Launched on Tuesday, shiny new streaming service Disney Plus already faces something of an identity crisis. On one hand, the most-promoted, must-watch show “The Mandalorian” zips along with TV-14 violence and themes that expand the “Star Wars” universe. Then, to round out its library, users can binge thousands of hours of Disney animated TV shows like “Goof Troop.”
For adults who value animation as an art form, nearly all Pixar and Disney animated feature films await them on Disney Plus. Yet, for many, once they finish that first “Star Wars” installment—the eight-episode serial will release weekly—catch a Marvel film, and peruse a few National Geographic shows, they may find this would-be Netflix rival does not sustain interest.
The team in charge says it refuses to have Disney Plus relegated to the role of babysitter. “We are designing the product and the content within the product to appeal to a four-quadrant audience,” said Kevin Mayer, the senior executive in charge of Disney streaming who reports directly to company president Bob Iger. “Young, old, male, female — we have content for everyone.”
If that’s the case, Disney needs to fill some gaps in the library. With the exceptions of “The Mandalorian” and “The Imagineering Story” (a documentary series about the meticulous creation of Disney rides and parks), early reviews have panned most new titles as an odd mixture of the Disney Channel with reality TV programming. Executives maintain they are seeking to develop film and TV projects that are “undeniably and uniquely Disney.”
Longtime fans ponder why, then, so many beloved, family-friendly, and award-winning Disney titles are AWOL from Disney Plus. To their credit, on Monday, Disney released a list of 77 legacy films set to be released on the streamer. Yet, while they claim to have opened the fabled vault, this current library does not delve deeply into past Disney, 20th Century Fox, Touchstone Pictures, Muppets, and other productions part of the company’s near-century legacy.
Adding certain past titles will not be easy. Disney plans to subtitle and dub all films and shows in multiple languages. In some cases, rights and licensing issues must be solved—which money can usually do (see: Spider-Man rights sharing). Executives have stated Disney Plus will be free of R-rated movies, which leaves hundreds of films and TV episodes as potential offerings.
With an eye towards great storytelling that families can enjoy together, here are 44 timeless titles currently still in the vault, and hopefully to make it to Disney Plus in the near future.
Great Novels Adapted for the Screen
- ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ (Touchstone Pictures, 2002)
A loose retelling of Alexandre Dumas’ epic, this fast-paced drama pits Jim Caviezel (“The Passion of the Christ”) against Guy Pearce (“Memento”) in a battle of wits and revenge.
- ‘Johnny Tremain’ (1957)
Produced by Walt Disney himself, this historical fiction flick portrays the Boston Tea Party and Revolutionary War events. It lacks the historicity of HBO’s excellent “John Adams” miniseries, with violence and other elements also shown more tamely.
- ‘Scrooge’ (20th Century Fox, 1970)
One of the most prolific stars of the past 70 years, Albert Finney died this past February. Among his many beloved roles is the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, and Finney’s Scrooge was quite a musical one.
- ‘Call It Courage’ (1973)
The subject of children’s book reports for decades, “Call It Courage” by Armstrong Sperry was adapted into a film directed by Roy Disney. Filmed on the islands of Bora Bora and Tahiti, it tells of a Pacific Islander boy who must overcome nature’s challenges.
- ‘Sounder’ (20th Century Fox, 1972)
- ‘Oliver Twist’ (1997)
Restaging Charles Dickens’ classic work of an orphan on the streets of London, Richard Dreyfuss plays Fagin and Elijah Wood the Artful Dodger in this mid-90s TV portrayal.
- ‘The King And I’ (20th Century Fox, 1956)
Yul Brynner inhabits the role of the King of Siam, one he played on stage 4,625 times during his lifetime. Of the eight Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals Disney has in its film library, it’s a puzzlement why only “The Sound of Music” made the cut.
Comedies for All Audiences
- ‘That Thing You Do!’ (20th Century Fox, 1996)
In his directorial debut, from a script he wrote, Tom Hanks immortalizes America’s transition from doo-wop to rock ‘n’ roll through the ups and downs of a one-hit-wonder band.
