Every other August the monumental Disney Corporation hosts its annual D23 convention. Billed as the ultimate fan experience and open only to members of the Official Disney Fan Club, the gathering shows off (and hypes up) all things Disney. Typically, the company announces its upcoming slate of movies and TV shows, offering teaser trailers, first looks and sneak previews for eager audiences in attendance … and the folks at home who will soon see the info leaked to various websites and social media feeds. Disney didn’t hold a D23 expo this year, and it looks like—thanks to our new friend COVID—it won’t do so again until 2022. So this year Disney turned its annual Investor Day on Dec. 10—normally a rather dry business affair—into a streaming online watch party filled to bursting with juicy information almost exclusively about its direct-to-consumer streaming services (i.e. Disney+). So what did we glean from this jam-packed promotional party?
Disney owns George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise, of course. Although the last trilogy of theatrical features (The Force Awakens, et al.) generated plenty of criticism, Disney+ has garnered a great deal of goodwill by airing Jon Favreau’s wonderful “The Mandalorian” TV series. Naturally, the company wants to expand on that. So—no surprise—loads of new Star Wars shows were announced at Investor Day.
Among the Lucasfilm news not related to Star Wars was info that Disney is plugging ahead with a series adaptation of Willow, the 1988 George Lucas-produced fantasy film directed by Ron Howard. Warwick Davis returns as the titular dwarf/aspiring sorcerer. Disney’s Lucasfilm division will also be tackling an adaptation of Nigerian-American novelist Tomi Adeyemi’s hit YA fantasy series Children of Blood and Bone.
As far as Star Wars stuff goes, Disney+ has lined up a heck of lot of content. (Some might say too much.) Starting off the animated offerings is “The Bad Batch” a spinoff of the popular “Clone Wars” series. “Star Wars: Visions” is pitched as an “anime-inspired” anthology set in the Star Wars universe. “A Droid Story,” meanwhile, is another animated series—focused, like “Droids” before it, on the robotic side of the galaxy.
On the live-action front, there are two direct “Mandalorian” spinoffs in the works. “Star Wars: Ahsoka” finds Rosario Dawson’s Ahsoka Tano (a fan fave character from “Clone Wars” who recently made her live-action debut on “The Mandalorian”) battling the legendary Admiral Thrawn (another fan fave, this one from a series of Star Wars novels). “Star Wars: Rangers of the New Republic” follows the adventures of the peacekeeping forces of the former Rebel Alliance and, like “Ahsoka,” is set during the timeline of “The Mandalorian.” Expect crossovers, people!
There was scant news about “Star Wars: Andor,” a series following Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, who reprises the role) from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story—aside from the fact that it’s a prequel, because … well, reasons. It was confirmed that Hayden Christensen would be reprising his role as the youthful Darth Vader alongside Ewan McGregor in “Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Rounding out the character studies is “Star Wars: Lando.” Whether it will focus on Billy Dee Williams’ older rogue Lando Calrissian, Donald Glover’s younger rogue Lando Calrissian or a third, in-between version was not addressed. Finally, Leslye Headland (creator of Netflix’s brilliant “Russian Doll”) is behind a “female-focused” Star Wars show called “The Acolyte.” Beyond its setting (the last days of the High Republic), little was revealed.
Disney has long teased Marvel TV projects “WandaVision” (a surreal, sitcom-skewering look at Scarlet Witch and The Vision’s odd domestic life), “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” (a cross-country buddy action series featuring Captain America’s best pals), and “Loki” (a time-traveling romp with everybody’s favorite Asguardian villain). Those shows have all been pushed back thanks to COVID, but should debut sometime in 2021. (“WandaVision” hits first on Jan. 15.)
Investor Day provided a deeper look at “What If?,” an anthology about parallel universes/alternate histories done up in stylish cell-shaded animation. The curtain also came back on “Ms. Marvel,” a live-action series starring Iman Vellani as Marvel’s first Muslim superhero. Tatiana Maslani (from “Orphan Black”) was confirmed as the lean, green star of “She-Hulk.” (Mark Ruffalo and Tim Roth are also on board for some cameos.) Lastly, actress/singer Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) will lead the cast of “Hawkeye” as Kate Bishop, the arrow-slinging young successor to Jeremy Renner’s character in the Avengers movies.
The animation giant gives a spinoff to the squishy robotic star of Big Hero Six with the upcoming “Baymax!” The animal action of Zootopia gets the weekly series treatment with “Zootopia+” (an appropriate addition to Disney+). “Tiana” affords the princess from The Princess and the Frog the opportunity for more New Orleans-centric magic. And “Moana” finds Moana from Moana out doing her South Seas sailing thing (and, one assumes, singing). The only new animated show not based not on a previous Disney/Pixar movie, will be “Iwájú.” This Afro-futurist fantasy is actually a collaboration with pan-African comic book publisher Kugali Media. It’s Disney’s first time working with a comic book company other than Marvel.
Premiere dates on all of these shows are, of course, dependent on how quickly COVID fades from the picture.