Oh, Trolls: World Tour, what hath thou wrought?
Last week, Disney followed Universal’s lead in breaking the exclusive theatrical release window. While blockbusters such as Mulan and Black Widow were moved to new dates later in 2020, Artemis Fowl – a long-troubled, big-budget adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s fantasy novel series – was pulled entirely in favor of going straight to Disney+ at some point later this year. Now, much to the chagrin of the National Association of Theater Owners, Bob Iger says Artemis won’t be the last.
“In terms of movies going ahead after Artemis, there may be a few more that we end up putting directly onto Disney+,” he told Barron’s, before re-emphasizing the studio’s commitment to the theatrical experience. “But for the most part a lot of the big tentpole Disney films, we’ll simply wait for slots. In some cases, we’ve announced new ones already, but later on in the calendar.”
Indeed, Mulan and Black Widow were far from the only major Disney/20th Century titles to get new dates. Also joining them: Jungle Cruise (moved to 2021), Free Guy (moved to December), all of MCU Phase IV, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch (moved to October), Bob’s Burgers (moved to 2021), and the next Indiana Jones movie (moved to 2022). Meanwhile, potential Oscar contenders like Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story and Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel are sticking to originally announced December release dates, and Pixar’s Soul is optimistically clinging to its early June window. All dates, of course, are subject to change.
Disney did, however, leave several titles temporarily undated and twisting in the wind. So, when Bob Iger says “there may be a few more that we end up putting directly onto Disney+” the following films are definitely up for grabs since they currently have no release date:
You can immediately throw out Antlers, the Scott Cooper-directed, Guillermo del Toro-produced sci-fi/horror film from (formerly Fox) Searchlight Pictures. Spooky horror doesn’t exactly scream “Disney+.” The same goes for Woman in the Window, Joe Wright’s Amy Adams thriller about an agoraphobic who Rear Window’s her way into a tense, mind fucky murder mystery.
If those titles are destined for streaming, it won’t be on Disney+. Hulu is the far more logical destination.
That just leaves The Personal History of David Copperfield and The New Mutants. Let’s take a closer look:
The Personal History of David Copperfield
Depending on where you live, you might have already seen The Personal History in a theater. Lionsgate put it out in the UK in January, at which time it received rave reviews and did OK for itself at the box office. A color-blind Charles Dickens adaptation, Personal History comes to us from Armando Iannucci, the writer/director who turned profanity-ridden tirades into an art from on shows like The Thick of It and Veep. His most recent film – 2017’s The Death of Stalin – was aptly described elsewhere on this site as “a Dr. Strangelove for our troubled times.”
Given that body of work, the last thing you might expect from Iannucci is a charming costume drama enjoyed by Disney+ subscribers around the world – or at least the parts of the world that have access to Disney+ right now. Yet, based on the trailer it’s not particularly challenging to picture this movie ending up Disney+.
When it went in front of the British censors to earn its theatrical rating, Personal History was given a “PG,” which means the same thing in the UK as it does in the States. The only objectionable content noted by the BBFC? “Mild violence, threat, brief bloody images.”
I am mildly stunned. Peter Capaldi – playing this David Copperfield’s Mr. Micawber – is in an Armando Iannucci movie and he doesn’t let out a single f-bomb?
Then again, Tom McCarthy – the guy who made Spotlight – has a kids movie on Disney+ right now, Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. We all have layers.
Add on top of all that the likely limited box office prospects for a film like this and it seems plausible that Personal History of David Copperfield might never sniff a movie theater in the US.
There is a complication to that, though, and it goes back to the part earlier in this article where I said “Lionsgate.” Disney has gobbled up many companies over the past 15 years, but Lionsgate is not one of them. So, how is Lionsgate involved in the distribution of a Disney movie? That’s because Disney – through Searchlight Pictures – only owns the North American distribution rights. Searchlight co-chairs Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula made sure of it, scooping up the rights two weeks before Personal History’s Toronto International Film Festival debut. (Lionsgate later bought the international distribution rights, though whether that means Lionsgate also controls the international streaming rights remains unclear.)
