The Netflix competitor is expected to launch in late 2019.
The Disney/Fox buyout sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry when it was announced in December. It’s a slightly horrifying prospect, no matter your thoughts on Disney’s output as a corporation. When one company owns nearly half of an entire industry, we’re getting dangerously close to a monopoly on culture, the likes of which the world has never seen before. For Disney, the purchase doesn’t just mean Alien and X-Men and Avatar. It means the possibility of realizing one of their great dreams: creating an online streaming service whose catalog would rival Netflix.
Deadline just shared Disney’s opening slate on the service, and it isn’t just a hodgepodge of existing films and television series. The Sword in the Stone remake reported on last month could be included as an exclusive film, as could a Lady and the Tramp project (a live-action remake?), a “Don Quixote“ reimagining, along with several other original projects. There’s something very unnerving about Disney slotting book adaptations like The Paper Magician and Stargirl into a streaming service while their theatrical slate remains nothing but remakes and sequels as far as the eye can see. The next film on Disney’s docket that isn’t based on a previously existing property is the Anna Kendrick vehicle Noelle, scheduled for next Christmas. Until recently, that film was bound for theaters; now, Deadline reports that Disney is planning to dump it on the streaming service.
Of course, there isn’t much yet to suggest that Disney will be as negligent about advertising their service’s original programming as Netflix is. If, as Deadline suggests, they’re planning on dropping up to $100 million on a television series, then one has to assume some of that will go towards announcing that it exists. Netflix isn’t interested in selling movies like Mudbound, and Disney isn’t interested in making movies like Mudbound. What Disney wants is a few Star Wars television series and a Marvel television series or two (Netflix will apparently keep their Defenders franchise for now). Those projects should have no trouble finding an audience. Meanwhile, mid-budget filmmaking continues to collapse under the weight of franchises like Disney’s. The studio’s Touchstone Pictures banner, once a thriving home for movies that existed between the independent and the colossal, now lies almost dormant.
One of the things that major studios like Disney tend to forget in their surge towards global domination is that the films they so readily greenlight sequels to today would have no cultural cachet if not for a risk that was taken decades ago. The original Star Wars was an independent production that flew off the rails and barely made it to the finish line. Iron Man was a colossally dangerous calculation taken by a fledgling studio with a star who until very recently had been nothing but an insurance liability. If Disney really wants to monopolize culture well into the future, they’d do well to start taking the same kind of risks as Marvel took in 2008, or George Lucas in 1977. A leap of faith will go a long way. And a streaming service with an audience lured in by a Star Wars television show is a great place for a leap of faith.