The Promising Magic of Disney+

If you read our Disney+ Library Info post, you know that I wasn’t immediately on board with Disney’s streaming service. In fact, after sitting through the ‘Plus Panel’ at the D23 Expo, we both left feeling underwhelmed. The Marvel previews fell flat, and most of the original programming didn’t seem like it was our speed.

This might seem like an odd perspective from someone who is Disney-obsessed and writes Disney posts daily on a blog about Disney. However, as we’ve shared countless times, we’re primarily Disney Parks fans. Our interest of all things Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, etc. (We still haven’t seen the last two films by Walt Disney Animation Studios, although I actually am really looking forward to seeing Frozen 2.)

In terms of television programming, HBO has been more my speed than Disney’s past offerings, and I assumed that meant Disney+ would be potentially “not for me.” However, after a week with the streaming service, I’m sold. (At least, for now.) We’re loving Disney+ and enjoying its features, content, and approach much more than expected. In this, we’ll offer first impressions of Disney Plus’ magic & misses, along with what I’d like to see out of Disney+ as it grows and evolves…

The first element of the Disney+ magic is seeing so many classic Disney films, animated shorts, television specials, and so on. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Disney Vault, but it sure has worked out in Disney’s favor for this streaming service. When you first start browsing Disney+, it makes a strong first impression to see so much all at once that hasn’t seen the light of day in years.

I spent well over an hour just browsing and building out a Disney+ watch list before ever watching anything. My expectation was that the content library on Disney+ would be pretty light at launch (and compared to Netflix, it is) but I was surprised by just how much is available. Lots of Walt-era stuff I’ve never seen, other things I haven’t seen in ages, and plenty of stuff I didn’t even know exists. Just browsing Disney+ is a ton of fun.

To even my own surprise, some of the content I’ve enjoyed watching the most thus far is the old animated shorts. Many of these I’ve never seen at all–or only ever seen in passing (like on a Disney’s Magical Express bus or hotel lobby). It was great to finally sit down and give them my full attention, appreciating the artistry and stunning backgrounds.

Given the season, Pluto’s Christmas Tree was first up (and has been watched a few times already!), with Boat Builders, the Art of Skiing, and How to Swim among other early viewings. As I keep “discovering” older content like this, I keep adding it to my watchlist…which is growing quite lengthy.

With that said, the back catalogue of Disney+ is not perfect. Due to existing contracts with other streaming services, there’s still a lot that isn’t present. In other instances, there are some (seeming) oversights like Wonderful World of Color and Walt Disney’s Disneyland. There are also one-off specials from park openings that I’d love to see–Disney+ seems like the perfect home to niche content like this.

Then there are other things, which I’ve seen suggested on social media, like having Leonard Maltin offer introductions to some older content for cultural and social context. This and the above ‘missing’ content are fairly minor quibbles. As with all other streaming services, I’d expect Disney+ to evolve and improve over time–it had no shot of being a fully-featured Disney version of Netflix on day one.

We were in Japan when Disney+ launched, which was both a good and bad thing. It was good in the sense that we missed all of the release day hiccups, outages, etc. I followed along on social media and read reports about extensive day one problems, including those from some friends who waited hours on hold with customer service. (Why?!)

It was bad in the sense that I felt like I was missing out on a ton of fun as others shared their watchlists and reactions to Disney+ programming and the service in general. Additionally, I saw spoilers almost immediately, and ended up avoiding social media in large part because of that. Unfortunately, the cat–or should I say the Baby [redacted for those of you who don’t have social media]–was already out of the bag by that point.

In hindsight, I think this personal downside could end up being a huge upside to Disney+. One of the things I love about HBO is that it’s pretty much the last bastion of “appointment television.” Many viewers watch HBO shows live because everyone talks about them immediately around the (virtual) water cooler. There’s the implicit understanding that spoilers are fair game immediately. (Warning: old man yells at clouds rant incoming.)

Although I partake in the occasional television binge, I think it’s a terrible way to consume quality content–and one that does thought-provoking shows a huge injustice. How much time do you reflect on shows when watching 20 in a row? How often do you forget what happened in the previous season when the next is released because you watched all at once over a year ago?