“We are so pleased that Fox Searchlight’s early enthusiasm for this movie has paid off, and we’re excited by their plans to bring it to as wide an audience as possible in North America. We’re all proud of this film, and with Fox Searchlight, we have the right fit: we can’t wait to get started,” Iannucci and his co-producer Kevin Loader announced at the time.
Searchlight had planted the film’s flag in early May and just started its marketing campaign when – well, ya know. COVID-19 cares not for such plans.
An additional complication: Searchlight Pictures has been an Oscars kingmaker in recent years, and based on its critical reception in the UK it’s not outside the realm of possibility to imagine Personal History mounting at least a darkhorse acting campaign for Dev Patel. Normally, going straight to streaming would be an instantly disqualifying offense, but there are whispers the Academy might suspend that rule this year.
So, in the end, the major roadblocks include the distribution rights issue and, I suppose, maybe lingering concerns that even with its PG rating The Personal History of David Copperfield might not be entirely on-brand for Disney. Still, it might be more on-brand than…
The New Mutants
A Marvel comic book movie would normally seem entirely on-brand for Disney these days, but The New Mutants is no normal Marvel movie. It’s the bastard stepchild Disney inherited from Fox. It was left sitting on the shelf for three years, constantly denied its place on the calendar despite persistent rumors that it might go straight to Hulu or, worse, never see the light of day.
Originally conceived by director/co-writer Josh Boone as a head trip horror movie, filmed more like a comic book Breakfast Club due to Fox studio notes, marketed as a horror movie, and then delayed with plans to reshoot up to half of the film to make it fall more in line with the marketing, The New Mutants has been a particularly cursed production. How cursed? By the time Disney finally gave Boone permission to follow through on the planned reshoots, the teen-leaning cast – Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Henry Zaga, and Blu Hunt – had aged too much for new footage to be of any value, lest you entirely rework the script to explain why the characters suddenly look three years older.
So, those massive reshoots we’ve heard about for literal years never actually happened. In fact, even simple pickup shots never happened, so thorough was Disney’s clampdown on production after buying Fox. “We had heard nothing because of the merger,” Boone told Entertainment Weekly. “It was radio silence for about a year where we had no new information at all.”
Rather than reshoot anything, Boone did return with Disney’s permission to finish the visual effects and editing, locking in his final cut earlier this year. After viewing this final cut for the first time, Williams told EW: “The movie is exactly the movie we set out to make.”
What movie is that, exactly? Because that will go a long way toward deciding if New Mutants is appropriate for Disney+, and one of the consistent stories we’ve heard about New Mutants is the scary film promised in the trailer is not quite like the one they actually shot. The ultra-scary version is actually what Boone wanted to shoot, but Fox noted him down into something more akin to John Hughes meets Stephen King. So, the question remains: is the final cut too scary for the family-friendly confines of Disney+?
“It’s very… thriller,” Williams told EW. “I think the nature of a bunch of teenagers being trapped at a facility, all with individual powers which they don’t know how to use yet or even summon, that lends itself really well to suspense and scary cuts. It’s all done in a very honest way and it really does come from the characters and the situations that they’re in. It’s not a happy, upbeat superhero comedy film. It’s definitely very dark.”
Doesn’t sound very Disney-like, but, fuck it, why not dump it on Disney+? New Mutants was supposed to come out this past weekend, which means Disney’s marketing money has already been spent. It’s high time to cut the losses on this one, and if it is too scary for Disney+ then go ahead with Hulu.
Remember, Iger said “a few more that we end up putting directly onto Disney+.” Personal History of David Copperfield can’t be the only one. Heck, even if both Copperfield and New Mutants end up streaming there could still be more.
For now, New Mutants, Personal History of David Copperfield, Woman in the Window, and Antlers have no spot on the calendar.
Which films – either the ones I mentioned or maybe even some I didn’t – do you think make the most sense for Disney+? Let me know in the comments.