Disney created the biannual D23 Expo in Anaheim a decade ago as pure fan service, and the fans loved Disney for it. So when it came time to present upcoming programming for Disney+, the streaming service that will house all things Marvel and Star Wars and Pixar and Muppets and Disney animation, D23 was the natural launching pad.
However, while those fandoms are the initial target, the biggest audience for this in-depth preview may be those who didn’t see the latest Avengers installment in its first weekend, or perhaps have yet to see it at all. While fans were generously served in the 90-minute presentation, the heart of the Disney+ pitch is the familiar faces and theatrical quality will justify its $6.99 monthly cost for anyone — even if you’d rather do your taxes than go to Disneyland.
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Jeff Goldblum hosts “The World According to Jeff Goldblum,” a new series from National Geographic. Kristen Bell hosts the unscripted “Encore!”, in which former high-school musical performers recreate their performances. Tony Hale, aka Forky in “Toy Story 4,” will reprise his role in a collection of 10 Pixar animated shorts, “Forky Asks A Question,” which tackles ideas like What is love? What is time? (The first premiered at D23: “What is Money?”)
All of the shows fall squarely in the family- and kid-friendly wheelhouse (get ready for “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”), but these are no sugar-substitute spinoffs. When the animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” premiered on Cartoon Network in 2008, voice actor James Arnold Taylor portrayed Obi-Wan Kenobi. Now, subscribers will get the real thing: Ewan McGregor. In “What If…?,” Marvel’s first animated series, “almost the entire cast of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be lending their voices to the show,” said Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige.
That means Paul Rudd is Ant-Man, Natalie Portman is Jane Foster, Goldblum is Grandmaster, Samuel L. Jackson is Nick Fury, and Chris Hemsworth is Thor. Beyond name recognition, Disney recognizes the players in this cinematic universe are the characters — their consistency and familiarity is a big part of what makes Marvel movies so successful. Disney could hire another voice for Nick Fury, and at a much cheaper rate, but that would make the series feel less essential, weakening the sense of urgency that drives fans to the theaters to see every single Marvel movie.
This philosophy also carries over to the people behind the camera. “What If…?” is helmed by frequent Marvel storyboard artist Bryan Andrews (“Avengers: Infinity War”), while “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” writer-director Dave Filoni will executive produce Lucasfilm’s “The Mandalorian.”
Filoni is also involved in an anticipated new season of the Emmy-winning animated “Clone Wars.” It’s unclear who will voice Obi-Wan in this iteration of the show , but McGregor will definitely be coming back to the Star Wars universe on the streaming platform — he’ll star in an untitled series about the character, which starts shooting next year.
Disney’s investment also carries over to production values; “The Mandalorian” will reportedly cost $100 million for its first season. “We were able to put together a production that stands up side by side with all the features,” said executive producer Jon Favreau. Indeed, scenes in the trailer looks as if they could have been pulled from “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” out in theaters this December.
Disney+ also announced a slate of original TV and movies that will add value to the monthly subscription price. A would-be Christmas classic is “Noelle,” starring Anna Kendrick, Billy Eichner, and Bill Hader, while Willem Dafoe will play a dog-sled driver in the fact-based “Togo.” “Diary of a Female President” will follow Tess Romero as a 12-year-old Cuban-American girl through the trials of middle school, and ultimately to her election as president of the US.
Even the spinoffs, sequels, and fresh takes demonstrate a kind of risk-taking foreign to the Mouse House’s theatrical releases.
The aforementioned“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” is a scripted show that imagines what it would be like if the real-life kids that attend the school where the Disney Channel smash “High School Musical” was shot staged their own musical. (Got that?) The trailer teases a meta sensibility complete with fourth-wall breaking, while the jokes seem more akin to Disney+ sibling “The Simpsons” than “Hannah Montana.”
While Disney+ is the company’s family-friendly streamer (Hulu remains the general-audience platform), Disney executives know they can’t just rely solely on the squeaky-clean Disney Channel catalogue, or the Star Wars and Marvel franchises to keep audiences captivated.
Friday’s presentation, and the low price point, suggested that families will be able to justify the cost — even if Mom and Dad only occasionally interrupt “Frozen” screenings with the odd episode of “The World According to Jeff Goldblum.”