I, For One, Welcome Our New Mouse Overlords

One Month of Disney+, Reviewed

Disney+ has been around for a month, but it already feels like forever. When it launched, I was unsure if it would jump into the streaming race by rolling over Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Go and Hulu, or if would it suffer the unglamorous fate of so many lackluster streamers before it. But, as it turns out, Disney is just too big to fail. It hasn’t been perfect, but after a month, Disney+ has proven a worthy competitor in the streaming market, and not just because it gifted us with Baby Yoda memes.

The Rollout

As the service went live, I worried about functionality first. Disney had to work out a few kinks in the first days with accessibility to content, as well as compression and bandwidth. I expected this. All of you who burst into flames of apoplexy because you couldn’t immediately watch The Shaggy D.A. or Fuzzbucket on day one were probably too optimistic. In a couple of days, the technical issues mostly subsided and we were able to stream freely. It was all Disney, all the time, for the masses.

Disney+ managed to nail some features right off the bat, while others left everyone perplexed. They had the brilliant idea to make the autoplay feature optional. That was welcome change for those of us who at some point found ourselves ready to destroy our 50″ HD screens with a thrown remote because there’s no way to stop Netflix from giving us a deafening trailer of every lousy movie or show over which we happen to spend more than a couple of seconds hovering.

It’s still an infuriating aspect of life with Netflix. And ISPs are charging people extra because the stupid background autoplay causes them to breach their data cap. Disney gave us the opportunity to shut that nonsense down with a single click. On the other hand, Disney+ still doesn’t offer a “continue watching feature,” which is frustrating, though Disney has vowed at some point to correct the lack of this crucial bit of functionality.

The Look

 

On the whole, the streaming content looks pretty great in standard HD. Certain shows, like Star Wars: The Clone Wars appear significantly cleaner and crisper than they did when formerly streamed by Netflix. But this seems to apply most broadly to Disney’s own properties.

I delighted in the instant availability of every single episode of The Simpsons, only to find that earlier seasons employ a cropped 16:9 aspect ratio that cuts out a chunk of the frame, in many cases squashing some beloved visual gags. Disney plans to address this, but it’s a stumble out of the blocks for sure. Non-Disney properties also have quality issues, including one that’s leaving Marvel fans howling that Avengers: Endgame looks significantly better on Blu-ray than streaming. This seems to be an exception rather than the rule, though. I mean, you can’t expect everything to be gleamingly pristine on a streaming service for only seven bucks, right?

The Menu

Disney crammed its first streaming effort with a ton of content at the get-go, including numerous titles that have languished in the Magic Kingdom’s vault for years. It’s an impressive array of movies and TV shows, even if the offerings only account for about 15 percent of what Netflix has available at any given time. Whatever your flavor of Disney, be it superheroes, fairy tales, inexplicably omnipresent Lego content, or a galaxy far, far away, there’s plenty.

Personally, I went immediately down a nostalgia hole. I’d already been binging Star Wars and Marvel for some time, but some of the offerings from my childhood that I previously wouldn’t go out of my way to buy or rent now appeared instantly on my screen. I delighted in old favorites like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Black Cauldron, and Flight of the Navigator, as well as the 90s X-Men and Silver Surfer cartoons, and Muppets galore.

You want Don Knotts? Disney+ gives you more Don Knotts than you ever imagined you needed, not to mention a number of delightfully weird live-action movies from the ‘60s and ‘70s.  It’s a wonderful bit of memory tripping for those of us of a certain age.

Don Knotts

And then there’s the original content. As of now, Disney+ doesn’t offer a whole lot, and certainly not enough to begin competing with Netflix, HBO or Amazon, even Hulu, which is killing it with shows like Castle Rock and The Handmaid’s Tale. But it does have something that those services very conspicuously don’t:

Baby Yoda.

By now, you’re probably aware of the surprise new character that appeared at the end The Mandalorian’s first episode, if not because you’re a fan of the show, then simply because of the memes. Seriously, they’re everywhere. Even Guy freaking Fieri has gotten in on that action, and that should tell you something, even if it’s just “nope, nope, nope.” The Mandalorian is a massive hit already, and for good reason: It’s everything we’ve been aching for in a live-action Star Wars TV show.

Hopefully, this bodes well for the future of Disney’s original content, which will include a slew of Marvel shows over the next couple of years. There’s the chance that The Mandalorian is a brilliant fluke, but we’ll cross our fingers that The Mouse will learn what it got right, and apply it to its future offerings. Should that be the case, we have a lot to look forward to, and Disney will give its sibling streamers a run for their money moving forward. First, though, it has to fully reckon with its past.

The Trigger Warnings

When a company that’s been making films for nearly a hundred years decides to release all of its content, there are bound to be a few cultural issues . Some of The Mouse’s older movies aren’t exactly what we’ll call “woke.” Watching the hamfistedly racist depiction of the Siamese cat in The Aristocats will keep you cringing for days, not to mention the “Peter Pan” song “What makes the red man red?” and other clumsy insensitivities of a bygone age we’re more than happy to keep in the past.

 

Instead of sweeping every potentially damaging movie or cartoon under the rug, Disney has decided to release them, albeit with a trigger warning. On the other hand, the most troubling of these titles, Song of the South, which won a number of awards upon its release, is conspicuously absent.

I remember seeing that one as a child when it was briefly rereleased in theaters in 1980, and I loved it. The uncomfortable racist tropes were clearly lost on me at the time; I was more interested in singing along to “Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah,” and basking in the beautiful animation. But if you want to watch it now, you’ll have to do so illegally. It’s a flagrant double standard for the Mouse to offer “outdated cultural depiction” disclaimers for some titles and napalm the most offensive one without even acknowledging its existence.

The Verdict

There are still a few kinks to work out as Disney+ grows, but that should be expected with something so ambitious. On the whole, it’s a solid start. It mostly looks fantastic, there’s more than enough content on the outset, there’s some brilliant original programming, and the price is fair.  Yes, we’re still missing the wonderful Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars series, and yes, for some reason the “Han vs. Greedo” cantina scene in Star Wars has been monkeyed with AGAIN in the Disney+ version, leaving us all scratching our heads and wondering what “MacKlunkey” is all about. Still, there’s more than enough good stuff already streaming to make it worth the time and expense, and if the new original content is as good as we hope, it will be a game-changer for the market.

I have my lightsabers and superheroes, my wife has her favorite princesses, our forthcoming child will have enough cartoons to stay entertained until junior high, and the world gets to remember how amazing Don Knotts was. Go ahead and take my money, you devious rodent.

Seriously, though, have you seen Gus? Best movie about a football-playing mule playing football EVER.

 

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Scott Gold

Scott Gold is the author of The Shameless Carnivore: A Manifesto for Meat Lovers, a selection of which was excerpted in Best Food Writing 2008. His writing has appeared in numerous publications both in print and online, including Gourmet, Edible Brooklyn, Thrillist, Eater, Tasting Table, Time Out, and OffBeat, and he has served as a feature food writer and photographer for The New Orleans Advocate, restaurant critic and dining writer for Gambit, and resident “food pornographer” for the New Orleans arts and culture website NolaVie.com. In 2016, Gold served as the "national bacon critic" for Extra Crispy. His radio essays have also been featured on “Louisiana Eats!” with Poppy Tooker, and as a correspondent for WWNO’s “All Things New Orleans.

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