2015 was a pretty exceptional year for all things Disney (here are our favorite memories), and 2016 is shaping up to be just as exceptional, if not more so. Every month of the year is filled with something delightful, unexpected and enchanting, and we’re running down our list of things we’re looking forward to in the New Year. It’s going to be good.
Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters (Soon)
A brand new attraction at Disney California Adventure will be opening any day now and that is very exciting indeed. Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, which takes over the former space of Luigi’s Flying Tires in the Cars Land section of the park, will feature cutting edge, trackless ride technology. The new storyline for the ride involves Luigi inviting all of his cousins from his village in Italy, who celebrate with a festive dance in celebration of Race Day in Radiator Spring. How adorable is that?
Agent Carter, Season 2 (January 19)
Last year Marvel’s Agent Carter was one of the biggest, most joyous surprises of 2015. A spin-off of Captain America (and a subsequent short film of the same name), Agent Carter follows Peggy Carter (played, wonderfully, by Hayley Atwell), battling spies and other nefarious foes in post-war America. (In Marvel Cinematic Universe lore, she would go on to become a founding member of S.H.I.E.L.D.) For the second season, Peggy relocates to the west coast, joined once again by trusty sidekick and loyal Stark confederate Jarvis (James D’Arcy). This show is innovative, progressive, and above everything else, unbelievable fun.
The Last Episode of Gravity Falls (February 15)
It’s no secret that we absolutely adore Gravity Falls, Alex Hirsch’s brilliant animated series for Disney XD. And while we’re heartbroken that the series is coming to an end in early 2016, we’re also thrilled that it will be ending on such a high note, with the conclusion of the “Weirdmageddon” storyline, entitled “Weirdmageddon 3: Take Back the Falls.” The one-hour finale episode will be preceded by a half-hour special, airing on February 8, that will feature commentary from Hirsch and Gravity Falls character Time Baby. If it’s one thing we’ve come to expect from Gravity Falls, it’s the unexpected. But whatever the final episode of Gravity Falls has in store for us, we’re ready.
Zootopia (March 4)
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest animated marvel is set in a world of intelligent, anthropomorphic, technologically advanced animals. It’s here that a plucky young bunny named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) teams up with a sly fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to solve the mystery of a missing otter. This movie is wild, madcap fun, and another technological leap for the studio, as well as being a subtly groundbreaking buddy cop story that combines big ideas with real heart.
The Jungle Book (April 15)
How do you go about translating Disney’s 1967 animated classic to live action? Well, as it turns out, by using next generation visual effects to wholly recreate the hyper-real setting of the animated feature and getting a whole jungle’s worth of A-list stars to voice the iconic characters, all under the direction of Iron Man filmmaker Jon Favreau. Newcomer Neel Sethi stars as Mowgli, the man-cub left to be raised by wild animals. And are these animals wild! Just consider the impressive voice cast: Bill Murray is Baloo, Ben Kingsley is Bagheera, Idris Elba is Shere Khan (who is super scary), Scarlett Johansson is Kaa, Christopher Walken is King Louie and Lupita Nyong’o is Raksha. Based on the trailers and footage screened at the D23 Expo, we can say that the film will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, combining photo-real environments and character designs in a way that feels both fantastic and naturalistic.
Black Panther Ongoing Series (April)
Ta-Nehisi Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a National Book Award winner, will soon take on one of the more iconic characters in the Marvel comics canon: Black Panther. And we could not be more excited. Not a lot is known about the new series, which will feature art by Brian Stelfreeze, but Coates is a beautiful writer with a singular voice and will undoubtedly make the character vital and fresh, ahead of his big screen debut in 2018. Recent comments suggest that the book will not be a “superhero comic;” which makes us even more intrigued.
Shanghai Disneyland (Spring)
The latest international Disney Park, and the first in mainland China (Hong Kong Disneyland, which opened in 2005, is located on Penny’s Bay, Lantau Island), will be a truly staggering combination of technological innovation and storytelling prowess. Described as being “authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese,” Shanghai Disneyland will truly cater to the Chinese audience, offering large green spaces and paying tribute to traditional Chinese culture (just wait until you see Disney characters reimagined as figures in the Chinese Zodiac). And on a technological level, the park will truly be next level. There will be an entire section of the park devoted to Pirates of the Caribbean, with a new ride inspired by the films (not the classic attraction). Elsewhere, a TRON-themed roller coaster will light up a new iteration of Tomorrowland. There’s so much to look forward to at Shanghai Disneyland, we could talk about it all day.
Rivers of Light (Spring)
This year will see the biggest transformation of Disney’s Animal Kingdom since the park opened in 1998, as it goes from a daytime-only experience to an all day one. A huge part of this evolution is the opening of “Rivers of Light,” an incredible nighttime spectacular that combines effects, dancing water, projection technology, live dancers, and much, much more. Based on some of the test footage we’ve seen, this is going to be truly jaw dropping, combining some of the elements that make “World of Color” such a showstopper at Disney California Adventure, with updates and modifications that make it unique to Animal Kingdom. Disney’s Animal Kingdom after dark will be a truly thrilling experience and “Rivers of Light” will be a huge part of what makes it so special.
Frozen Ever After (Spring)
Anna, Elsa, and all of your favorite characters from Frozen will soon be invading Epcot, when Frozen Ever After, a brand new attraction set to open in the Norway Pavilion of World Showcase, opens this spring. Using barge ride vehicles, guests will be taken to the fictional land Arendelle, very much inspired by real life Norway. And while Frozen Ever After, featuring some breathtaking audio animatronic figures and the rousing music and characters you love, is the centerpiece of the newly transformed pavilion, there will also be the Royal Sommerhus, where guests will be able to meet Anna and Elsa.
