Hot on the heels of his thoughts on the recent launch of Apple TV+, Benjamin Haller takes a Scrooge McDuck-style plunge into the bountiful vault of content made available to the world with the long-awaited launch of The Walt Disney Company’s new streaming service, Disney+.
Disney state that their mission is to provide “unparalled storytelling” that “reflects the iconic brands” that have made them so successful. With the Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars franchises recently being stripped from all other streaming providers in preparation for the Disney+ launch, the self-styled “world’s premier entertainment company” have created a home for their trove of stories, characters and brands loved by the young, the old and everyone in between.
The Mandalorian spearheads this aggressive launch. In this new live action series set in the Star Wars universe after the fall of the Empire, we follow the trials and tribulations of a lone wolf bounty hunter (played by Game of Thrones star Pedro Pascal) as he navigates a lawless world. Jon Favreau is at the helm of the show – as creator, showrunner and lead writer – and so far, the results of his efforts do not disappoint. There are plenty of nods to nostalgia and exciting hints at the new, the most meme-worthy so far being “baby Yoda”. The revelation of this creature (whose kind is referred to as “species unknown” in Star Wars canon), who hasn’t appeared in any other official film or series, provides the engaging catalyst for a creatively distinct series. The show’s narrative is considered and delicately paced; Favreau gives characters the room to breathe so often lacking in other Disney era Star Wars films. Highlights for me were the appearances of the legendary director Werner Herzog as the mysterious “The Client” and Carl Weathers (Rocky, Predator) as the scheming Greef Karga. Nic Nolte voices the endearing Ugnaught Kuiil, who aids The Mandalorian – he also coins the next great Star Wars quip, “I have spoken”. There is also a delightful cameo by Taika Waititi, who plays a suicidal bounty-hunting IG droid.
Hardcore fans will have more reasons to be excited, as all Star Wars films are now available to stream, along with the promise of three additional original Star Wars shows, including a series with Ewan McGregor reprising his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi from the prequel film trilogy.
The most enjoyable time I spent with Disney+ over the past week was exploring the Pixar SparkShorts series with my 2-year-old girl. Lava is a wonderful love story about two volcanoes; Afloat is a tear-jerking ode to all parents who want the best for their children; and Purl is a wonderfully clever, effective allegory for feminism. Other Pixar shorts worth a look are the bizarrely comical Bao and the charmingly imaginative La Luna. The depth of the Pixar offering (Toy Story et al.), alongside the riches of their signature animated films from the last century, is especially enticing for large families with young children. It certainly offers value and consistency as a product.
Teens rejoice! The popular High School Musical film franchise is rebooted as a series, and the reality show Encore (hosted by Kristen Bell) reunites the cast members of real-life high school musicals to recreate their performances years later. There are also new feature films such as a live action adaptation of The Lady and the Tramp, and the timely Christmas-themed Noelle starring Anna Kendrick, Bill Hader and Shirley MacLaine. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is covered in full as all the Avengers films and their spin-offs are available to stream. Marvel web TV series’ in the works include The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, Hawkeye and She-Hulk.
Unlike Netflix, Amazon’s Prime Video and Apple TV+, there doesn’t seem to be a strategy to lure in droves of adult viewers with new, more mature content. The Mandalorian, I suppose, is expected to do the heavy-lifting. There is only a small handful of shows that are not PG rated or below. The complete back catalogue of The Simpsons will tide some over before new content arrives (thankfully, thanks to fan outcry, Disney have vowed to fix aspect ratio issues that cropped out the series’ classic sight gags). Of the new untitled projects that have been announced The Sandlot series, True Lies series, and Willow sequel series offer the most promise.
Not to be forgotten is a plethora of content from National Geographic, headlined by the entertaining The World According to Jeff Goldblum (need I say more?). ESPN is expected to feature more prominently going forward once rights deals for shows, such as their sports docuseries 30 for 30, expire with other providers. For me, the hidden gems in Disney+ are the feel-good sports films that have inspired (sometimes in a very cheesy way) countless individuals in real life, as well as launching the careers of many of today’s leading actors: Ryan Gosling in Remember the Titans, anyone?
An altogether different monster to Apple TV+, Disney’s new streaming service appeals mainly to young children and teens. Dedicated Star Wars and Marvel fans will inevitably sign up in droves, but parents may do so as well for the option of peaceful afternoons, evenings or mealtimes when the kids get a bit unruly.