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Upcoming Disney movies in 2021 you won't want to miss

It's no secret that Walt Disney Studios is currently one of the most powerful studios in Hollywood. Their acquisitions of Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, and 20th Century Fox (now known as 20th Century Studios) have made them a force to be reckoned with within the film industry. 

Despite this, no amount of upcoming Marvel and Star Wars movies can take people's eyes off the "Disney proper" films set to be released by the massive studio in 2021. If you're someone who's craving Disney movies that aren't superhero flicks or remakes of classic animated films, these promising productions, which include animated and live-action movies, should get you excited. These movies encompass exciting new animated IPs, unique takes on iconic characters, and even a documentary about one of the most controversial rock albums ever produced. We're here to take a closer look at these upcoming Disney films, and explain why you should not miss them when they hit theaters in 2021.

Raya and the Last Dragon

Coming off the success of Frozen and Moana, Disney Animation will release another heroine-centric movie in 2021, in the form of Raya and the Last Dragon. This film is set in the Southeast Asia-inspired world of Kumandra, where humans and dragons once lived together in harmony. When evil monsters known as the Druun threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. 500 years later, the Drunn have returned, and a young warrior named Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) must locate the last dragon to reunite the divided nation and save her world.

When the teaser trailer first debuted on October 21st, 2020, many perceptive viewers were quick to compare this movie to the popular Nickelodeon fantasy series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Both are inspired by Asian cultures, both are set in divided fantasy worlds, and both have main characters with animal sidekicks (Aang has his sky bison and Raya has her armadillo). But these similarities should not be cause for discontent — all of them can exist on their own, and often do (what Disney princess doesn't have an animal sidekick?). Moreover, if Raya is comparable to Avatar, that could actually be great — Avatar is, after all, a modern classic. We'll find out if these comparisons are warranted when the film hits theaters in the US on March 12th, 2021.

Cruella

2021 will see the infamous Disney villainess Cruella de Vil gain her own theatrical origin story. Starring Emma Stone as the titular baddie, Cruella is set in 1970s London, and follows the young fashion designer as she becomes more and more obsessed with dog skins. The film is directed by Craig Gillespie, whose previous work includes Lars and the Real Girl and I, Tonya. Emma Thompson will play the film's antagonist, the mysterious Baroness, while Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser will play Jasper and Horace respectively, who go on to become de Vil's henchmen in 101 Dalmatians.

Mark Strong, who will also star in Cruella as a character named Boris, told Collider about how much fun he had working on the film. "It was fantastic being on set. It's such a massive production. There are huge fashion and ballroom sequences in it, which are just so impressive. I got to be on set during those days and spend most of my time with the two Emmas — Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. It was just great being able to shoot the breeze with those guys during the downtime, and then play with them, telling this fantastical story that I think people are thoroughly going to enjoy, when the cameras were rolling." Cruella releases in American theaters on May 28th, 2021.

Luca

Now that Pixar has gotten all the sequels out of their system, they plan to release more movies based on original IPs, including 2021's Luca. This coming-of-age story follows a young boy named Luca, who lives in the Italian Riviera and shares adventures with his newfound best friend, a sea monster disguised as a human.

Luca is the feature-length directorial debut of Enrico Casarosa, who wrote and directed the 2011 Pixar short, La Luna. "This is a deeply personal story for me, not only because it's set on the Italian Riviera where I grew up, but because at the core of this film is a celebration of friendship. Childhood friendships often set the course of who we want to become and it is those bonds that are at the heart of our story in Luca," Casarosa said in a statement. "So in addition to the beauty and charm of the Italian seaside, our film will feature an unforgettable summer adventure that will fundamentally change Luca." American audiences can go on this journey when Luca releases in theaters on June 18th, 2021.

Jungle Cruise

Disney found success in turning a theme park ride into the massively popular Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, so that may explain why they also plan to turn the Jungle Cruise theme park ride into a movie. Set in the 20th century, this film revolves around a steamboat captain named Frank (Dwayne Johnson) who takes a scientist named Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) to find a legendary tree with unparalleled healing powers.

Jungle Cruise was supposed to release in the US on July 24th, 2020 but was delayed to July 30th, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Metallica fans will be happy to hear that the band collaborated with well-known film composer James Newton Howard to create an instrumental version of their song "Nothing Else Matters" for this film. That combination may sound odd, but Metallica drummer James Ulrich told Collider in September of 2020 that Disney production president and self-proclaimed Metallica fan Sean Bailey always wanted to put the band's music in a Disney movie, and thought that Jungle Cruise was "the right fit."

The Beatles: Get Back

In 1970, United Artists released a documentary about the making of the Beatles' final album Let It Be, which is generally considered one of the most controversial rock albums in music history. It features footage from an unannounced rooftop concert, which was the band's last public performance. Lord of the Rings filmmaker Peter Jackson announced on January 30th, 2019, the 50th anniversary of that rooftop concert, that he was working on The Beatles: Get Back, a new documentary that will pull from roughly 55 hours of never-before-seen footage of the band's 1969 recording sessions.

With this new footage, Jackson hopes to disprove rumors that the band couldn't get along during these recording sessions. "After reviewing all the footage and audio that Michael Lindsay-Hogg shot 18 months before they broke up, it's simply an amazing historical treasure trove," Jackson said in a press statement. "Sure, there's moments of drama — but none of the discord this project has long been associated with. Watching John, Paul, George, and Ringo work together, creating now-classic songs from scratch, is not only fascinating — it's funny, uplifting, and surprisingly intimate." Beatles fans will have something to look forward to when The Beatles: Get Back hits theaters on August 27, 2021.

Encanto

Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has already collaborated with Disney on Moana and Mary Poppins Returns, confirmed in 2016 that he would be writing music for a new animated Disney feature, directed by Zootopia co-director Byron Howard. It was confirmed in January 2020 that Jared Bush, co-writer and co-director of Zootopia, will co-direct this film, and Charise Castro Smith, who worked as a writer and producer on The Haunting of Hill House, will co-write it, alongside Bush.

It was later reported that this film's title is Encanto, and will center around a young girl who is the only member of her Colombian family who lacks magical powers. Even though details surrounding Encanto are currently scarce, there's plenty to be excited about: The movie already boasts a wealth of talent from all corners of the entertainment and animation industry. American audiences can experience the enchantment of Encanto for themselves when it hits theaters on November 24th, 2021.

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