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From Star Wars to Marvel and everything else: Disney makes it clear Disney+ is the future

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Dec 11, 2020, 3:37 PM EST (Updated)

Forget Hall H. With massive, in-person conventions and events on hold due to the pandemic this year, Disney used a live stream of its investors video — no, we're not kidding — to cause an earthquake across the geek space.

From a list of new Star Wars shows, several new A-list Marvel shows, and a whole lot more, Disney laid out its most ambitious slate yet looking ahead to the next few years. The centerpiece of that plan, and a prerequisite if you consider yourself even a casual fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or a galaxy far, far away? Disney+.

Almost all of it is coming to Disney+.

Disney announced more projects than we can even count (seriously, just go peruse the browser-crashing live tweet from the studio recapping it all), and though there were still plenty of theatrical projects and Hulu shows (Noah Hawley's Alien series!) to go around, it was clear the blue-hued streaming service is the new beating heart that will drive the next phase of the Disney experience.

Disney spent the past decade and a lot of money stocking its IP stable with two of the biggest franchises on the planet in Star Wars and Marvel, and those two brands are at the core of its plans for streaming domination. It makes sense — because Netflix is still bigger and can do a lot as a competitor, but the one thing the service can't do is make a Star Wars or Marvel show (R.I.P. Defenders-verse).

The Mandalorian and WandaVision are just the beginning

The Star Wars line-up was loaded with big names and surprises, in addition to the projects we already knew were coming like the Rogue One prequel series (which finally got a title: Star Wars: Andor) starring Diego Luna's Cassian Andor and Alan Tudyk's K-2SO. Disney revealed Ewan McGregor's Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi series would also bring back Star Wars prequels alum Hayden Christensen as Darth Vader himself.

The studio confirmed The Mandalorian spinoff shows Star Wars: Ahsoka (starring Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano) and the mysterious Star Wars: Rangers of the New Republic. There's also a Lando Calrissian event series is in the works (no word yet on if it'll bring back Donald Glover from Solo: A Star Wars Story, or Billy Dee Williams). Not to mention a mysterious female-drive Star Wars series The Acolyte (revealed to be the show Leslye Headland will be helming), a Willow series with Warwick Davis returning, and animated projects Star Wars: The Bad Batch, anime anthology Star Wars: Visions, and A Droid Story, starring C-3PO and R2-D2.

Earth's Mightiest Heroes were also well-represented, with new shows Secret Invasion starring Samuel L. Jackson; the Iron Man spinoff Ironheart starring Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams; Armor Wars starring Don Cheadle's War Machine; and a Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special directed by James Gunn (yes, seriously). Those are all massive, big-budget projects that could easily hit the big screen — and they're all headed to Disney+. They join previously announced shows like WandaVision, Loki, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, She-Hulk (starring Tatiana Maslany), Hawkeye, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, and a What If...? series.

That's not all: Pixar, live-action, and animated series

Credit: Disney+

Even outside the space and super franchises, there was plenty more on the Disney+ docket. The film Peter Pan and Wendy is on the way to streaming, along with a live-action Pinocchio starring Tom Hanks; and an Enchanted sequel, Disenchanted, starring Amy Adams. The studio also confirmed that long-rumored Hocus Pocus sequel, reviving the cult hit Halloween classic; as well as a Percy Jackson revival series.

There are also new animated projects leveraging all those Disney and Pixar properties at the studio's disposal, including the hybrid live action/animated film Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers (starring John Mulaney and Andy Samberg as the namesake chipmunks); plus animated series based on Big Hero 6 (Baymax!), Zootopia (Zootopia+), Cars, Moana, The Princess and the Frog, Up (Dug Days), and The Guardians of the Galaxy (I Am Groot). There's also new project Iwájú, produced in collaboration with the Pan-African comic book entertainment company Kugali.

Disney+ is even being more closely incorporated into the studio's streaming model, a move that builds on the premium streaming rollout of Mulan earlier this year. Up next, the animated fantasy film Raya and the Last Dragon will receive a simultaneous theatrical and Disney+ Premier Access release, meaning fans can see it on the big screen or pay a premium to access the film on streaming.

But that's still not all!

Along with major franchises, Disney+ is also beefing up its lineup of original comedies and dramas, a move that clearly feels aimed at competing with more general streaming services like Netflix. The new projects include a Turner & Hooch reboot; The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, a TV revival of the beloved kids' hockey film series with original star Emilio Estevez back as coach Gordon Bombay; and several more new shows that fall in the family, drama, and thriller genres, including a Swiss Family Robinson reboot, a Luke Evans and Josh Gad-starring Beauty and the Beast spinoff, and more.

Don't forget about the big screen

Credit: Disney/Marvel Studios

Though the brunt of the news cycle focused on streaming, it was interesting to see where Disney draws the line between theatrical and streaming experiences.

The new projects still headed to the big screen? Not surprising that they're the biggest. A Lion King prequel? Sure! Encanto, an upcoming Disney Animation film featuring music from Lin-Manuel Miranda? Absolutely!

A new Fantastic Four from Spider-Man: Homecoming director Jon Watts; Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania; Captain Marvel 2; Black Panther II (which the studio confirmed will not recast or replace the late Chadwick Boseman); Patty Jenkins' new Star Wars film Rogue Squadron; Taiki Waititi's secret Star Wars film; Indiana Jones 5; and Pixar's Toy Story prequel Lightyear (with Chris Evans voicing young Buzz).

Clearly, most of Marvel's major flagship properties are still heading to theaters first, with the major super-sequels — plus previously announced franchise starters like Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings and Eternals — remaining on the theatrical calendar. But as projects like Ironheart bring new heroes to live-action on Disney+, it'll be interesting to see if some of those fresh faces don't eventually make the jump to the big screen.

Star Wars also remains a priority outside all those streaming projects, with A-list directors like Waititi and Jenkins signed on to put their own spin on the space wizards and fighter pilots (or whatever Waititi's film actually focuses on, since we still have no clue about the story). Both of these appear to be standalone films — as opposed to trilogies — so we'll have to wait and see if that's just a stopgap measure between trilogies, or if the near-term future of Star Wars films really is more standalone stories from big-name talent (with, of course, the potential to spin off into their own sequel-loaded sagas).

Not lost in the shuffle, Pixar is staying on the big screen schedule, and a Toy Story spinoff certainly seems like the right project to line up for its next tentpole. Indiana Jones is also an obvious candidate for a theatrical release, and looking beyond the fifth film, Disney will have plenty of options for what to do with that franchise in the years to come. (You know it's only a matter of time until we get that Young Indiana Jones reboot).

One of the most interesting takeaways from Disney's rollout is seeing where the studio splits the hairs of what goes to streaming, and what remains theatrical. Seeing how those decisions were made, it's clear the studio sees Disney+ as a medium worth leveraging with plenty of A-list content. Films like Peter Pan and Pinocchio, and projects like Secret Invasion and Lando, could easily fit on the big screen — and that's clearly the point. Where streaming has historically been the home for smaller projects, or the more "TV-style," lower-tier characters, Disney is clearly trying to change that paradigm with this slate.

It's almost like pitching the concept of a premium streaming service, in a sense. And with projects like this? They might actually be able to pull it off.

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