Back in 2002 when Kingdom Hearts first dropped, the marriage of Disney-themed worlds and Final Fantasy characters to make a Square Enix-style RPG was mind-blowing.
But Kingdom Hearts 4 finds itself in a very different media landscape, where just a few companies own a huge amount of the relevant pop-culture franchises, and everything is a crossover extended universe.
When so many properties are under one umbrella, the only limit to how deep the fan-service can go is how brave the licensing team are feeling that afternoon. And whether it’s Tina’s leaving party in the office that day, and whether the emergency bottle of schnapps has come out for the occasion.
These are all the Disney-owned characters they should put in Kingdom Hearts 4 if they really want to take the series to the next level now it's in active development.
Bender - Futurama
Bite my shiny metal keyblade.
The year 3000’s premier bending unit would make the ultimate summon character, belching alcoholic fire on everyone and everything in his path, twisting metal with his bare hands, and transforming into a fearsome werecar for a devastating finisher.
It’s either that or you just turn the Gummi Ship into the Planet Express and call it a day.
Nostromo - Alien
You know the bit in the first Kingdom Hearts where you’re in space and get sucked into Monstro, the whale from Pinocchio?
Well what if you docked somewhere really dangerous? Like the Xenomorph-infested Nostromo from the original Alien.
But hey, since we’re trying to get maximum mileage out of brand recognition, instead of being stalked by an acid-mouthed, scythe-clawed terror from beyond the stars, how about you’re hunted by the bounty hunter Din Djarin like in that episode from the first series of The Mandalorian where he kills everyone on a ship like the alien in Alien.
Now that’s what we call fan-service.
The water-skiing squirrel on ESPN 8: the Ocho - Dodgeball
You might be thinking that this is just a stupid meme pick. And you would be correct.
But really, we are very smart, because this is a classic example of Disney coming to own everything eventually.
While Disney has owned a controlling stake in ESPN since the ‘90s, it wasn’t until 2019 that it bought 20th Century Studios along with the rest of Fox.
So now they not only own the world’s premier destination for seldom-seen sports from around the globe like tractor racing, flaming football and squirrel water-skiing, but they copped the makers of Dodgeball too.
It’s a bold move Cotton, let’s see if it pays off.
Charles Dickens and Rizzo the Rat - The Muppet Christmas Carol
Who needs Donald and Goofy as companions when you have the dynamic duo from literally the greatest Christmas movie of all time in your back pocket?
Already adept at guiding an omnipotent audience through dense, dimension-hopping stories, Muppets - which for our money are the best invention ever by quite a distance - make everything better. No exceptions, it’s the law.
Everyone’s always falling asleep in Kingdom Hearts, so why not have only one more sleep ‘til Christmas?
Jack Bauer - 24
Ask your dad/younger uncle/cool friend about ‘00s classic 24, where each hour-long episode in a 24-episode series added up to a full day in the life of crack counter-terror agent Jack Bauer.
Cue a bunch of people operating on no sleep, constant urgent shouting into cell phones, and a nightmarish post-9/11 ‘at any cost’ adoration of endless collateral damage and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. The ends justify the means, right? …right?
The realistic passage of time concept fits Kingdom Hearts like a giant white Mickey glove, since every cutscene feels like it lasts for 24 real-life hours anyway.
Plus, star Keifer Sutherland is no stranger to video games after grumbling roughly 12 lines as Venom Snake in Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain - a role Sutherland only accepted after Hideo Kojima appeared to him in a dream offering three wishes (what he wished for is still unknown).
All we’ll say is this: they would’ve found Kairi a lot faster with a little waterboarding.
A superhero team made up of Brian the dog, Nibbler, and Itchy and Scratchy
Just whacking in a Marvel hero would be too easy, so why not make a new team from the huge range of cartoon characters on offer?
Ultra-violent, potty-mouthed and ready to ram any unfortunate Heartless through a woodchipper, this animal-based squad of beloved adult animation friends is here to save the day.
The gags write themselves. Since they’re all basically Rocket Raccoon you can just have Bradley Cooper voice them all, they all call each other rabbits like in that other film you’ve seen, and when they’ve outlived their usefulness just send them packing to their home planet and say they died on the way back.
Walkers - The Walking Dead
Halloween Town has some new residents: hyper-realistic, blood-soaked and decaying monstrosities borne of a show with too much budget and no plot to spend it on.
Apparently Disney also owns ABC’s The Walking Dead - the final season of which is now streaming on Disney+ if the ad campaign hasn’t permeated every facet of your being quite yet - so these shambling death-walkers are fair game to add some necrotic spice to your favourite childhood memories.
Sure, it’ll push the age-rating up a little. But children’s tiny minds would never be able to follow the complex narrative structure and emotional resonance of a game level set in the world of Hercules, right?
Wisteria Lane - Desperate Housewives
Kingdom Hearts is what all us nerds wish our lives were like, so it’s only fair to integrate the show our Mums wished their life was like too.
Where fantasy lands of magic and wonder might seem more interesting, the sleepy suburb of Wisteria Lane would really be the most action-packed planet of the bunch.
With tornados, plane crashes, and more poisonings than the giant turkey leg stand at Disney World to contend with, Sora and friends will need to use all of their skills to get out unscathed.
In our first story draft, Jiminy Cricket sadly does not survive.
Dewey - Malcolm in the Middle
As the Kingdom Hearts series goes on, Sora gets older and older. It’s time for fresh blood. The future is now, old man.
That’s why we’re advocating for Dewey from Malcolm in the Middle to be the new main series protagonist.
There will be no further questions at this time.
How’s this for a framing device?
Earth is just another planet in the vast galaxy of trademarked and registered copyrighted material.
Only one man believes the truth is out there: (20th Century) Fox Mulder, and he, along with sceptical sidekick Dana Scully, have to blow the case wide open.
Through Alan Wake-style vignettes away from the main story, you piece together the harrowing reality: an anthropomorphised mouse is king of the universe, chipmunks have mastered space flight before humans, and ducks have risen to become powerful wizards who command fire, air, and lightning.
We are not alone, but you'd wish we were with that eldritch knowledge.