- ‘Never A Dull Moment’ (1968)
While still-acting Dick Van Dyke has featured in a half-dozen comedies for Disney, including this slapstick spy laugher, only “Mary Poppins” has made the Disney Plus cut so far.
- ‘Father of the Bride’ (Touchstone Pictures, 1991)
Comedian Steve Martin and Diane Keaton portray a Baby Boomer couple whose daughter’s wedding quickly gets more elaborate and hilarious than planned.
- ‘Father of the Bride, Part II’ (Touchstone Pictures, 1995)
They’re back, this time with their daughter having a baby—and the wedding planner (Martin Short) now plussing up their baby shower and reconstructing their home.
- ‘Angels in the Outfield’ (1994)
Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future”) dons wings for this sports comedy, with Danny Glover as the California Angels manager and Tony Danza their star pitcher.
- ‘The Happiest Millionaire’ (1967)
The final live-action film to have Walt Disney’s personal touch, Fred MacMurrray heads up a lavish, high-society musical comedy of errors.
- ‘Mail to the Chief’ (2000)
Online, he goes by “Average Joe,” but he’s actually the president seeking advice. Insights from a middle school student lead the young advisor and his family to the White House.
- ‘The Music Man’ (ABC, 2003)
Matthew Broderick (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) swoops into an Iowa town as traveling salesman Harold Hill, in this newer take on the classic musical.
Heroism, War, And Human Rights
- ‘The Alamo’ (Touchstone Pictures, 2004)
Disney Plus includes “Saving Mr. Banks” and “The Rookie” from director John Lee Hancock, but not his Ron Howard-produced historical drama of the Texas volunteer army.
- ‘Night Crossing’ (1982)
During the Cold War era, two families in east Germany covertly build a hot air balloon to cross the border west into freedom.
- ‘Von Ryan’s Express’ (20th Century Fox, 1965)
Led by Academy Award winner Frank Sinatra, a group of Allied prisoners of war during World War II hijack a freight train to escape German-occupied Italy.
- ‘Goodbye, Miss 4th of July’ (1988)
A family of Greek immigrants arrive in West Virginia early in the 20th century, facing the flu epidemic and encountering violent discrimination from the Ku Klux Klan.
- ‘Miracle of the White Stallions’ (1963)
At the height of World War II, the world-renowned Lipizzaner Stallions are evacuated and protected from bombing raids.
- ‘The Girl Who Spelled Freedom’ (1986)
Freed from the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, a family in Cambodia is granted asylum in the United States — including a daughter who strives to succeed as a spelling bee champion.
- ‘The Great Locomotive Chase’ (1956)
A Union Army regiment goes behind Confederate lines to break up their supply lines and hasten the end of the Civil War.
- ‘Swing Kids’ (Hollywood Pictures, 1993)
As the Nazi regime takes over Germany, a group of young jazz enthusiasts (led by teenage Christian Bale) come to see how the prevailing ideology conflicts with freedom.
- ‘The Ernest Green Story’ (1993)
Winner of the prestigious Peabody Award, this inspirational movie recounts how the Little Rock Nine bravely desegregated an Arkansas high school at great personal risk.
TV Series and Shorts
- ‘The Muppet Show’ (1976-1981, 5 seasons)
Only Jim Henson could create comedy with such sharp wit, outrageous musical numbers, and gags at every turn. Since 2004 when Disney bought the Muppets, fans still await its release.
- ‘Zorro’ (1957-1959, 2 seasons)
The first TV drama series produced by Walt Disney, “Zorro” introduces Guy Williams as a Bruce Wayne high-society type in 1820’s California—moonlighting as the masked hero of justice.
- ‘Five Mile Creek’ (1983-1985, 3 seasons on Disney Channel)
Filmed in Australia and based in little-known history, ensemble drama “Five Mile Creek” brings together a disparate group of settlers who start a stagecoach line in the 1860s Outback frontier.
