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REVIEW – Disney’s ‘Launchpad’ Season 2 Features Genre Storytelling from Diverse Perspectives

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Disney’s Launchpad is back for season 2. The studio’s incubator program, designed to highlight creatives from underrepresented backgrounds and pair them with Disney creative executives and mentors, released its first set of short films last year. Last time, the program invited up-and-coming directors to participate, and this year, the pool was expanded to include writers as well.

Launchpad is led by the Director of RISE Creative Talent Pathways Mahin Ibrahim and Senior Manager of RISE Launchpad Phillip Domfeh. Under their supervision, the finalists created six short films, exploring various cultures, themes and perspectives. This time, as Ibrahim mentioned during my interview with her and Domfeh, they made a concerted effort to expand on season 1 by venturing into different genres like martial arts and horror.

The result is a series of delightful and uplifting films which celebrate diverse creatives in front of, and behind, the camera. Launchpad is the kind of project that is desperately needed in the industry, and it’s heartening to see that Disney remains committed to supporting diverse stories from diverse creators.

Launchpad season 1 is streaming now on Disney+ and season 2 premieres September 29th.

Disney's Launchpad Season 2 Key Art
Disney’s Launchpad Season 2 Key Art

Official Synopsis

Disney’s “Launchpad” Season 2 is a collection of live-action shorts from a new generation of dynamic filmmakers. This season showcases six writers, five directors and one writer-director from underrepresented backgrounds who were given the opportunity to share their perspectives and creative visions. Continuing the goal of Disney’s first season of “Launchpad,” which was to diversify the types of stories that are being told by giving access to those who historically have not had it, “Launchpad” Season 2 is proud to present six new shorts for Disney+ based on the theme of “connection.”

REVIEW – A Season of Connection and Community

If there’s a common theme across DIsney’s countless stories, it’s a desire to not just entertain, but to inspire its audiences. While Launchpad is a unique and innovative project, the films created as part of the program certainly fit well with Disney’s inspirational objectives. Each of the short films in season 2 carry strong messages of identity, acceptance and love. The six anthology films that make up the second season tell vastly different stories, with differing perspectives and highlighting different cultures. And yet, despite all those differences, the six films feel cohesive. That makes sense considering that the theme for the second season was “connection.”

While Producer Phillip Domfeh explained that they intentionally wanted the theme to be broadly interpreted, there is an unmistakable synergy between the films. Each film is approximately 20 minutes long and puts its own fresh spin on familiar genres.

Black Belts, a film by Filipino and African-American filmmaker Spencer Glover and writer Xavier Stiles, is a coming of age story set in Compton, CA. The homages to old school martial arts films are clear from the opening scene, and just the fact that it’s a Kung Fu story centered around a Black family is unique in and of itself. However, we quickly find that it’s a film that’s less about kicks and punches, and more about love and family.

Seth Carr as KJ Hatton in Disney’s “LAUNCHPAD” Season Two short, “BLACK BELTS,” Directed by Spencer Glover, Screenplay by Xavier Stiles, Spencer Glover, Story by Xavier Stiles. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Seth Carr as KJ Hatton in Disney’s “LAUNCHPAD” Season Two short, “BLACK BELTS,” Directed by Spencer Glover, Screenplay by Xavier Stiles, Spencer Glover, Story by Xavier Stiles. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Similarly, The Ghost and Maxine, two films that feature supernatural characters, are horror stories that are really about family and acceptance. Interestingly, both films are written and directed by Asian creatives, with Erica Eng and Kevin Jihyek Park who teamed up to tell the story of a Korean American girl (Hana Marie Kim) who must save her family in The Ghost, and Niki Ang who wrote and directed Maxine, about a family celebrating the Hungry Ghost festival.

The Ghost and Maxine highlight the divide that many young Asian Americans face between themselves and their parents. Not only do those in the Asian diaspora deal with the common generational gaps that typical kids face with their parents, but the conflicting cultures and language barriers create an added separation that often feels insurmountable. Both films deal with those issues in their own unique ways, with Maxine also tackling the added complication of a young girl (Elaine Young) coming out to her family. While both films can be characterized as “horror,” neither are particularly scary, and are very family friendly.

One of the particular standouts of the second season is The Roof, a Native story directed by Alexander Bocchieri and written by W.A.W. Parker. The film features a Northern Cheyenne teen (Phoenix Wilson), who is sent to help their grandfather (Wes Studi), only to find that their grandfather is the key to helping them embrace their true self. Watching Wilson’s character go from awkward teen hiding a Native dress for fear of judgement, to pure joy as they dance in a ceremony fully embraced by their family and community, perfectly captures what makes Launchpad special.

Phoenix Wilson as Ray in Disney’s “LAUNCHPAD” Season Two short, “THE ROOF,” Directed by Alexander Bocchieri, Written by W.A.W. Parker. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Phoenix Wilson as Ray in Disney’s “LAUNCHPAD” Season Two short, “THE ROOF,” Directed by Alexander Bocchieri, Written by W.A.W. Parker. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

As joyful as these films are, the films this season didn’t feel quite as poignant and personal as those in the first season. Some of the stories struggled to find the balance between the personal intimacy and the focus on the various genres. For example, The Ghost seemed to be a story that wanted to explore the language and cultural divide between Hanna Marie Kim’s Clarice, and the rest of her family. It’s an issue that many Asian Americans have faced, and are facing, growing up. However, so much of the short 20 minute runtime had to focus on the supernatural, that by the time Clarice asks her mom if the language barrier between them makes her sad, the film is at an end. I would have liked to see that theme developed in much more detail instead of the supernatural element, which ultimately felt like a distraction.

Regardless, Launchpad season 2 is another critical step forward in the fight for diverse storytelling, and in an era where too many companies in all sectors are killing diversity programs, I certainly hope that Mahin Ibrahim’s statement that they are just getting started proves to be true and Disney continues to invest in future seasons.

RATING – 4/5 Pocky

Pocky Rating 4

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Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture.  He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.

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