Making sense of Disney’s deluge of new content announcements

A staggering number of upcoming projects were revealed this week, set to be rolled out over the next decade.


Charles Bramesco


Much in the same way that an approaching army will fire all their cannons simultaneously for a shock-and-awe effect intimidating the enemy with the sheer number of their forces, yesterday saw Disney’s annual investor presentation, an orgiastic daylong festival of IP-bandying and content-promotion that charts the breadth of a vast branded kingdom. Those moviegoers into Star Wars, Marvel, or other franchises fondly remembered from a simpler youth met with good news – perhaps too much good news.

Disney executives announced a truly staggering number of upcoming projects, without question the most any single studio has unveiled at any single event in the history of moving pictures. I am reminded of the minor yet significant detail from the novel Cloud Atlas, which postulated a future in which all films are referred to as “Disneys,” an all-encompassing, reality-bending corporate metonymy. Before you can say ‘market saturation,’ let’s take a look at what they’ve got planned:

They started with the live-action productions coming from their high-profile acquisition Fox, a slate that includes a series starring Selena Gomez with recently joined comedy duo Steve Martin and Martin Short called Only Murders in the Building, as well as an Elizabeth Holmes movie with Kate McKinnon to rival to identical project being developed with Jennifer Lawrence.

Also, we’ve got a “harrowing” drama series called Dopesick with Michael Keaton, Rosario Dawson, and Peter Sarsgaard to look forward to, as well as a new series from Big Little Lies creator David E. Kelley reuniting him with Nicole Kidman. Melissa McCarthy will join her in Nine Perfect Strangers.

From their boutique cable TV arm FX, we’ll get a series casting Jeff Bridges as a CIA operative called The Old Man, a Taika Waititi-developed comedy about Native American teens in East Oklahoma titled Reservation Dogs, and an adaptation of cult graphic novel Y: The Last Man, with Diane Lane set to lead. In more sensibility-offending news, Ryan Murphy will further anthologize what is already an anthology series with the pluralized American Horror Stories, which shrinks the season-long arcs to episode length (imagine a sloppy, undisciplined Twilight Zone).

James Clavell’s novel Shogun willl get the small-screen treatment, one of the more promising prospects. And then there’s the upcoming series based on the Alien films from showrunner Noah Hawley, currently hard at work savaging the good name of Fargo. Surely the greatest sci-fi film of all time won’t prove a challenge for him.

They say the universe is always expanding, but the Star Wars universe seems to be doing so at a far more precipitous rate than most. We’re going to get Mandalorian spin-offs galore: an Ahsoka spinoff with Rosario Dawson; Rangers of the New Republic chronicling galaxy-hopping tales of derring-do; a Rogue One series about Diego Luna‘s character Andor; an Obi-Wan focused series that finds Ewan McGregor reprising his role in the years following the events of Return of the Sith (with Hayden Christensen stepping in as Darth Vader); an animated series called The Bad Batch that has no relation to the Ana Lily Amirpour film of the same name; a series of anime-style shorts known as Star Wars Visions, a solo outing for Lando Calrissian; a Leslye Headland-directed mystery series set during whatever the High Republic era is; and an adventure film that’s just droids. Presumably, there will be people in this world willing to watch all, or some, of these.

Moving on to other productions from Lucasfilm, shooting higher than the straight-to-Disney plus swill enumerated above: Ron Howard‘s 1988 dark fantasy film Willow will find a second life as a series with original talent Warwick Davis, and the YA book series Children of Blood and bone (billed by many as an African Game of Thrones, I assume with fewer breasts) will take TV show form. Waititi’s got a new Star Wars installment, and James Mangold‘s got a new Indiana Jones installment. For all things, new installments.

How about the live-action productions from Disney itself, geared to a more family-friendly demographic than the output from Fox? There’s a Turner and Hooch remake, a Mighty Ducks reboot, a Hocus Pocus sequel, a girls’ basketball movie starring John Stamos, and an adaptation of popular chapter book The Mysterious Benedict Society featuring Tony Hale and Kristen Schaal. Zac Efron will star in a remake of Three Men and a Baby, while Kenya Barris will produce a Cheaper By the Dozen remake (itself remade back in 2003!) focused on a mixed-race family.

