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The Disney+ streaming service arrived like Beauty and the Beast’s ballroom dance, with “oohs” and “ahs” and glistening eyes. Packed with high-quality content from the Disney vault, a few original productions—including what promises to be a fabulous Star Wars spin-off, The Mandalorian—and a very reasonable subscription price of $6.99 per month, or $12.99 per month bundled with Hulu and ESPN+—Disney+ will attract families and anyone else attracted to Disney content. Competitors such as Netflix should be worried.
Disney fans will be enchanted with the vast number of old-time movies, including the likes The Shaggy Dog, Freaky Friday, The Love Bug, and The Apple Dumpling Gang, as well as 1980s and 90s Touchstone features, such as Adventures in Babysitting,Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and 10 Things I Hate About You. There are classic 1930s full-color Mickey Mouse cartoons, such as the masterpiece The Band Concert, and a slew of brilliant TV shows like Gravity Falls, Phineas & Ferb, Kim Possible, and—thanks to Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox—all past 30 seasons of The Simpsons.
The homepage looks not unlike Apple+ or Netflix, with large, sliding banners showcasing the highlights. Below that are five boxes with Disney’s five main brands: Disney (of course), Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic. These lead to the expected places, though some of the more recent entries in these categories are not included just yet, including this year’s Aladdin and The Lion King remakes, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Coco, Toy Story 4, and Ant-Man and the Wasp. (Weirdly, Avengers: Endgame is available, but not its predecessor, Avengers: Infinity War. The 2008 The Incredible Hulk, with Edward Norton, is not here either.) For some reason The Muppets are not considered among of the top five, but the service offers all the Muppet movies, and some Muppet-based shows, although not the original The Muppet Show as yet.
The Marvel channel includes tons of cartoons, going all the way back to that silly 1960s Spider-Man series as well as the 1981 Saturday morning cartoon show Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. The less-flashy National Geographic channel shouldn’t be ignored; it comes with the Oscar-winner Free Solo; the documentary Jane, on gorilla specialist Jane Goodall; the series Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted; as well as many documentaries on animals and space exploration. There’s even one on the Titanic.
The service is buggy at launch, both on the website and on streaming apps, and crashed repeatedly on its first day. I encountered a few short hiccups while watching a show. It also offers no manual controls to adjust streaming resolution, although it’s said to be available in 4K to the less-than-50-percent of viewers with a 4K set, as well as in 1080p HD. But hopefully Disney techs will quickly solve these problems and get things rolling. Meanwhile, I have reviewed five of the service’s original programs.
Created by Jon Favreau, this Star Wars-based show is every bit as cool as it looked in its trailers. As with the original movies, it seems mostly inspired by Westerns, with a tough, loner outlaw trying to get by as best as he can in a lawless land. (The story takes place a few years after Return of the Jedi.) It’s less happy-go-lucky than Solo: A Star Wars Story, but also less grim and washed-out than Rogue One; it’s a strong middle ground, great-looking, and with a measured pace and just a little humor.
The story has the title character—unnamed as of now, completely masked, and played by Pedro Pascal (of Game of Thrones)—looking for a higher-paying gig in a post-Empire economy, and finding one that’s so dangerous it’s off the books. He rides off on a “blurrg” and has a shootout alongside an IG bounty hunter droid. There’s a sleazy cantina scene, a jaw-dropper ending, and it’s all a great deal of fun. Werner Herzog and Carl Weathers co-star in the first episode, adding to the cool factor. Ludwig Göransson (Black Panther) provides the superb music score, drawing just a bit on the classic themes, but making them startlingly new. As of now, the series will run eight episodes.
Lady and the Tramp
Disney+’s first big original movie joins this year’s parade of theatrically-released remakes of animated classics (Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Lion King), as being pretty good, but not as good as the original. At least it figured out a fun way to solve the problem of the culturally insensitive “Siamese Cat Song.” Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux provide the voices for Lady and the Tramp, presented as a combination of real dogs and some CG effects. Lady has a happy home with her humans Jim Dear (Thomas Mann) and Darling (Kiersey Clemons)—an interracial couple, shown matter-of-factly—until a baby comes along. Then, through a series of misunderstandings, she winds up out in the big world without her collar, and Tramp shows her the ropes, including the famous stop at the back alley of an Italian restaurant.