Netflix has done a lot of great and some not-so-great things, and I’d firmly file the binge-model under the latter. It virtually eliminates the social component of television, reduces retention and reflection, and increases our collective desire for instant gratification. Binging guilty-pleasure fluff is one thing, but artfully-made and thought-provoking programming is another entirely.

Even though I had some things spoiled for me, I’m incredibly happy that Disney+ is following a weekly release schedule. My only wish is that they’d mimic the broadcast model with episodes airing “live” on release day during prime time. If spoilers are going to be fair game right away, a live release time that’s sensible for those with traditional work schedules is only appropriate. (This is something HBO does on its streaming platform, which makes sense as it’s still a traditional network. I’d love a “live” Disney+ feed in this same style.)

The weekly excitement around the Mandalorian and Imagineering Story is contagious, and the fun of socializing about the shows appears to be a big part of the early magic. (I wouldn’t know entirely, as I’m not fully caught up on either–please don’t spoil how the Eisner drama ends!)

I wish we could have this with Stranger Things, Master of None, Unbelievable, or any number of supposedly-great Netflix shows I never even heard about until there was outrage over their cancellation. I’m aware that “drowning in great content” is an odd complaint, but it does feel like Netflix has done some of its shows a disservice by failing to spotlight them amidst a deluge of other programming.

So long as Disney+ is releasing quality content, the weekly release approach is not just viable, but advantageous to get people to savor what they’re watching. (And if they’re not releasing strong new content with regularity, Disney+ is doomed anyway.)

The big question mark for me is when Disney+ will ramp-up its lineup. The Mandalorian is beautifully shot, memorable, engaging, and has the full weight of the Star Wars brand behind it…but it’s also just one show.

This is a bit of a tangent, but in browsing the Disney+ library and seeing what’s featured, it still boggles my mind that Disney spent $71.3 billion to acquire 21st Century Fox, an acquisition that was almost entirely for the sake of building up its streaming library. Aside from Avatar, the Simpsons, National Geographic, and a few classic films, I don’t see a ton of Fox content emphasized.

While I hardly have the credentials or insight to second-guess that acquisition, it sure seems like a lot was spent. The combined cost of Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars was roughly $15 billion, and those are now among Disney’s most recognizable brands/franchises. To be fair, Fox is not an apples to apples comparison with any of those, but the cost difference is noteworthy.

As suggested above, what Disney+ will need over time to grow its subscriber-base is a steady stream of buzz-worthy original content. The service doesn’t need to drop $15+ billion per year like Netflix in pursuit of a ‘throw everything at a wall and see what sticks’ approach, but it seems savvy to spend $1-2 billion for high quality, curated content like HBO.

Personally, I would’ve far preferred Disney devoting the bulk of its streaming ‘war chest’ over the last couple of years towards original content than acquiring Fox’s back catalogue. The original programming is what I’m enjoying most on Disney+ thus far, and I fear it’s going to be lacking on that front for at least the next year.

Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel, and even shows and movies developed by Disney that don’t fall under one of the mouse’s major labels have Disney in their DNA, which is something that I don’t think can be said for the Fox content. As the “Disney” brand is increasingly fragmented, I think this is significant. Disney+ could be a great way to reaffirm what the core brand means, even/especially via original programming. (For example, Noelle is not part of any franchise, but it very much has that Disney feel to it–not to mention Disney product placement!)

I’m veering pretty far off topic now–and my wishes for what Disney+ could or will be in the future have no bearing on what it is today or what it might actually become…

Ultimately, in the here and now, there’s a lot about Disney+ to like or even love. It has definitely exceeded my initial expectations, and I’m really excited about what’s coming out between now and the beginning of 2020. We never did end up taking advantage of the Disney+ 3-year promo offer for fear of future programming shortcomings.

As much as I’m loving Disney+ right now, this is still the “honeymoon” phase with the service, and a future dearth of quality original programming remains my main concern about the service. The strong first impression and back catalogue will leave us satisfied for at least a few months, and we’ll reevaluate after that. Suffice to say, Disney+ is off to a solid start, and there are some definite sparks of magic in it.

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Your Thoughts

What do you think of Disney+ thus far? Which programming have you enjoyed the most? Any misses for you? Want to see more Disney+ content reviews or previews here? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of Disney+? Any questions? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

25 Responses to “The Promising Magic of Disney+”
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