I last looked in-depth at Disney+, Disney’s now-popular streaming service, back when it first launched in late 2019. Since then, Disney’s early-days elements have been hammered out, while the pandemic’s made it go from a novelty to one of the most popular streaming services.
Below, I give an updated review of how Disney+ stands as of 2021.
Pros of Disney+
Disney+ is (still) inexpensive
Disney’s current price is at $8/month or $80/year; an increase of $1 monthly or $10 annually from the launch rate. For the amount of content it carries, it’s still inexpensive compared to Netflix or HBO Max.
Disney also offers a discounted bundle combining Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ for $14 a month. Hulu and ESPN+ each cost $6 a month at the cheapest ad-supported tier, so it’s a way to save on all three services combined versus buying them individually.
A metric ton of content
Disney still features much of its content on the service. While originals are fairly slow to roll out (mostly pandemic-related reasons), there’s still a large volume of content showcased.
“Celebrate Black Stories” section
Like other streaming services, Disney put some effort into drawing more attention to films and TV shows starring African-Americans after last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. To that end, they added a new section, “Celebrate Black Stories,” which lists material starring Black characters.
Along with “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” being prominently listed (as of this writing), we also get everything from “The Princess and the Frog” to “Black Panther” to “The Proud Family.” The last one is receiving a revival on Disney+.
For non-US subscribers: Star
Recently, Disney announced the addition in its non-US versions of an extra category, “Star.” Named after an India media/streaming service Disney bought, Star is an extra tile now offered alongside the Disney, Marvel, Pixar, and National Geographic ones. It basically carries most of the Disney-owned Hulu library: “Family Guy,” “Borat,” “American Dad,” “Black-ish,” “Deadpool,” and so forth. The exact content under Star might vary by country.
Disney’s also taking the effort to advertise parental controls on the default screen, as well as in a few YouTube videos. One such video features a character from a show that points to a need for parental controls, Stewie from “Family Guy”:
There’s also general advertising for the new Star feature itself; the ads vary by country. Here’s Canada’s version:
On the one hand, it’s good Disney’s advertising such controls, given adding Star makes it more like, well, Hulu (or Netflix) as a streaming service. Adding Star also gives extra value for subscribers; it’s one less streaming service they might need to subscribe to (such as Canada’s Crave, Australia’s Foxtel, etc.).
On the other hand, Disney+ until now has been seen by some as a family-oriented service, or one “for kids.” It might not occur to some parents that they’ll now need to be more careful at letting their kids use the service, let alone using parental controls. Given this branding perception of Disney+, it’s thus a bit weird seeing “Family Guy” alongside “DuckTales” and “High School Musical.”
For those in the United States (like myself), there’s no access to Star; Americans are region-blocked from accessing other countries’ versions of Disney+-with-Star. Thus, barring a post-COVID-pandemic trip to Canada, I likely won’t be able to write much more about Star beyond this section. Americans, of course, have Hulu, so there’s no need stateside for Star.
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. Fox material like “The Simpsons” doesn’t have its own tile, oddly enough, at least here in the US; it’s presumably lumped under Star for non-US versions of Disney+?
There’s various subcategories and playlists based around various themes; everything from Disney Princesses to 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.
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. 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.
Cons of Disney+
Some content is still 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.
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.”) Shows from the 2000s such as “Dave the Barbarian,” “Fillmore!,” or “Teamo Supremo” still aren’t available. “The Replacements” is available, but only the first season of 21 episodes; the remaining 31 episodes are missing for some reason.
Still, Disney’s slowly adding some of the back library of the vast amount of properties it owns. The 1980s “Ewoks” cartoon was recently added as a “Vintage Star Wars” program, for instance.
Slow rollout of Disney+ originals
Some have criticized the slow rollout of promised Disney+ originals. That said, part of the rollout issues is likely the ongoing pandemic; the fact they’ve been able to debut anything at all under such conditions is impressive. Still, those concerned about such might want to wait until shows of interest are available (and complete—Disney’s been releasing episodes of originals weekly, versus all at once), then subscribe for a month and binge them.
There’s also some films originally intended for theaters (such as “Raya and the Last Dragon”) that ended up receiving a same-day release to Disney+, for an extra $30. Most people, however, are likely just waiting until the films reach normal Disney+ distribution a few months later.
In my original Disney+ review, one flaw I cited was the handling of Disney+’s “Simpsons” episodes. They were originally cropped for 16:9 TVs, at the expense of cutting off part of the original episodes (and ruining some jokes). Disney’s since fixed this; they now offer the original 4:3 versions, as well as the 16:9 cropped ones.
Who should use Disney+?
I’d still say Disney+ is worth considering; as I previously noted, it’s inexpensive, and offers a large volume of content. With the Disney+ bundle that includes Hulu and ESPN+, there’s even more content affordably available. Hulu also fills the hole of more mature content that Disney+ lacks (such as “Deadpool,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” or anything R-rated).
I’d particularly recommend Disney+ for:
- Parents of young children.
- Marvel fans.
- “Star Wars” fans.
- “Simpsons” fans.
- Animation fans who don’t own DVDs of some of the shows/movies.
At this point, Disney+ doesn’t seem in danger of losing its status as one of the biggest streaming services, alongside the traditional “Big Three” of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.
Screenshot of main Disney+ page. (Disney / screenshot by author)