In response to an interview question about the proliferating theme parks of the late 1950s, entertainment pioneer Walt Disney spoke on the unique ideas that drive Disneyland.
“Give the public everything you can give ’em,” said Disney, as featured in newly released “The Imagineering Story” docuseries. “Keep the place as clean as you can keep it, and keep it friendly. … Our young group of executives are going to stay with that policy because it’s a good business [model].”
Now the largest entertainment enterprise in the world, the company that bears his name seems to be hewing to that principle with last week’s launch of its family-centric streaming service, Disney Plus. Despite early technical hiccups, Disney announced its service — which launched with more than 530 films and 7,000 TV episodes — had 10 million subscribers on day one.
Its extensive library does not give the public quite everything, but Disney did over-deliver on its announcement, which under-promised. Executives stated early on the streamer would launch with four Marvel films and a limited Star Wars library due to existing contracts. With some wheeling and dealing, such as allowing the Starz channel a small ad on its website, Disney Plus actually featured 16 Marvel movies and all but two Star Wars entries at launch.
Even Disney’s treasured animation titles proved negotiable. The April launch event noted about 20 of its 57 feature-length animated movies would premiere. After fan demands, all but two (still on Netflix for a few months) went live Tuesday.
Some may consider the launch of a streaming video app hardly worth analysis. Yet Disney jumping into streaming media with this $4 billion investment — not counting how it potentially cannibalizes its own profitable DVD/Blu-ray sales and TV network businesses — represents a tectonic shift in entertainment.
Here are nine hits and misses from launch week of Disney Plus, along with some questions yet to be answered.
Miss: Technical Difficulties Blemish Launch Day
After two months of testing — even releasing the service free nationwide in the Netherlands to work out bugs and stress-test the service — Disney Streaming Services could not quite handle the demand as millions of new users tried to log on Tuesday morning.
— Variety (@Variety) November 12, 2019
Expert analysts note problems arose not from video-streaming infrastructure, which can apparently handle extensive traffic, but the process of verifying so many new users at once. According to one site that tracks tech outages, Disney Plus has been essentially stable since Tuesday. Some observers took the reports in stride.
“They’re trying to catch up to Netflix in a day,” said one entertainment analyst. “Netflix has had a long run, going from a mail-by-DVD service to an app that had like a thousand users then slowly built up. To start with millions of users trying to get on Disney Plus? I didn’t expect it to work smoothly until about three days after launch.”
Miss: Confusion About Devices, Compatibility
As technology changes how families enjoy entertainment, Disney has long been at the forefront. Yet transitioning to the streaming video era this week has had its challenges.
Last week, Disney finally announced its upcoming streamer would work on Amazon devices. But the exact specs of which smart devices are compatible weren’t available until Monday. Learning Apple TV second generation and prior would not work, for instance, sent some eager users into a mad dash for new tech.
Hit: Broad Selection of Past Disney Hits
With 4,000 hours of films and shows at launch, Disney Plus has only a fraction of the more than 32,000 hours of entertainment on Netflix. Yet the higher quality of these titles — from Marvel to Pixar, from Star Wars to Disney theatrical releases, and beyond — seems a treasure trove to many families with kids. “My family’s weekend movie viewing is set for the next 50 weeks and that’s not an exaggeration,” said Michael Foust, who reviews family entertainment for several media outlets.
Comedies such as “Monsters, Inc.,” “The Great Muppet Caper,” “The Kid” with Bruce Willis, and the “Home Alone” movies are all there, along with action adventures such as “The Three Musketeers,” sports biopics such as “Remember the Titans,” and rarely seen classics such as “Almost Angels.”
Miss: Most Originals Leave Audiences Unimpressed
A small selection of a dozen titles currently awaits those seeking out new content. Two are must-watch: “The Imagineering Story” docuseries from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Leslie Iwerks, and the Star Wars series noted below. The rest? A few could easily be YouTube videos (“Pixar in Real Life”), while others are typical reality TV fare (“Marvel Hero Project”).
Without the guiding hand of director and choreographer Kenny Ortega, the latest iteration of “High School Musical” has been panned as “lacking the earnest charm and infectious energy” of the original HSM films. Reviews are also mixed on new films “Noelle” and live-action “Lady and the Tramp.”
