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Now that Disney+ is up and running, we can begin to build a profile of what the ‘Stargirl’ rollout may look like, based on the example being set by the streaming service’s first post-launch original movie, ‘Togo’. Starring A-list actor Willem Dafoe, and written by Tom Flynn (most recently of the Chris Evans vehicle ‘Gifted), ‘Togo’ is the family-targeted drama telling the story of the 1925 diphtheria serum run to Nome, Alaska that inspired the Iditarod sled race. Re-telling is more apt, as the tale has been made into a movie several times, most recently in the 1995 Universal animated movie, ‘Balto’.

As the run-up to the Disney+ launch focused primarily on existing back-catalogue and new originals available for streaming on November 12th, those movies and series slated for a later premiere were given little to no exposure during that period. While many Grace fans bemoaned the lack of a publicly-available ‘Stargirl’ clip at the April 2019 Disney Shareholders meeting or anything more than a few stills from D23 in August, ‘Togo’ was given even less of a profile. Even though the film has an earlier premiere date, there were no clips shown to the Disney shareholders at all in April, and no event at the D23 First Look Pavilion. Collider.com provided one of the first publicly available press images, Willem Dafoe and the sled team in arctic conditions, in its profile of the movie on October 24th.

For those who feel that the mystery surrounding the scheduling of the premiere date for ‘Stargirl’ and its seeming delay from “late 2019” to a current expected release in March, 2020 show a lack of support for the feature by the Disney+ bigwigs, the situation is not unique. ‘Togo’ was originally slated for a vague “shortly after launch” debut in write-ups over the summer, and listed as an “early December” release in the D23 press materials. The Collider.com article still listed a December 13th premiere, less than two months from the final published premiere date of December 20th.

When the push finally came at the beginning of December, the showing was both slick and high-profile. The movie is the subject of both a full 30-second TV spot and a complete theatrical trailer running more than two-and-a-half minutes. The television ad has run nationally several times, including most recently during the late-afternoon NFL Football game on CBS. As of the writing of this profile, the trailer has garnered almost two million views on the official Walt Disney Studios YouTube channel, and as many as a million more on copycat and reposting channels. The trailer’s release, only 16 days before the premiere date may indicate that the ‘Stargirl’ trailer may not debut until sometime between early February to at the latest the early part of March, depending on the eventual debut date. ‘Togo’ was given the red-carpet premiere treatment at the Cinema Society in New York on Monday, December 9th, following similar treatment for the ‘Lady and The Tramp’ live-action remake back in October. It’s reasonable to expect a ‘Stargirl’ event of the same order when the time comes.

As a result of the press push, Google searches for ‘Togo movie’ have skyrocketed in the last two weeks, putting all previous periods in the last five years down at 1% of peak or lower, per Google Trends. Smaller but significant spikes for Dafoe, Flynn, and “1925 serum run” can be observed in the same period.

‘Togo’ has been reviewed favorably by multiple review sites, including Decider, ScreenRant, IndieWire, and Slashfilm, and currently has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is also the sample case for the New York Times article, “Remember Family Films? Disney Plus Is Making ’Em Like They Used To”, which compares the Disney+ original-features model to the Disney live-action movies of the 1950s. (The article also includes a short profile of ‘Stagirl’ complete with Julia Hart quote.)

One thing to note is that the end of the ‘Togo’ trailer includes a title card with several elements worth considering. First off, the movie title is listed under a “Disney” logo, not Disney+, although it does denote the movie as “Original Movie Streaming December 20” on the date line. Also, the bottom of the card lists an official MPAA (actually MPA now) ratings designation and warnings – PG with “some peril, thematic elements and mild language”. Previous Disney television original content were only given a Television Parental Guidelines rating, but the inclusion of new Disney streaming movies under the MPA provides it international piracy protections and underlines the seriousness with which Disney approaches its new features. As a reference, Netflix joined the MPAA earlier this year as the first streaming-centric content creator to do so, and Amazon is expected eventually to do the same. For all reasonable purposes, ‘Togo’ and the other original features premiering on Disney+ are full-fledged Disney Movies, simply without the prohibitive financial downside of a theatrical release.

While there have been several calls, including from our own Mark Lalonde, for ‘Stargirl’ to be released – however briefly – to theatres to be eligible for Academy Award consideration, the decision by Disney not to do so comes with a considerable up-side. While the lure of what comes with the exposure of participating in an Oscar-nominated movie is strong, there are quite a few accolades that can still be won in exchange. Streaming services are considered television for the purposes of the various academies, guilds and voting presses, and a host of the awards every year are given to original movies in the acting, writing, directing and technical fields.

In fact, the last few years have seen a rising trend of nominations and awards in the ‘television’ categories going away from traditional broadcast and even cable sources and toward streaming-platform content. The concept is borne out by ‘Togo’ already receiving a Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) nomination for Original Long Form, one of the 26 out of 64 total nominations given out to streaming platform creators for video content writing this year. A full slate of categories for awards by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (Emmy Awards), Hollywood Foreign Press (Golden Globes), Screen Actors Guild (SAG Awards), Directors Guild of America, and Writers Guild of America is open to movies like ‘Stargirl’.

Each of the Disney+ original movies undoubtedly has its own logistical and strategic considerations for press, publicity and timing. While fans may never know all of the behind-the scenes wrangling and chaos that go into the post-launch release schedule, and while there are no guarantees that what happens for ‘Togo’ will reflect on similar treatment for ‘Stargirl’, it’s good to see that the lead dog is being treated well.