- ‘Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh’ (miniseries, 1964)
This three-part serial set in 18th century England is one of thirty “Walt Disney Treasures” DVD titles brilliantly restored in the early 2000s, only to quickly land out-of-print and with most content absent from Disney Plus.
- ‘The Small One’ (animated short, 1978)
Disney animators offer their unique take on the Nativity story, as seen through the eyes of a peasant boy in Judea.
- ‘Great Expectations’ (miniseries, 1989)
Praised for its faithfulness to Dickens’ novel, this six-hour Disney co-production starring Anthony Hopkins and John Rhys-Davies has been unavailable for nearly 30 years.
Inspiration, Adventure, and Intrigue
- ‘Endurance’ (1998)
Ethiopian Olympian Haile Gebrselassie stars as himself in this sports biopic, a journey from his east African homeland to the 1994 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
- ‘The Miracle Worker’ (2000)
Viewers meet educator and author Helen Keller as a young girl, witnessing her journey to becoming the first blind-deaf person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.
- ‘Quiz Show’ (Hollywood Pictures, 1994)
Robert Redford directs this tightly scripted look at the 1950s quiz show scandals, with Ralph Fiennes as the winning-streak contestant conflicted on whether to expose a major TV network.
- ‘The Waltz King’ (1963)
One of few biopics produced by Walt Disney himself, this film follows Johann Strauss II from rejecting his father’s profession to composing classical works such as “The Blue Danube.”
- ‘Back Home’ (1989)
Despite status as a Disney Legend, most of Hayley Mills’ roles are lacking from the new streamer, including this family drama about readjusting to life after the upheaval of World War II.
- ‘The Jackie Robinson Story’ (20th Century Fox, 1950)
The first African-American professional baseball player stars as himself in this classic film, recently restored by Fox to benefit The Jackie Robinson Foundation.
- ‘The Sword and the Rose’ (1953)
Knighthood and romance in the 16th century come alive as stars Richard Todd (“The Longest Day”) and Glynis Johns inhabit this historical fiction tale filmed in Great Britain.
- ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ (20th Century Fox, 1959)
Winner of three Academy Awards and adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play, this film reveals the travails of a Jewish family hiding during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Films
- ‘City of Ember’ (20th Century Fox, 2008)
None of the dozen Fox-Walden Media films have yet made the leap to Disney Plus, notably including this post-apocalyptic story starring Saoirse Ronan and comedian Bill Murray.
- ‘Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure’ (20th Century Fox, 1984)
With a story by George Lucas, this gentler take on Star Wars set between “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” has rarely been seen.
- ‘Ewoks: The Battle for Endor’ (20th Century Fox, 1985)
Including both “Ewok” movies would help bridge the age gap on Disney Plus, between the kiddie “Lego Star Wars” animated series and the original trilogy of “Star Wars” films.
- ‘The Island at the Top of the World’ (1974)
While Disney Plus includes “20,000 Leagues Under the Seas” and “Treasure Island,” this fantasy novel adaptation about a journey to the Arctic Circle has not yet made the cut.
- ‘Independence Day’ (20th Century Fox, 1996)
This alien invasion movie redefined the summer blockbuster, with Will Smith as a determined quick-witted pilot, Bill Pullman as president, and Jeff Goldblum as an extraterrestrial expert.
- ‘In Search of the Castaways’ (1962)
Two siblings circle the globe in search of their father, encountering fantastic challenges only novelist Jules Verne could dream up.
Back in March, Iger first announced details of the new streaming service. Speaking of Disney Plus, he said, “At some point fairly soon after launch, it will house the entire Disney motion picture library.” More so than awaiting pricey new TV and film productions, longtime fans hope the family entertainment empire simply follows through on its word.
Correction, 11/14/19: Number Five has been changed to “Sounder” from “Lilies of the Field,” which is not a Disney-Fox film.