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Disney Launchpad: A Complete Guide

by Yasmine Kandil
The official logo for the Disney Launchpad short film series exclusive to Disney+.

It’s always refreshing to check out films from rising filmmakers, especially when they offer a range of diverse storytelling. A unique collection of short films are about to arrive on Disney+ thanks to Disney’s brand new Launchpad program. The library will consist of 6 films, each made by individual writer/directors, that tell culturally and creatively rich stories.

Ahead of the collection arriving on Disney+, we were lucky enough to watch the outstanding films and attend a press conference where we got to learn more about the Launchpad initiative as well as the filmmakers within the program’s inaugural class. With plenty of diversity on display, this new series is deserving of attention and support, and Disney is only getting started with this creative and liberating venture. To help you navigate the films, we have a comprehensive guide with everything you need to know about the program, artists, and above all else, the importance of these stories.

The six filmmakers chosen for the first season of Disney's Launchpad program, a new series of short films that are set to focus on diversity and inclusivity through one centered them of Discovery.
The filmmakers of Disney’s Launchpad Sitting L to R.: Aqsa Altaf (American Eid), Anne Marie Pace (Growing Fangs), Jessica Mendez Siqeiros (The Last of the Chupacabras), Stefanie Abel Horowitz (Let’s Be Tigers). Standing L to R.: Moxie Peng (The Little Prince(ss)), Hao Zheng (Dinner is Served). Courtesy of Derek Lee/Disney

What is Disney’s Launchpad Program?

Led by the Director of Disney’s Diversity & Inclusion Market, Mahin Ibrahim, and Launchpad Senior Manager, Phillip Yaw Domfeh, the goal behind the Launchpad is to tell diverse stories and give voices to underrepresented individuals who may not have historically had such an opportunity in the past. There were over 1,000 applicants during the initial season. After a series of interviews, 6 filmmakers were ultimately successful.

Each story told is inspired by the season’s theme of ‘Discovery’. This is conveyed in the forms of self, cultural, and mythical discovery among many others. Throughout this experience, the filmmakers were given mentors from departments (including Marvel and Pixar) in order to nurture and support their growing talents. After a production period that lasted throughout the ongoing pandemic, the films are finally complete and ready to share with audiences all over the world through Disney+.

Disney Launchpad Season 1 Guide

American Eid

A Muslim family enter an American school as seen in the short American Eid part of the Disney Launchpad program.
Courtesy of Disney

Synopsis: Ameena, a Muslim Pakistani immigrant, wakes up on Eid to find out that she has to go to school. Homesick and heartbroken, she goes on a mission to make Eid a public school holiday, and in the process reconnects with her older sister and embraces her new home, while her new home embraces her in return.

About the Film & Director

America Eid is directed by Aqsa Altaf who was raised in Kuwait by Pakistani and Sri Lankan parents. During the Launchpad press conference, the writer/director remarked that she, “grew up watching films that did not represent people that look like me, or stories that were like mine, or even people that are around me, none of it was represented on a big screen”. Much like the millions of Muslims around the globe, Eid was always a very prominent celebration in Altaf’s household, inspiring her to tell a story about the holiday on a mainstream platform. American Eid is a beautiful short about the importance of family and keeping traditions alive when moving to a new place.

Dinner is Served

Two Chinese students look in shock at an American school as seen in the short Dinner is Served part of Disney's Launchpad program.
Courtesy of Disney

Synopsis: A Chinese student at an elite U.S. boarding school realizes excellence is not enough when he tries out for a leadership position that no international student has ever applied for.

About the Film & Director

Filmmaker Hao Zheng moved to America at just 15 years of age to attend a prestigious boarding school in New York. His film tells the story of a young student from China who finds himself alienated and lonely in a whole new country. Much like the director’s true past, the protagonist deals with his fear of loneliness by applying to leadership positions. Zheng recounts that during this time he felt “Angry, not because I made mistakes but because I couldn’t do anything when my accent got laughed at’. Dinner is Served addresses the harmful stereotypes and discrimination faced to this day by international students all over the world, even daring to challenge privileged people and institutions use of diverse individuals to fill a quota.

