Nick and I attended the Disney Content Showcase for 2016 yesterday, and as usual the annual event by Disney South Africa had great food. Hmmm, those chocolate croissants. Of course there’s more to these events than just good grub though, as the local House of Mouse gave us all a run down of what their various branches have been up to in the last year, as well as what is to come.
Senior VP and Country Manager for The Walt Disney Company Africa Christine Service kicked off the event by leading with their children’s programming, specifically singing the praises of both the Disney Channel and Disney XD on DSTV. Both channels have won numerous accolades, consistently placing in the top three of polls/studies of local broadcast channels. She also extolled the achievements of several of their current series, like Sofia the First, The Lion Guard, Doc McStuffins, Star Wars Rebels and much more, who have become local and international phenomenon.
We also got a look at some of their upcoming slate, like the hilarious looking Counterfeit Cat, which “follows the comic adventures of a small blue alien in a purple cat costume, Gark, who befriends Max, a real cat, after crashing his spaceship in his owner Betty’s laundry room”. We watched a short episode of this new animation, and it brought the house down with laughter.
Also just as funny, but more so for its absurd concept, was Future Worm, an animated sci-fi comedy about a 12-year old boy who invents a time travelling lunchbox, through which he meets a genetically engineered worm from the future with “a Photo Receptor Visor, Titanium Reinforced Abs and a Bullet-Proof Beard”. It’s wacky and kooky and I can’t wait to see more of it.
Speaking of wacky and kooky, we also had a look at Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures, a new animated series told in whimsical LEGO Star Wars style. It follows “the Freemakers, a family of scavengers who build and sell starships from the scoured debris of space battles strewn throughout the galaxy. When their youngest discovers a natural connection with the Force through an ancient artifact – the Kyber Saber – his world is turned upside down, and he and his family are thrown into an epic struggle against the Empire to restore peace and freedom to the galaxy. Throughout their adventures, the Freemakers explore new worlds, meet new and familiar characters, and learn the true value of what it means to be a family.”
This had some serious laugh-out loud moments, in particular their rather dick-ish portrayal of Emperor Palpatine.
This year also marks Disney Channel’s 10 year anniversary. In celebration Disney has negotiated with DSTV to have Disney Channel (303) not just air on the DSTV Premium bouquet, as it is currently, but also on DSTV Extra and DSTV Compact from 5 September to 10 October.
But enough with the stuff for kids (and kids-at-heart), let’s move on to more adult fare, courtesy of the Disney owned ABC. Service spoke about the return of some of their biggest shows, among others Grey’s Anatomy, The Fixer (aka Scandal), The Catch and How To Get Away With Murder. What all those shows have in common, of course, is that they are all produced by Shonda Rhimes. And we got to see the latest TV series to come out of ShondaLand, in the form of Still Star-Crossed, a new period drama that picks up where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet ended, with the city of Verona being torn apart by strife as the Capulet and Montague families go to war in the wake of the deaths of the famed star-crossed lovers.
I must admit there was some eye-rolling on my part when I first heard the concept, but there may just be enough here to make it work. It has sumptuous production design and the personal drama will especially hook in a certain crowd. Check out the trailer below.
Looking even more impressive is When We Rise, a high profile, star studded new 8-part historical drama miniseries detailing the rise of the American LGBT movement, beginning with the famous Stonewall riots in 1969. The footage we saw was powerful and emotional, without dipping into schmaltz or cheap emotional blackmail tactics and the actors all seem to be giving it everything they have. It’s being directed/produced by acclaimed two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk), and was penned by Oscar-winning writer Dustin Lance Black (Milk, J.Edgar). On top of that it also boast an incredibly talented cast which includes Guy Pearce, Mary-Louise Parker, Rachel Griffiths, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Kenneth Williams, Denis O’Hare and more. This is definitely one to keep an eye on when it debuts in 2017. Unfortunately, there’s no trailer available to the general public yet.
We also got a look at new comedy American Housewife, but I personally didn’t find this presentation anywhere as strong as the others. Katy Mixon stars in this tale about a “plump” housewife and her family who move to la-di-da Westport, Connecticut, home of seemingly all thin, beautiful and rich moms. The jokes in this one were quite hit and miss for me, and I can see the “fat” material getting stale real quick. Have a look below and see what you think.
On to the big stuff though, as Service spoke about Disney’s movie slate, which has already had an incredibly impressive year. Thanks to Zootropolis, Finding Dory, The Jungle Book and Captain America: Civil War, Disney have released the top four highest grossing movies worldwide for 2016. Locally, Star Wars: The Force Awakens grossed over R50 million, making it the third biggest release in SA of all time. The Jungle Book also pulled in about R31 million from the local box office, while Zootropolis claimed R23 million for itself.
Unfortunately, besides for just a cast/crew breakdown of Rogue One and Episode VIII, that’s about as much info Service was willing to reveal about their uber-secretive Star Wars franchise. We did get quite a considerable info dump about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales though. For starters, we were treated to on-set pre-CG images as well as concept art for the new movie’s villain, Captain Salazar, played by Javier Bardem. Salazar’s look is a rather creepy one, with half his head seemingly rotted away and the rest of his clothes and appendages not far off.
