Streaming service review: Disney+

Disney+ is easily the most hyped streaming service to come along in some time. Disney’s attempt to get in on streaming debuted on November 12, 2019. I’ve been trying the service for awhile, so thought I’d give my two cents on Disney+ in a review.

Pros of Disney+

Disney+ is inexpensive

Disney+ costs $6.99/month or $69.99/year, and offers a seven day free trial. That’s a bit more than half the price of what Netflix or Amazon Prime runs, and much less than the $15/month for HBO Max (rival WarnerMedia’s upcoming streaming service). It’s priced closer to services like CBS All Access or Boomerang.

Disney+ can also be obtained as part of a bundle with Hulu (ad-supported version) and ESPN+ for $12.99/month. That might be worthwhile for Hulu; maybe less so for ESPN+, unless one’s a soccer or hockey fan (and doesn’t have NHL.TV).

A metric ton of content

Disney’s grown over the past decade or so to own, well, a ton of content; Disney+ is built on such as the main feature.

Usability

Disney+ is available on pretty much every device with a screen; it works fine on my laptop’s web browser and on my Roku stick.

The interface resembles that of Hulu or Disney Now (their “TV Everywhere” cable-TV-authentication-required app, which still exists), and is easy to use. Almost everything on Disney+ is divided across several broad categories (and menu items): Disney; Star Wars; Marvel; Pixar; and National Geographic. Disney+ also carries some Fox material, with “The Simpsons” prominently highlighted.

There’s various subcategories and playlists based around various themes; everything from material about Disney Princesses to “90s throwbacks” (Darkwing Duck, early Disney Channel movies) to material about Spider-Man.

Recommendations are also offered; each show or movie displays a tab listing similar material. The 90s Spider-Man cartoon, for example, suggested the other Spidey animated series on Disney+. There’s also a “recommended for you” section, though so far it’s unclear how well (or how period) it works. Mine features mostly generic recommendations, including Pixar’s “Up,” a National Geographic series, “Cinderella,” and several “Star Wars” entries (including “The Mandalorian”).

Like Netflix, individual profiles are also available, for up to seven different users; you also get your choice of various Disney/Pixar/Marvel/Star Wars characters as profile icons. (I settled for Mike from “Monsters, Inc.”) The Verge notes that up to four concurrent streams are available, plus options to download material to smartphones/tablets (but not laptops) for offline viewing.

Finally, it’s possible to add favorite shows or movies to a watchlist, which makes organizing favorites easier.

Screenshot of the main Disney+ screen
The main Disney+ screen.

Cons of Disney+

Some bugs early on

Disney+’s launch came with numerous reports of bugs, including forced restarts of apps, error messages appearing, and so forth. There’s also reports of its search feature being lackluster.

On one hand, I expect some initial problems with such a heavily promoted streaming service. On the other hand, Disney also has Hulu and Disney Now as models to draw from—Disney+ shouldn’t have been too radical a departure from those regarding its workings.

Missing or poorly organized content

Some content is missing due to pre-existing rights reasons. Disney+ opted to include listings for shows it doesn’t have anyway, with text indicating when they’ll be available on the service. While that seems helpful, I wonder if that’ll be confusing or disappointing to users clicking on, say, “Incredibles 2,” only to find it’s not actually there. (Netflix currently has “Incredibles 2.”)

Other content is missing for unclear reasons. (I’m not counting stuff long since withheld from general syndication, such as “Song of the South” or the Michael Jackson episode of “The Simpsons.”) While obscure, I hoped to find 2000s series “Dave the Barbarian,” “Fillmore!” or “Teamo Supremo,” but no such luck. “The Replacements” is available, but only the first season of 21 episodes; the remaining 31 episodes are missing for some reason.

Organization is also a bit odd on some material. The 90s Spider-Man cartoon is all lumped under one broad season, versus individual seasons like its X-Men counterpart. That said, a launch day bug in episode organization seems to have been fixed by this point—the first Spidey episode listed was one from much later in the series, versus the actual pilot.

16:9 cropped “Simpsons” episodes

While “The Simpsons”‘s entire ludicrously long run is available on Disney+, for some reason the service uses cropped 16:9 ratio episodes for the earlier non-HD seasons. This has the byproduct of ruining some of the visual gags; various articles have cited a gag from the episode “Duffless” (the part with Homer’s trip to the Duff brewery) that makes little sense under the cropping.

That said, after much complaining, Disney’s vowed to fix this by uploading (at some point in early 2020) the original 4:3 SD episodes.

What makes this more bizarre is that the now-shuttered official Simpsons streaming website did the exact same thing, before offering the original episodes. Why repeat the same mistake?

Screenshot of the Disney+ watchlist screen
The Disney+ watchlist screen.

Other observations

Star Wars fans noted the version of the original 1977 film on Disney+ includes yet another edit to the now-(in)famous Han/Greedo shooting scene.

As I said above, the first thing I watched on Disney+ was the 90s Spider-Man cartoon. Some of the other material I’ve watched so far includes:

  • “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.” The 80s Spidey cartoon where he teams up with his “amazing friends” Iceman and Firestar.
  • A few of the current Mickey Mouse shorts.
  • “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” Possibly the oddest original made for Disney+, this is a drama about a school putting on a musical version of the original film. Plus, it’s the school where the original film was shot at, for extra meta points.

I haven’t gotten around to watching “The Mandalorian” as of this writing, but will watch it soon.

Disney+ screen for the 90s Spider-Man cartoon
The Disney+ screen/episode list for the 90s Spider-Man cartoon.

Is Disney+ worth it?

I’d say Disney+ is worth considering. It’s inexpensive, and offers a large amount of content. I’d particularly recommend it for:

  • Parents of young children. Access to a ton of Disney and Pixar material alone will make Disney+ extremely appealing.
  • Marvel and/or Star Wars fans.
  • Classic animation fans who don’t own their desired TV shows or movies on DVD (especially the ones unavailable due to Disney’s “vault” practice).
  • Similarly, fans who want material not released on home video before this point.
  • Those seeking a secondary service to go with a catch-all main service like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, or Hulu.

“Simpsons” fans might want to observe the lack of fixed early episodes until early 2020.

Also, those who want more adult material might want to note that Disney+ is strictly PG- or PG-13 rated tops, as part of being a family friendly service. (So no Disney-owned stuff like ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder” or the “Deadpool” movies.)

Finally, Disney+ is still material tied to just one company, albeit a massive one.

Given those aspects, I assume most people will want to treat Disney+ as a secondary service. That said, Disney also owns Hulu; Hulu includes Disney’s more adult material, plus shows from other companies (WarnerMedia, CBS/Viacom, etc.). The $13 Hulu/Disney+/ESPN+ bundle helps make up for Disney+’s content shortcomings.

That said, I expect Disney+ will have a strong impact on the streaming landscape, given its price point, franchises, and said franchises’ popularity.

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