to Disney+: John Mulaney and Andy Samberg, of all people, are playing Chip ’n’ Dale Rescue Rangers in a movie directed by Akiva Schaffer. Robert Zemeckis’s Pinocchio with Tom Hanks is coming to the service. David Lowery’s Peter Pan & Wendy, with Yara Shahidi as Tinker Bell, is going to Disney+, and so is the Amy Adams sequel Disenchanted. Finally, Whoopi Goldberg is coming back to go streaming with Sister Act 3.
Actually coming to theaters: Jungle Cruise, now set for July 2021; Barry Jenkins’s “live action” (c’mon, it’s all CGI) Lion King prequel, which Disney revealed will have music from Hans Zimmer, Pharrell, and Succession’s Nicholas Britell; and the actually live-action Little Mermaid.
Disney’s next big princess-esque film, Raya and the Last Dragon, starring Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina, will be out on March 5, 2021, both in theaters and for an added price on Disney+, what the company is calling “premier access.”
Meanwhile, the animation department is churning out Disney+ animated series based on some of its films. Disney announced plans for shows called Baymax (as in Big Hero Six), Zootopia+, Tiana (as in The Princess and the Frog), and Moana.
Branching out from those more well-known names, Disney is also collaborating with the African entertainment company Kugali to create a Disney+ science-fiction series called Iwájú that’s set in a futuristic version of Lagos and will premiere in 2022.
On the film side, Disney gave more details about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new Disney animated project, Encanto, about a magical family in Colombia that lives in a magical home. Zootopia’s Byron Howard and Jared Bush are co-writing and co-directing it with Charise Castro Smith.
Pixar is continuing to make a bunch of shorts that will appear on Disney+ and has announced its own Disney+ franchise spinoffs: Dug Days, about the dog from Up trying to make his way in suburbia, coming fall 2021; and a Cars series, about Lightning McQueen and Mater driving around the country, coming fall 2022. It also revealed a new original series, Win or Lose, that tells the story of a middle-school softball team in the lead up to a big championship game, with each episode from the perspective of a different character. That’ll come out fall 2023.
After Soul comes out on Disney+ this Christmas, Pixar’s next feature is the film Luca, about two best friends growing up in Italy (are peaches involved?) that’s coming to theaters (!) in June 2021. Then it has handed Domee Shi, creator of the great, unsettling short Bao, her own feature: Turning Red, about a teenager named Mei who turns into a giant red panda when she gets too excited. That’ll be in theaters on March 11, 2022.
Biggest and most baffling: Pixar revealed that it’s making a movie called Lightyear, which it has called “the definitive story of the original Buzz Lightyear.” That’s coming out on June 17, 2022, and will star Chris Evans as Buzz Lightyear. “And just to be clear,” he not so helpfully explained on Twitter, “this isn’t Buzz Lightyear the toy. This is the origin story of the human Buzz Lightyear that the toy is based on.” Have we no respect for the animated sci-fi cartoon Buzz Lightyear of Star Command in this corporation?
Disney saved its biggest, or at least most moneymaking, collection of franchises for last. Kevin Feige came out to unveil, first of all, a new trailer for the Disney+ series WandaVision, which really seems like an excuse to let Kathryn Hahn do sitcom humor (good for her!).
He also brought out the trailer for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which was originally going to be the first Disney+ Marvel series before COVID delays but will now come out in March. Feige called it a feature film split up into six episodes, seemingly just to annoy TV critics.
Also in the Disney+ Marvel machine: Loki, the first footage of which Feige brought out last night, promising that it’s a sort of crime caper, something that also confuses Loki himself. Loki will be out in May and then later, in the summer of 2021, Marvel’s also putting out an animated series What If …? That sadly isn’t about Renée Zellweger doing Indecent Proposal but is about imagining alternate realities for Marvel characters, like if there was a Captain Britain.
On the film side of things, Marvel is sticking to the theatrical business. Black Widow will still come out in theaters, now on May 7, 2021. Then Marvel revealed that it has wrapped production on its film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, starring Kim’s Convenience’s Simu Liu as the Chinese American hero. It’ll be out on July 9, 2021. After that, there’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, out on March 25, 2022, which will tie in with WandaVision and the next multiverse-stuffed Spider-Man and, as Disney revealed, will also star Xochitl Gomez as the character America Chavez.
To blur the line between movies and TV, Disney also demonstrated that its Marvel TV shows are going to tie in closely with its movies. For instance, there’s its Ms. Marvel Disney+ series, starring Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan, a Pakistani American teen in New Jersey. Like many of the characters introduced in the Marvel TV shows, she’ll eventually join up with the movies, appearing in Nia DaCosta’s Captain Marvel 2, which is out on November 22.
Then there’s Hawkeye, the Disney+ series starring Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and, as Disney finally confirmed, Hailee Steinfeld as fellow archer Kate Bishop. After it was reported that Tatiana Maslany is playing She-Hulk and then Maslany denied that she is playing She-Hulk, Disney finally confirmed that, yes, Maslany is actually playing She-Hulk, a.k.a. lawyer Jennifer Walters. Mark Ruffalo (He-Hulk) is also showing up in her series, as is Tim Roth as the Abomination. Marvel also mentioned, but kept things vague, about its plans for a Moon Knight series (Oscar Isaac has been attached, though his name wasn’t mentioned in the presentation); a Secret Invasion series that would reunite Captain Marvel’s Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn; an Ironheart series about inventor Riri Williams, starring Dominique Thorne; and Don Cheadle’s return to playing War Machine in a series called Armor Wars, about Tony Stark’s tech falling into the wrong hands.
To keep things goofy, James Gunn is also filming a Guardians of the Galaxy holiday special for Disney+ on the set of that next film, while Disney+ is also making an I Am Groot series of shorts.
Then in terms of new things about its big upcoming films: Marvel confirmed that Christian Bale is joining the next Thor and revealed that he’s playing a villain named Gorr the God Butcher. It also confirmed that Mahershala Ali is starring in a Blade film and revealed that Peyton Reed will come back for the next Ant-Man film, dubbed Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which will bring Kathryn Newton as Cassie Lang and Jonathan Majors as Kang the Conqueror into the whole universe.
Finally, Marvel confirmed that it will not recast Chadwick Boseman’s character T’Challa after his death this year but that it will still be making a Black Panther 2 that will explore the world of Wakanda. In a hint of the possibilities for Marvel after the Disney-Fox deal, Feige announced that Spider-Man director Jon Watts will direct a new Fantastic Four movie. That franchise had long been the property of Fox, which made many attempts to turn it into its own superhero franchise (which did not work), but now it seems the characters could become a part of the whole MCU. Could the X-Men be next? Maybe! But, really, for now, isn’t all this enough???