Captain America: Civil War (May 6)
The third Captain America film features the juiciest narrative yet (borrowed heavily from the 2006-2007 comic book event of the same name by Mark Millar and Steven McNiven): after the government mandates that a Superhero Registration Act must be enforced. Captain America (Chris Evans) argues that the Avengers shouldn’t be regulated by a government committee, and finds opposition in the form of his former comrade Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) Soon, other superheroes (seriously – this movie is practically another Avengers film) are drawn into the fight, which becomes an out-and-out super-powered melee. While the trailer, released a few weeks ago, is impressive, the footage screened at D23 Expo was even more mind blowing. This movie is going to be huge.
Finding Dory (June 17)
This insanely anticipated sequel sees Finding Nemo writer/director Andrew Stanton returning to the aquatic world that he last visited in 2003. This new film, set about six months after the events of the original, focuses on Dory (Ellen Degeneres) and her quest to reconnect with her long lost family. From what we’ve seen at D23 Expo and elsewhere, the movie winningly combines the heart, humor and adventure of the first film, with a brand new cast of underwater creatures, including Hank (Ed O’Neill), a seven-limbed octopus and Bailey (Ty Burrell), a Beluga whale. This one is definitely going to make a splash!
The BFG (July 1)
Somehow, amazingly, Steven Spielberg, who has produced hits for Disney like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and whose DreamWorks films have been distributed by Disney for the past few years, has never directed a movie for the company … Until now. In this adaptation of the beloved Roald Dahl novel, a young girl (Ruby Barnhill), the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) and the titular Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance, star of Spielberg’s excellent Bridge of Spies) team up to track down a band of bloodthirsty giants. The recently released teaser trailer has gorgeous atmosphere and captures that Spielberg magic in a big, big way; perhaps because it was the last script completed by E.T. writer Melissa Mathison.
Pete’s Dragon (August 12)
Disney’s super charming live-action/animation hybrid Pete’s Dragon (released back in 1977 and Academy Award nominated for the hit Helen Reddy song “Candle on the Water”) is back. Co-written and directed by indie film sensation David Lowery, this new Pete’s Dragon stars Oakes Fegley as the child who befriends the dragon (the latter’s new look comes courtesy of the visual effects wizards at Weta), with Bryce Dallas Howard co-starring as a concerned park ranger and Robert Redford as her father (who believes in similar creatures). The creative team behind this movie is just as stellar as the cast, starting with Lowery and continuing with cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (who beautifully shot The Lone Ranger), composer Howard Shore and producer Barry Osborne (who was responsible for all three Lord of the Rings films).
Soarin’ Around the World (Summer)
When Soarin’ opened along with the rest of Disney California Adventure on February 8, 2001, it was an instant sensation, and rightfully so: This was a new type of flying simulator, one that glacially recreated the sensation of hang gliding. The attraction was duplicated for Epcot’s Land Pavilion in 2005 and a new version of the ride, this time with a global theme, is set to debut at Shanghai Disneyland. Shortly after Shanghai Disneyland opens, a version of the ride, called Soarin’ Around the World, will come to both Disney California Adventure and Epcot (where it will open along with a third theater for the attraction). At the Shanghai booth at D23 Expo, we saw footage of the new Soarin’ being filmed and it looks incredible, with a helicopter gliding over the Great Wall of China (amongst other insane vistas). Soarin’ is one of the best Disney attractions of all time and it’s about to get even better.
Doctor Strange (November 4)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has gone into the farthest reaches of space and to worlds beyond our imagination, and in Doctor Strange, it takes us to the realm of magic, a psychedelic dimension hinted at in the final moments of last summer’s Ant-Man. In the film, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Stephen Strange, a talented neurosurgeon who, after a car accident, decides to dabble in decidedly more mystical practices. The all-star cast of the film (which just started shooting in England) includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mads Mikkelsen and Tilda Swinton. Need we say more?
Moana (November 23)
Ron Clements and John Musker have been responsible for some of the most unforgettable animated features of all time, from The Great Mouse Detective to The Little Mermaid to Aladdin to The Princess and the Frog and their latest for Walt Disney Animation Studios feels like a new classic in the making. Set in ancient Oceania, it follows a young navigator named Moana (newcomer Auli’i Cravalho), who teams up with demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), as they set off on an adventure. As anyone who saw the footage from D23 Expo understands, this movie is next-level gorgeous, particularly with the water effects and how the ocean interacts with Moana. On the musical side of things, Mark Mancina, who did Tarzan and Brother Bear, is contributing the score, with songs by Broadway sensation Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also worked on the cantina music from Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Everything about Moana feels special and we can’t wait to see more from the film.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (December 16)
Now that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has firmly established Star Wars being back (in a big way), it’s time to have some fun with the smaller anthology films in between the bigger “episodes.” Rogue One is the first Star Wars Story, and set during an event mentioned in the first Star Wars film: The Rebels’ efforts to steal the plans for the Death Star. This being a Star Wars film, most of the details have been kept strictly under wraps, but we do know that it stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen and Alan Tudyk.. The Star Wars universe is so rich and diverse and these “stories” should really highlight that, in the coolest way possible. We cannot wait.
Which Disney things are you most looking forward to this year?