I like to picture Bobs Iger and Chapek, reigning kings of the Disney fiefdom, pacing back and forth on a giant stage muttering “what else, what else,” like a couple of stalled stand-up comedians while getting through the rest of their unending spiel. There will be an Ice Age spinoff, an animated Night at the Museum, and a photorealistic Lion King prequel courtesy of Barry Jenkins.

On the bigger-budget end of things, there’s the Dwayne Johnson vehicle (pun intended) Jungle Cruise, a live-action Little Mermaid, and a Smurfs-style CGI/live-action hybrid about pesky chipmunks Chip ‘n’ Dale from the Lonely Island team and John Mulaney. Auteurs abound, as Robert Zemeckis tackles Pinocchio with Tom Hanks as Geppetto while David Lowery gives his take on the mythos of Peter Pan and Wendy Darling.

The list goes on, and on, and on: a sequel to Enchanted logically titled Disenchanted, an Afrofuturist sci-fi series called Iwájú (this one actually sounds kind of awesome), and a third Sister Act film. Disney’s august animation house will bring us two features, the first being the adventure Raya and the Last Dragon, the second being the Colombian fantasy Encanto. From Pixar, there’s spin-off series for Up and Cars, and new features Luca in 2021, about a pair of young boys falling in, uh, friendship in Italy, and Turning Red in 2022, about an easily embarrassed girl who transforms into a gigantic red panda when she feels self-conscious. As one does.

But wait, there’s more!

Chris Evans will voice Toy Story‘s Buzz Lightyear in a solo project, but not the toy, the real spaceman that Buzz Lightyear was based on. Or rather, the ‘real’ spaceman that Buzz Lightyear was based on, making the toy-person a fake embodiment of a different fake thing. The fascinating ontological quandaries this raises with have to be discussed at another time.

All that’s left is the Marvel factory, which will kick manufacturing into overdrive over the coming decade. There will be approximately two zillion TV shows, including spinoffs for Hawkeye, Moon Knight, She-Hulk, as well as tertiary characters from Captain America and Thor. There will be an Armor Wars series, in which Iron Man’s armor falls into the wrong hands, and an Ironheart series, in which some other guy takes up the mantle of Iron Man. The hope is that together, they will equate to one (1) Robert Downey Jr.

A What If? series will use animation to explore alternate universes revising the Marvel lore, a Secret Invasion series will mix espionage and aliens, and the Guardians of the Galaxy will deliver a holiday special in time for next Christmas. Their cuddliest member, the diminutive tree known as Baby Groot, will star in his own series of animated shorts so adorable they simply make you want to die. Or maybe that’s just how unstoppable industry dominance feels.

And that’s not even accounting for all the features: the long-delayed Black Widow will arrive in 2021, as will a kung-fu epic focused on the martial arts master Shang-Chi. The following year will bring a second Doctor Strange, a second Black Panther, and the fourth film in the Thor series. In the future beyond that, we’re looking at a second Captain Marvel, a third Ant-Man, and the umpteenth attempt to make the Fantastic Four work on the silver screen. (Jon Watts, the filmmaker responsible for the recent Tom Holland-starring Spider-Man films, will be at the helm to imbue the film with his inimitable artistic touch.) Other talents soon to be ground up in this vast machinery of homogeneity include Chloe Zhao, director of space opera The Eternals, and Mahershala Ali, star of a planned Blade reboot.

So, for those keeping tabs, that’s 67 projects mentioned in the paragraphs above, and that’s not even all of it. (BJ Novak, a former staffer on The Office, has written “an innovative scripted anthology that uses the boldest issues of our times as a jumping-off point to tell singular, character-driven stories about the world we live in today” called Platform.) Does this cavalcade of announcement foretell some grim Orwellian future in which an ever-increasing percentage of total creative output gets gobbled up by the shiny flat sexlessness that is Disney’s stock-in-trade? Let’s put it this way: did Disney’s stock price rocket almost twenty points yesterday?

Published 11 Dec 2020

Tags: Barry Jenkins Chloé Zhao Diane Lane Diego Luna Disney Dwayne Johnson Ewan McGregor James Mangold Jeff Bridges Jon Watts Kate McKinnon Kenya Barris Leslye Headland Mahershala Ali Marvel Melissa McCarthy Michael Keaton Nicole Kidman Noah Hawley Peter Sarsgaard Robert Zemeckis Rosario Dawson Ryan Murphy Selena Gomez Steve Martin Taika Waititi Zac Efron

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