Growing Fangs

A family of Mexican-American Vampires meet for dinner as seen in the short Growing Fangs part of the Disney Launchpad series.
Courtesy of Disney

Synopsis: Val Garcia, a Mexican-American teen who is half human/half vampire, has had to keep her identity a secret from both worlds. But when her human best friend shows up at her monster-infested school, she has to confront her truth, her identity, and herself.

About the Film & Director

Growing up Mexican-American and Bisexual, Ann Marie Pace felt that she was drawn to stories about discovering one’s identity, especially when it came to tales deriving from multicultural heritage. Through her protagonist Val, who is half human and half vampire, Pace set out to explore the struggles of duality in both cultural identity and sexuality. The writer turned director notes that Growing Fangs is all about the fact that “being a part of multiple identities doesn’t make you any less of that identity” and is ultimately an ode to people who haven’t quite accepted that they belong, no matter who they are or where they are from.

The Last of the Chupacabras

Two elderly people meet while chupacabra and dragon decorations are seen on the front lawn as seen in the short The Last of the Chupacabras part of Disney's Launchpad series.
Courtesy of Disney

Synopsis: In a world where culture has nearly ceased to exist, one lone Mexican-American struggling to carry on her traditions unknowingly summons a dark and ancient creature to protect her.

About the Film & Director

Despite modern society being almost entirely comprised of immigrants across generations, communities within America are often taught to suppress their culture in a bid to “fit in”. Mexican-American director Jessica Mendez Siqueiros felt that her upbringing reflected this stigma and resulted in her not being able to speak her mother’s native language. The Last of the Chupacabras proves the importance of taking time to honor cultures and their traditions so that they are not doomed to be forgotten.

Let’s be Tigers

A young woman puts a 4-year-old to sleep as seen in the short Let's Be Tigers part of the Disney Launchpad program.
Courtesy of Disney

Synopsis: Avalon’s not ready to process the loss of her mother, but when she’s put in charge of a 4-year old for one night, she finds more comfort than she ever could have expected.

About the Film & Director

The fear of grief, loss, and ageing is something that is universal. As her grandfather neared his 100th birthday and her parents reached their 70s, director Stefanie Abel Horowitz began reflecting on life’s inevitable “passing of the baton”. Inspired by her experiences babysitting a 3-year-old some time ago, the filmmaker chose to tackle the repetitive cycle of loss combined with the question “how do we talk to kids about difficult things?”. Let’s be Tigers perfectly captures the innocence of childhood and the sting of growing up to face reality.

The Little Prince(ss)

A young gender fluid Chinese boy practices ballet with young girls as seen in Little Prince(ss) part of Disney's Launchpad series.
Courtesy of Disney

Synopsis: When Gabriel, a 7-year-old Chinese kid who loves ballet, becomes friends with Rob, another Chinese kid from school, Rob’s dad gets suspicious about Gabriel’s feminine behavior and decides to intervene.

About the Film & Director

This incredibly moving short is based on writer/director Moxie Peng’s upbringing in China and the social construct of gender performance as they explored their queer and non-binary identity. The character of Gabriel, a Chinese-American aspiring ballerina, is played with such grace by 7-year-old actor Kalo Moss. This story comes with several beautiful messages about immigrating as a child, toxic masculinity, and accepting yourself and others. Peng hopes that The Little Prince(ss) will “showcase that queer and trans kids are not alone”.

The Future of Disney Launchpad

With an exceptional library of shorts for audiences to view from this first season, the search for the next group of filmmakers with special stories to tell is upon us. Applications will be open on June 11, 2021, with the next collection of short films to be focused on the concept of ‘Connection.’

Disney Launchpad premieres May 28 exclusively on Disney+

Follow writer Yasmine Kandil on Twitter: @byebyebucky

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