For those in search of family-friendly entertainment, Disney+ may be worth a subscription.
Just one verse each day.
As part of the Walt Disney Company’s ongoing campaign to become the one brand to rule them all, it has finally launched its new Disney+ streaming service, garnering over 10 million subscribers in just one day. With its back catalog of movies and television shows from Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, Fox, and National Geographic, nostalgia is no doubt a key factor in the channel’s immediate success. However, there is original programming as well. Lots of shows have been announced, but let’s take a look at what’s new on Disney+ right now and see if it’s worth the price of admission.
The biggest draw on day one is, of course, the new live-action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian. With an impressive budget and big names in front of and behind the camera, the show certainly looks and feels like Star Wars. As to whether its story of a bounty hunter operating on the fringe of the galaxy will turn out to be worthwhile, it’s too early to say, but there’s enough hints to the main character’s backstory and motivations to give it a shot. And if nothing else, the reveal at the end of the first episode will have fans (and toy manufacturers) giggling in glee and wanting more.
Alas, the big Marvel-related shows aren’t slated to debut until later next year. Until then, we have the Marvel Hero Project, a reality series showcasing socially conscious young people. The first episode spotlights Jordan, a teen born with a missing arm, who tirelessly champions for inclusivity for those with limb difference. What she’s best known for, though, is her creation of the Glitter Arm, a horn-shaped arm-cannon that fires a fountain of glitter into the air. It’s a nice show, not only for bringing attention to a worthy subject, but also for showing that you can help others and have fun doing it.
Pixar’s initial contributions are short, but sweet. Forky Asks a Question allows the Toy Story 4 character to explore questions small children might have about how the world works. The first episode asks, “What is money?”, and while the three-minute answer won’t replace a good economics course, it’s plenty enough time to give toddlers a fair idea of what currency is. Pixar: In Real Life is a reality series that brings Pixar characters and ideas into the real world. Episode 1 shows what happens when random people in Central Park are allowed to control actors’ emotions by using a control panel like the one from the movie Inside Out. It’s enjoyable, and at 15 minutes doesn’t wear out its premise. Float is the first of a series of original shorts like those typically found at the beginning of most Pixar films, and it is about as Pixar as it gets. This tale of a father coming to terms with the joys and difficulties of raising a child born different will leave you smiling and reaching for the tissues at the same time. Darn you, Pixar.
Disney themselves have the largest slate of new offerings. High School Musical: The Musical: The Series follows a group of students as they attempt to stage a production of, what else, High School Musical. It’s standard teen-drama stuff slightly elevated by clever writing and should appeal to fans of the franchise. Encore! Is a reality series with the odd concept of reuniting adults who performed together in high school so they can restage their former glories. In the case of the first episode, that involves a bunch of middle-agers putting on a production of Annie. While theater nuts may immediately fall in love with the idea, this is likely to be the one new show on Disney+ most likely to be cringe-inducing for a lot of viewers. Family Sundays is not a religious themed outing as the title might suggest, but rather a crafting show highlighting DIY projects families with young children can complete together. The Imagineering Story is a documentary series detailing the history of the Walt Disney theme parks. It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look for those who have visited the parks, and it’s worth watching the first episode just to hear one of the writers of the It’s a Small Word theme song acknowledge that there are many out there who wish him ill for his efforts.
Disney also has two new feature-length movies right out of the gate. Lady and the Tramp is a live action remake of the animated classic. It’s fair enough as these things go, but much like in the recent remake of The Lion King, the CGI animals just aren’t as expressive as their cartoon counterparts. Still, it’s basically inoffensive. Noelle, on the other hand, may task some viewer’s patience. In this film’s universe, the title of Santa Claus has been handed from father to son for generations. However, with the passing of the latest Santa, there are complications. His son (Bill Hader) doesn’t want the job and his daughter (Anna Kendrick), well, she’s a girl, and stuffy old tradition says that the Santa-hood must remain a male-only institution. To be fair to the film, most of its time is spent squarely in entertainingly cute territory, with its messaging relegated to the very end. Still, one can’t help but wonder if that ‘message’ is a swipe at a certain other male-only institution.
Finally, there’s the new series from National Geographic, The World According to Jeff Goldblum. In this show, actor Jeff Goldblum does an impersonation of actor Jeff Goldblum as he explores various topics of interest. In the first episode, Goldblum looks into the cult of sneaker obsession. As he wanders through Sneakercon and the Adidas research labs, Goldblum asks interesting questions such as are we born with an inherent desire for things we don’t have and is our pursuit of items like $3,000 sneakers a sign of materialistic excess? He never provides any answers, but just the fact that the questions come up makes this one of the more interesting new shows the service has to offer.
Overall, the service at launch is light on agenda and heavy on nostalgia and entertainment, with only a few flubs among its new shows. Time will tell if it can maintain its early success.