Villains, female warriors and souls: Disney reveals a new lineup of live-action and animated films

The Walt Disney Company

In the world of Disney anything is possible, and the upcoming batch of films from the company exemplifies that. At the D23 Expo in Anaheim, California, the entertainment giant announced a collection of movies for fans to anticipate in the coming years.

Films from Pixar, Disney’s live-action team and animation studio will be rolling out in an incredibly fast pace that will send you on many trips to the movie theatre to experience the “truly an immersive and communal experience,” according to Disney co-chairman and chief creative officer Alan Horn.

Understanding Disney villains and supporting female warriors

Live-action remakes have had mixed reactions from some fans over the past year, particularly Will Smith as the Genie in Aladdin and the look of Scar in The Lion King, but at first glance, Mulan looks like it won’t disappoint.

“What drew me to this project was Mulan herself…I think [it] represents all of us,” director Niki Caro said. Caro is also excited about audiences being able to experience this story “on a truly epic scale” through this live-action element.

But Mulan has already experienced some “epic” controversy with the title star, Yifei Liu, being criticized for her public comment on the Hong Kong protests, saying she supports police in the human rights battle. Liu was not in attendance at the presentation, so only time will tell how this controversy develops.

Dwayne Johnson of 'Jungle Cruise' took part today in the Walt Disney Studios presentation at Disney's D23 EXPO 2019 in Anaheim, Calif. 'Jungle Cruise' will be released in U.S. theaters on July 24, 2020. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

Jungle Cruise was another big announcement at the Expo, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Emily Blunt, inspired by the popular Disneyland attraction. Both Johnson and Blunt described the film as having the spirit of Indiana Jones and showcases “the adventure of a lifetime,” coming to theatres in the Summer of 2020.

Just in time for Halloween, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil will showcase Angelina Jolie in all her glory once again as the film’s star, a role the actress said she has missed playing.

In this new film Aurora (Elle Fanning) is about to marry Prince Phillip but his mother, Queen Ingrith played by Michelle Pfeiffer, challenges Maleficent’s role as Aurora’s mother figure.

“It is being emphasized to them how different they are,” Jolie said. “What defines family is what you believe in, and what you are and what you stand for.”

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney's live-action film. (The Walt Disney Company)

If you’re particularly interested in Disney villains, one of the most legendary ones is coming back in Cruella, portrayed by Emma Stone. The story will shed light on what makes Cruella so cruel in the first place. It will be set in the 1970s and the character is definitely more punk-rock than the animated version - think less fur and more leather.

Directed by Dan Scanlon and produced by Kori Rae, "Onward" opens in U.S. theatres on March 6, 2020. Disney/Pixar.

Pixar films that will tug at your heartstrings

There will be two new Pixar films released in 2020 under Pete Docter, chief creative officer of the company, who actually began his career as an animator and helped create the characters in 1995’s Toy Story.

"Soul" opens in theatres on June 19, 2020. (Disney/Pixar)

The premise of the film Soul, to be released in June 2020, is that babies are born with personalities because their souls are trained at the “Your Soul” academy before they are ready to graduate into the human world. Joe Gardner (Jamie Fox) is a middle school band teacher who has a dream to perform in the biggest jazz club in New York. Just as he gets his big break, he falls in a hole on the street, which brings him back to “soul” form. There he meets 22 (Tina Fey), who hates Earth, but the two of them work together to figure out how to bring Joe back to where he belongs.

As Fey said during the presentation, “there’s nothing better than a Pixar movie.”

Onward is set for a March 2020 release and is based on director Dan Scanlon’s real life growing up. His father passed away when he was young and he always wondered who is dad was and how much he looked like him.

Elf brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot, played by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt respectively, are given a magical staff by their mother (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) on Ian’s 16th birthday with a letter from their dad stating that he wants them to say a “visitation spell,” which will bring him back to life for one whole day. But something goes wrong and he comes back as just legs and feet, which results in the two boys going on a quest to meet their full-bodied dad.

“Tom is like a little brother to me and you see that reflected in the movie,” Pratt told the audience at the D23 Expo presentation.

Featuring the voices of Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad, "Frozen 2" opens on Nov. 22, 2019. (Disney)

A fan-favourite and a Canadian connection

Jennifer Lee, chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios, is still very much keeping the historic animated filmmaking alive in the company, something she says is particularly close to her heart.

“Disney spoke to me like nothing else,” Lee said. “Disney gave me the courage to tell the stories that were in my head.”

Fan-favourite film Frozen 2 has already gotten a lot of buzz this year and now we know that it seeks to answer the question of why Elsa has powers. Director Chris Buck revealed that the two films in tandem make “one complete story.”

"Raya and the Last Dragon" opens in U.S. theatres on Nov. 25, 2020. (Disney)

After the release of Frozen 2 in November this year, Raya and the Lost Dragon with hit theatre around Thanksgiving next year, with a Canadian connection. Toronto’s very own Cassie Steele voices the lead role, best known for as Manny Santos on Degrassi: The Next Generation.

The film is based in Southeast Asia in the land of Kumandra, part of five clans that make up the Land of the Dragons. But the creatures are long gone and it has been invaded by a dark and sinister force. Raya is on a quest to find the last dragon and save Kumandra.