Last spring, Disney claimed an early victory over Apple in the looming streaming wars by unveiling its upcoming Disney+ OTT service at an event that succeeded in all the ways that Apple’s own presentation for Apple TV+ had failed just weeks earlier.
Seven months later, Disney has one-upped its rival again by rolling out Disney+ and immediately demonstrating why, unlike Apple TV+’s underwhelming debut earlier this month, its new streaming service is an essential platform for anyone who is a fan of the company and its many brands, including Marvel and Star Wars.
Earlier today, Adweek shared five things to know about Disney+ on launch day. Now, it’s time to share a sixth thing about the platform: Disney+ has raised the bar for what people should expect out of their streaming services, and will make it even more difficult for the OTT offerings debuting next year—NBCUniversal’s Peacock and WarnerMedia’s HBO Max—to stand out in an already overcrowded space.
Disney+ already has a killer feature: The Mandalorian
While this morning’s Disney+ launch was marred by connectivity issues, which seem to have dissipated, the platform itself is impressive on many levels: a solid slate of original series led by the promising Star Wars series, The Mandalorian; a hefty library of Disney series and movies; and, perhaps best of all, a user-friendly interface.
Disney+’s most anticipated original series at launch is The Mandalorian, which follows a Boba Fett-like bounty hunter played by Pedro Pascal, with an engaging premiere episode that sets up a fascinating world featuring visuals that can hold their own with the theatrical films. Created and written by Jon Favreau, the episode–which, at a time when many streaming dramas have stretched to hour-long episodes and beyond, clocks in at an economical 39 minutes—boasts a few thrilling action sequences, sly nods to other Star Wars films and a clever final twist that should ensure viewers return for the second episode.
(That second episode, like most new Disney+ series, will be available at 12:01 a.m. PT Friday, with subsequent episodes rolling out each Friday.)
The one major quibble so far in the debut episode (Disney declined to share additional episodes with press): Given that Pascal’s character never removes his helmet—no Mandalorians do, we are told—it is difficult to connect to a lead character whose facial features are completely hidden.
As for the rest of Disney+’s original content, a pair of short-form series should be your next stop after The Mandalorian: Forky Asks a Question and SparkShorts.
Forky Asks a Question features Forky, the breakout new character from Toy Story 4 voiced by Tony Hale, as he hilariously tackles queries like “What is money?” and “What is a friend?” At just a few minutes each, the shorts are the perfect length and offer more laughs than entire seasons of some comedies. (Toy Story’s Hamm, voiced by John Ratzenberger, also frequently pops up to lend a hand.)
SparkShorts, Pixar’s short film series that discovers new storytellers and explores new storytelling techniques from across the studio, are also very moving (though not quite as much as Pixar shorts like Bao that run before Disney and Pixar animated releases). Two early standouts are Kitbull, about the friendship between a stray kitten and an abused pit bull, and Float, in which a father tries to hide his son’s difference from the world.
The rest of Disney+’s original content
The other original shows are pleasant but not essential viewing. The World According to Jeff Goldblum, originally developed for National Geographic, follows the actor as he examines the origins of things like sneakers, tattoos and ice cream. It’s always fun to spend time with self-described “curious kind of cat” Goldblum—who is in peak form—though you don’t ultimately learn anything you didn’t already know.
Each episode of the inspirational unscripted Marvel Hero Project spotlights a kid who has accomplished an amazing feat—like the girl with a “limb difference” who designed a glitter-shooting prosthetic cannon for her arm—who is then immortalized in their own Marvel comic.
The docuseries The Imagineering Story, which looks at how the Disney parks were constructed, is often illuminating, though I’d have been more interested in the unsanitized version of the Disney story.
Strictly for kids is High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, a reboot of the High School Musical franchise about kids who attend the school where the Disney movie was shot and are auditioning for the stage musical version of High School Musical. This one would be right at home on the Disney Channel, and is of a similar quality level (for better and for worse) as shows on that network.
Encore!, hosted by Kristen Bell, reunites casts of high school musicals several years after their productions, and gives the now-adults five days to reconnect and remount whatever show they put on back in the day. As you might expect, this one is for drama kids (and former drama kids), but won’t likely find an audience beyond that.
Disney+’s movies are the weakest of its original offerings and feel decidedly second-tier, like a Disney Channel film with bigger celebs than it deserves. Lady and the Tramp, a live-action update, features the voices of Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux but isn’t a worthy alternative to the original 1955 animated film (which is also available on Disney+).
The holiday-themed Noelle stars Anna Kendrick as Kris Kringle’s daughter, who must track down her brother (Bill Hader) after he goes MIA right before he’s supposed take over for their dad on Christmas. It’s also skippable, though again, young Disney Channel viewers will likely enjoy it.
Beyond The Mandalorian, the most anticipated titles are still to come, including Marvel shows like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, Loki and WandaVision, as Pixar’s Monsters at Work, a spinoff of the Monsters, Inc. films.
For now, the platform’s real star is its library content, with nearly 500 films (including the two top-grossing films in box office history: Avengers: Endgame and Avatar), as well as 7,500 episodes of TV from the various Disney brands including Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic.
The films and shows are a mix of the classic Disney offerings (Bambi, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella), more recent titles (the majority of the Marvel movies), several obscure titles (The Biscuit Eater, Horse Sense), many Disney Channel movies and series (Descendants, Phineas and Ferb, Lizzie Maguire, Kim Possible, That’s So Raven) and other Disney/Fox series like The Simpsons (all 30 seasons are available, though the early seasons have been cropped and stretched to fit the modern widescreen ratio).
For now, users will have access to almost every Disney, Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar film. Others, however, won’t migrate to Disney+ until their existing streaming deals have ended; the platform tells you exactly when the missing titles will be available on Disney+ (Star Wars: The Last Jedi is due Dec. 26; Black Panther arrives March 4, 2020; the 1987 comedy Adventures in Babysitting is set for June 1, 2021).
The Disney+ user experience is best in class
The user experience is among the best of all streaming services, and a pleasure to navigate. Disney+ takes the Netflix template and improves upon it in several key areas: It groups content into the company’s five major pillars (Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel and National Geographic) and organizes it in other helpful ways like categories for the Disney Princess movies, Marvel animation, Mickey Mouse and Disney Channel programming.
Best of all, Disney+ also offers the ability to scroll through alphabetical list of all movies and series on the site—a feature that its biggest rivals fail to offer.
While most streaming competitors limit the amount of simultaneous streams per account to one or two, Disney+ allows up to four simultaneous streams. (Each account can host seven unique profiles.) And users can download an unlimited number of movies and TV shows across up to 10 different devices for offline viewing, as long as the Disney+ account remains active. For most other OTT platforms, if they allow downloading, content expires after a set amount of time.
Hopefully, Disney will implement some of these platform enhancements across Hulu now that it has full operation control of the streaming service, which could use an improved user experience.
In every way, Disney+’s initial offering is superior to that of Apple TV+, which debuted earlier this month with no library content and a mixed bag of original shows. Apple TV+ has yet to make a case for why it’s worth $5 a month, while Disney+ arguably could be charging more than the $7 a month it costs for a Disney+ subscription (or $70 a year), given how essential its content will be to kids, and many adults as well.
As for the other, more established competitors like Netflix, Disney+ still has a way to go to match those offerings. But as consumers are reevaluating which two or three streaming services they want to pay for each month, the platform has already made a strong case for why it deserves to make the OTT cut.