Hit: ‘The Mandalorian’ Wows Star Wars Fans
When Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, fans were skeptical of what the family entertainment empire would do with the “Star Wars” saga. It announced a new trilogy of films to feature Han, Luke, and Leia in supporting roles. Then Disney promptly canceled animated series “The Clone Wars” from producer Dave Filoni, which had been gaining a following for its sharp storytelling.
Fast-forward seven years. Since “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” released in 2017, some have gone from cynical to boycotting their childhood-favorite series. The new trilogy wraps in December. Yet even Star Wars detractors are being won over by “The Mandalorian,” a multi-layered serial from producers Jon Favreau and Filoni that expands the galaxy far, far away.
Fans are also psyched that long-awaited season seven of “The Clone Wars” drops on Disney Plus in February.
Miss: Year-Long Wait for New Marvel Shows
More than any of the other mega-studio’s franchises, Marvel has gone all-in for Disney Plus. Eight original Marvel TV series are in development for the streamer. The first, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” starring Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, and Daniel Brühl reprising their roles from “Captain America: Civil War,” is currently filming in Atlanta.
However, it will not premiere on the service until next fall, with further Marvel exclusive series to follow every four months or so. Considering what went into making “Avengers: Endgame” the highest-grossing box-office hit of all time, having to wait for Marvel TV to ramp up is an understandable discontent. At least fans can stream Marvel’s “Agent Carter” in the meantime.
Hit: Unexpected Titles Surprise Longtime Disney Fans
Old-school Disney fans are the hardest to please. After they heard of plans to launch with only eight of the 575 cartoon shorts produced during Walt’s lifetime, Disney got an earful. At the D23 Disney convention, film historian Leonard Maltin urged fans to demand more legacy titles on Disney Plus. Disney listened, including 62 classic shorts in the initial roll-out with more to be added soon.
1. The Mickey Mouse Club (1955, one season)
2. Spin and Marty (1955, one season)
3. Disneyland Around the Seasons (1967)
— Josh M Shepherd (@JoshMShep) November 12, 2019
Even more surprising were four other titles that arrived on launch day unannounced. Maltin worked for years on “Walt Disney Treasures,” a series of 30 DVD titles all currently out-of-print; he could get no confirmation the programs would hit the streaming service. Yet Disney Plus premiered with segments pulled from four “Treasures” DVDs, a welcome indicator Disney may also release the rest. With the excellent new docuseries “The Imagineering Story” and animation docs such as “Waking Sleeping Beauty,” it seems Disney values catering to longtime fans.
Toss-Up: How Are Deals Tying Up Past and Present Titles?
Disney CEO Bob Iger has continually stated that his team made its largest acquisition ever — buying out 84-year-old film studio 20th Century Fox for $71 billion — in large part to bulk up its Disney Plus and Hulu streaming services. However, only 17 Fox titles (most of them decades old) premiered on Disney Plus at launch.
In August 2012, Fox entered a decade-long deal with HBO for all current Fox releases to air on HBO networks and stream on its apps. (When announcing its upcoming HBO Max service, HBO even featured a few Fox family titles.) The Fox purchase included National Geographic Channel. NatGeo has produced documentaries for decades, but there’s no word on whether those legacy titles could make it to Disney Plus.
Hit: Nostalgic Fans Obsess Over Animated Shows
Nostalgia dominates entertainment today, illustrated again by what’s getting the most buzz on Disney Plus: dozens and dozens of animated TV shows. While Star Wars fans are notoriously obsessive, millennials will give them a run for their money, binging “The Simpsons,” “DuckTales,” “Recess,” “Kim Possible,” “X-Men: The Animated Series,” and especially “Gargoyles.”
In fact, aside from “The Mandalorian,” only one Disney Plus show has been trending online. Producer Greg Weisman, creator of comic-book drama “Gargoyles,” hopes through online activism to revive the animated show that is equal parts mythology, action, and science fiction.
With Disney’s past penchant for placing movies in the “vault,” might favorite shows disappear? Hakuna matata, if your subscription is current. Executives call Disney Plus the “permanent home” for Disney films and shows, with Disney continually adding legacy titles without rotating any out. Seven bucks a month covers all the Disney magic one can binge.