Marvel appears to have re-focused on a new medium for their products in recent weeks, as we’ve been subjected to back to back announcements regarding new animated shows that will be hitting both Hulu and Disney+ in the next few years. Although some of them have been confirmed to not be a part of the MCU, these shows nonetheless surround a number of unexpected yet exciting content, from niche characters such as Hit-Monkey and M.O.D.O.K. to crazy concepts, like that of the MCU ‘What If?’ series. With this direct-to-consumer method of distribution and a continued desire to see the MCU evolve through other mediums, the question is raised as to whether there is a future for the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the realm of animation; considering Into the Spider-Verse was the biggest animated movie of the year, a huge bonus for Marvel projects .
Animation provides opportunities that live action just cannot give for cinematic creators. Worlds and characters that would cost thousands in practical and virtual effects to create are just not feasible for shorter form content. So if the films are not going to include a certain thing, chances are you won’t see it on the small screen either. With that said, animation can provide a chance for showrunners to include anything they want which is why through animation, we could get characters that aren’t sustainable for a full feature length run and are too expensive for live action.
Case in point: the reported first episode of the What If series will be about Peggy Carter becoming Abraham Erskine’s successful serum subject instead of Steve Rogers, making her the Captain America of that timeline. As amazing it would be to see Hayley Atwell get ripped, don the suit and destroy Nazis with her fists, the MCU film slate simply has no room for such a fun idea.
You can also take more risks through animation. You can test different things without worrying too much about some of the logistics and practicalities of actually shooting a show. So animation can actually allow MCU creators to do a number of things, that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. From this perspective, therefore, it’s great for MCU fans too and certainly protects Disney business interests with some exclusive Plus content.
In terms of MCU canon however and continuing on the stories that this great franchise has already told, is animation really beneficial to its future of narrative? In terms of the freedom, it provides it absolutely is. It is also easy to get cast members to do voice overs rather than appearing in a live-action piece, which means any combination of characters could be put to screen. We could have some really fun crossovers that might not happen on the big screen due to scheduling or financial reasons and other logistical problems.
It would be great to see some smaller narratives and team-ups or maybe even a team up show that puts together two unlikely characters and puts them into an adventure; think of something like Thor and Dr. Strange, for instance, battling some kind of multidimensional alien. The other positive of this is that the shows can be dated at any time and bring back characters that are usually not as focused on. The Warriors Three and Sif, for instance, could be put into a Ragnarok style story, or perhaps giving Wong or the Wasp their own time to shine, separate from the franchises they usually inhabit.
Much like the freedom of characters that these shows have, there would also be some leeway in terms of location. Recently, I produced an article about some of the great locations that the MCU could produce and perhaps this is the perfect platform for some of them. The Savage Land, in particular, would work exceptionally well in animated form, with a lot of visual elements that can be heightened by the medium. The presence of dinosaurs and fictitious creatures, alongside characters like Captain America might look better in animation than it would in live action. The same can be said for locations such as Asgard. We don’t get a lot of Asgard in the films, whereas in animation we could really dive into this world, whilst still maintaining the fact that it is canon with the larger MCU.
Moving on from this, animation could be the place that some other teams are added to the mix. Animation primarily works as a medium aimed at younger audiences, but of course, there are plenty of animated content geared for the older crowd as well. Perhaps a project that bridges that gap could be perfect. Something like the Runaways would have been an obvious inclusion into the mix and still could be, especially if we want some fun television crossovers.
You can have animated shows for The New Warriors or maybe even the West Coast Avengers. The New Warriors were set to have their own live-action TV show, but I suspect that this idea may have been moved onto the animation slate. The West Coast Avengers, on the other hand, could be an incredibly wacky team that have a life of their own in animation. With a couple of main players like Hawkeye and then some bizarre additions such as those from the Great Lakes Avengers, like Mr. Immortal and Big Bertha. Mainly though, I really want to see Squirrel Girl in a version of these.
The animated division could also provide a second life to some dying MCU elements. Forgotten villains such as the Abomination that haven’t seen the light of day in years or even teams like the Inhumans that were so mismanaged on the small screen, could all find new life here. Perhaps Agent Carter could finally have its conclusion, or the previous Netflix heroes would be allowed to feature in gritty animated series, where anything goes, still aimed at an older audience. Much like the Howard the Duck character, that couldn’t quite find its place in live action aside from some cameos, these series absolutely have a place for the wacky, wonderful and projects that failed in the past but still have some great potential.
So could the future of MCU canon be found in animation? Absolutely! With the new digital platforms that are being created for these products, anything is possible in terms of what is created. But by having these still play into the larger cinematic universe, it allows for people to jump in with a familiarity with the characters, but witness side stories they never could have got amongst the larger stakes of the films. Old favorites can be utilized in different ways and we may finally see the return of those who have been forgotten.
Most of all though, it means this universe can go even wackier and I am hoping that shows such as the M.O.D.O.K. Hulu addition are all a part of the MCU. ‘What If?’ shows that Marvel is prepared to take risks with the nature in which they tell stories and animation feels like the suitable medium to be able to explore these options further. There may be some great surprises as to what could be added into canon just from these shows alone, but ultimately it can only be a good thing, as the world and universe that fans adore will be fleshed out further with exciting new concepts and ideas.