It was also revealed that Salazar has some serious history with returning hero Jack Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp. Many years before, Salazar and his feared pirate ship, The Silent Mary, were the scourge of the Caribbean, ruling the seas with no one to challenge them. However, when Sparrow got involved with their business they had a mysterious turn of fortune resulting in Salazar’s current supernatural condition. As such, Salazar is now on a quest to find the legendary Trident of Poseidon, which he wants to use to somehow kill all pirates, not just Sparrow, whose origin story will be revealed here as a key part of the plot.
Also searching for the Trident though are two franchise newcomers, Henry and Carina, respectively played by Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario. It was revealed that Henry is the son of Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner, who has been cursed to remain aboard Davy Jones’ ghost ship, The Flying Dutchman. Henry wants the powerful Trident as he believes its magic can break Davy Jones’ curse and free his dad. Meanwhile, Carina is a young astronomer following astrological clues to the Trident, in part to prove that her skill with science is just that, and not the witchcraft she’s been accused of, and also to help her unlock some personal mystery about who she is and where she comes from.
We got to see several pieces of concept art for the movie, showing off outlandish destinations and fantastic creature design. Service also explained that with this movie, Disney were aiming to recapture the incredible winning recipe of adventure, thrills, scares and humour that made that first film such a huge swashbuckling success. Oscar nominated co-directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon-Tiki) certainly have their work cut out for them, but apparently they’ve been given a boon in the form of Jeff Nathanson’s script, which is apparently the funniest of the entire franchise.
Switching tracks, we also got a look at the trailer for Queen of Katwe, an upcoming true story biographical drama about Phiona Mutesi, a young Ugandan girl who overcame her impoverished surroundings to become an international chess champion. The movie stars newcomer Madina Nalwanga as Phiona, but she’s backed up by a pair of thespian heavyweights in Lupita Nyong’o as her mother Harriet and David Oyelowo as her chess trainer Robert Katende.
Moving onto Disney’s Marvel slate, we got another look at the most recent trailer for Doctor Strange as well as some cast intros, but nothing really big. The highlight for me though – probably of the entire day’s events – was a look behind the scenes at the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2. We got to see several pieces of concept art for the film, including the team of misfits on some incredibly alien landscapes – some of the designs were mind-boggling and kind of difficult to describe, with flowing rocks and weird flora. Speaking in the BTS video, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige explained that now that the general public had been introduced to this more crazy cosmic side of the MCU with the first film, they now feel free to really go out there with their ideas. I guess nothing can be considered too weird once you’ve had the audience fall in love with a talking, gun-toting raccoon and a living tree.
Speaking of which, expect some serious changes for the duo of Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). As you may recall, the last we saw Groot right at the end of the previous film, he had been reduced to nothing more than a sapling. Well, GOTG Vol.2 sees Rocket having to adapt to being a surrogate father to Baby Groot, which brings to the surface even more personal issues for the already tortured character. And just wait until you guys get a look at Baby Groot!
We had already seen a small hint of Baby Groot in the pic above, but in several pieces of the concept art we were shown, we got to see Groot all dressed up in some kind of red leather jumpsuit and he may just be the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. We also got our first look at concept art for two of the film new characters, Ayesha and Tazerface, respectively played by Elizabeth Debicki and Chris Sullivan. Up until now it’s been assumed that Ayesha was the film’s main new villain, but in the video writer/director James Gunn just introduced the character, all decked out in sleek form-fitting gold and silver armour, as “High Priestess and the leader of the Sovereign people” who apparently ask the Guardians for help with some problem. I guess she could still go bad after that?
— Chris Sullivan (@SullivanTweet) July 24, 2016
There’s no doubt about which side of the moral divide Taserface resides though. Following his reveal at Comic-Con, we also got another look at the bearded alien space pirate who Gunn once described in a Facebook post as “the dumbest character ever” while doing research for the first film, before changing his mind and adding him to the sequel. According to Gunn, this movie version of Taserface is the rival of Michael Rooker’s Yondu, leader of the Ravagers, and will be quite a threat.
And speaking of Yondu, as Guardians Vol. 2 will be introducing Kurt Russell as the biological father of Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, a large part of the story for the Guardians leader will be about how he reconciles between the man who raised him – Yondu – and his actual dad… an ancient sentient planet who can somehow also take the form of a human who looks like Kurt Russell. Told you they were getting weird.
As a final part of the Disney Showcase we were also shown several examples of what Disney is currently doing in the retail space with their various brands. These include fashion Marvel fashion, Disney home decor, Star Wars kitchen utensils and much more. Most of the products on display were actually flown in from overseas and are not available for sale locally yet, which is a huge bummer because damn it, I want an Iron Man wetsuit. I’ve never even surfed a day in my life, but I want that Iron Man wetsuit so bad. That’s not to mention the lightsaber braai tongs for when the Wors is with me.
Have a look!
All in all, with further looks at other shows and movies like The Dog Show With Cat, Adventures in Baby Sitting, Danger Mouse, Moana, Beauty and the Beast, Stuck In the Middle, Elena of Avalor, The Descendants, My Friends Tigger and Pooh and more, the 2016 Disney Content Showcase had a little bit of everything for everybody. And it also showed off once again why Disney is one of the biggest, most beloved brands in the world.
Last Updated: January 4, 2017