Janelle Monáe provides the voice of Peg (voiced in the original by Peggy Lee) and knocks her song out of the park. Sam Elliott, Ashley Jensen, Benedict Wong, and Clancy Brown provide other dog voices. Of all people, the “mumblecore” filmmaker Andrew Bujalski (Support the Girls) co-wrote the screenplay, perhaps providing a slight hint of edge. Overall, it’s a not-unpleasant way to spend 103 minutes.
High School Musical: The Musical – The Series
The 2006 movie High School Musical launched, for better and for worse, the careers of Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron, it and shows no sign of going away anytime soon. Happily, this new series, as the title indicates, is quite tongue-in-cheek, with pretty funny meta-references to the franchise along with some sly digs at it. It also avoids that high-pitched, chirpy quality that teen shows can have, and even the songs aren’t too terrible. All in all, the first episode is a happy surprise. In the story, Ricky (Joshua Bassett) has messed up his relationship with his girlfriend Nini (Olivia Rodrigo), and over the summer, she has hooked up with a handsome new beau, E.J. (Matt Cornett). So, Ricky decides to audition for the school’s production of High School Musical to win her back. What could go wrong?
Kate Reinders co-stars as the new drama teacher whose claim to fame is that she appeared as a background dancer in the original movie. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the second episode quickly runs out of steam and gets dull—unless, we assume, viewers are actually in high school and love musicals.
This Pixar series allows young, up-and-coming animators to create their own shorts (roughly seven to eight minutes each) in just six months with a limited budget, but they’re encouraged to try whatever they want. The shorts so far do follow the old familiar setup/payoff rhythm, but they are nonetheless beautiful and engaging. The first three—Smash and Grab, Kitbull, and Purl—were released on YouTube (and seem to still be available there), but from now on, the shorts will be released exclusively on Disney+.
The newest is Float, about a small boy who gains the power to float after his father blows on a dandelion. The father reacts with shame and anger and tries to suppress the floating, but things change when the boy escapes into a playground. Smash and Grab has some great robot designs, and Purl cleverly deals with sexual politics in the workplace, but Kitbull is the one that stole my heart. It’s the story of a tiny homeless kitten who encounters a pit bull, wounded in an illegal dog fight; it’s hand-drawn as opposed to Pixar’s usual computer-generated style, but it has a tender beauty that will make it worth seeing many times.
Forky Asks a Question
This delightfully ridiculous new series, with little episodes running only two- to three minutes, stars Forky, the homemade spork toy, voiced by Tony Hale, from Toy Story 4. The piggy bank Hamm (voiced by John Ratzenberger) looks to be his regular co-star.
The first episode has Forky wondering, “What Is Money?” Hamm answers sensibly, but Forky, in his own, unique Forky way, turns the answer upside down. The second episode (made available to journalists but not yet on the service) will be “What Is a Friend?” and it opens with Forky introducing his friend, a coffee mug. These mini-toons are, brilliantly, geared for little kids, but also contain enough sly humor that grownups won’t mind binging a few of them. (That is, unless Forky himself tends to grate on one’s nerves.)
The size of the Disney empire is a little frightening, to be sure, and the company’s vision doesn’t exactly allow for nuanced, edgy, or grown-up content, so Netflix and other services should still have a place alongside it in the streaming arena. To be sure, Disney+ is mainly for kids and families and viewers with a penchant for nostalgia, although it does have more than its fair share of good content, as well as a measure of great content. The sheer amount of content is impressive right at the start, and hopefully Disney will only go up from here.
In the future we’d suggest many more classic cartoons, such as the Goofy “how to” collection, or Oscar-winning masterworks like The Old Mill and Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom; perhaps content from the old Wonderful World of Disney TV series; and more Touchstone films (The Nightmare Before Christmas? Ed Wood?). Disney’s slate of upcoming original content looks appetite-whetting, including three new Marvel shows, and if their current price holds, this streaming service will be difficult to resist.