“Sylvie’s Love” filmmaker Eugene Ashe has been tapped to write “The Rocketeer” reboot at Disney+, The Wrap has exclusively learned.
David Oyelowo is attached to star and produce the project. The project is part of his and his wife’s two-year first-look deal with Disney.
Released in 1991, Disney’s “The Rocketeer” is a period superhero film that starred Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton and the late Paul Sorvino. The film was directed by Joe Johnston (“Captain America: The First Avenger”), with breathtaking visual effects from Johnston’s alma mater Industrial Light & Magic and an unforgettable score by the late, great James Horner, that you can still hear in the background of some Disney theme parks.
“The Rockeeter” is based on the comic book character of the same name created by comic book artist and writer Dave Stevens, who first appeared as a back-up story in the pages of “Starslayer” in 1982. The character then starred in his own title, saving his Betty Page-ish girlfriend from villains and uncovering sinister plots.
The film is a charming and action-packed adventure film that pays homage to the golden age of Hollywood and pulp serials, that sanded down some of the rougher edges of Stevens’ comic but retained its plucky spirit. Stevens sadly passed away in 2008 after battling a rare form of leukemia.
Set in 1938 Los Angeles, the original Disney film followed Cliff Secord (Campbell), a young stunt pilot who stumbles upon a prototype jetpack. Secord straps on the rocket and becomes the high-flying hero known as The Rocketeer. However, when Nazis and other villains become interested in the rocket pack, Secord must use his new powers to protect his loved ones (including his struggling actress girlfriend, played by Connelly) and save the day. While the movie was heavily hyped and strongly supported by Disney (even appearing as part of a nighttime spectacular at the recently opened Disney-MGM Studios theme park at Walt Disney World), it underperformed at the box office, failing to meet the lofty expectations of becoming the “next Batman.” But in the years since it has become something of a cult favorite.
In 2019 the character was briefly resurrected (sort of) for an animated preschool series called “The Rocketeer,” which also saw Campbell return, this time as Dave Secord, although he did voice Cliff in the first episode (appearing in old newsreel footage). It was canceled after a single season but you can watch the episodes on Disney+.
An earlier attempt at rebooting the project, this time from director J.D. Dillard, failed to take off. Dillard told TheWrap last year, “I love, love, love ‘The Rocketeer.’” But that he was no longer involved in the new film (at one point called “The Return of the Rocketeer”).
Oyelowo assures fans of 1991’s “The Rocketeer” that the sequel is in good hands.
“I was a big fan of the first one. Actually had the poster up in my bedroom as a teenager. It’s a beloved property over [at Disney], so to be trusted with it is a real privilege. We’re going to take care of the fans of the original and hopefully bring in a whole new fanbase. In our film, he’s going to be an ex-Tuskegee airman, so it’s still in that 1940s milieu,” Oyelowo told TheWrap last year. “We know we have to adhere to the things that people loved about the first one. But that was 30 years ago, so we want to make a film that’s going to resonate for the next 30 years and especially for the now. That’s the needle we have to thread and we’re working hard to do so.”
The reboot will be produced by the Oyelowo’s Yoruba Saxon Productions banner. Blake Griffin and Ryan Kalil’s Mortal Media are the executive producers.
Ashe is a writer-director and former Sony Music recording artist from Harlem, New York. In 2012, Ashe made his feature directorial debut on “Homecoming,” a romantic comedy based on his off-Broadway play. “Homecoming” was produced through his production company, Seven Letter Words Films, and released by RLJ Entertainment.
In 2020, Ashe broke out with his second feature film, “Sylvie’s Love,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. “Sylvie’s Love” is a period romance set in the early 1960s and tells the story of a young Black woman who falls in love with a Jewish man. The film was a critical success and was praised for its visuals, its authentic portrayal of the era, and its heartwarming story.
Ashe is repped by CAA and Anonymous Content.
Drew Taylor contributed to this report.