In hindsight, the announcement of a Disney streaming service seemed almost inevitable. Name recognition, an enormous back catalogue of films and TV shows, and a slate of well-funded exclusive programming are advantages Disney has in spades compared to other companies entering the market. And now, Disney+ is here and available for public consumption. From older classics to newer favorites—not to mention content from Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic—Disney hopes to bring in people already invested in their brand and keep them there with originals that can compete with existing giants like Netflix and Hulu (which, ironically, they own a 60% stake in). The Disney name carries a lot of weight, and they will need to live up to it if they are to convince consumers to add another service to their monthly bill. So, with the public excitement surrounding the launch, one must ask: is Disney+ worth the investment?
The short answer: maybe.
Since venturing into home video with Pinocchio on VHS, Disney has been notoriously stingy with releases of their beloved films, usually only allowing for limited runs before hiding them away again. But with Disney+, the company has been able to leverage this history into marketing celebrating the abolishment of the “Disney Vault” entirely. Sitting next to each other, all available for quick and easy streaming, are all aspects of the Disney brand, from Toy Story to Guardians of the Galaxy, The Muppet Movie to The Force Awakens, not to mention Disney Channel and National Geographic content + acquisitions from their merger with Fox like The Simpsons and Avatar. And to give credit to Disney, pretty much all of this was available from day one, minus some films caught up in contracts with other services. Not everything provided may be enticing; much of the catalogue is padded out with films and shows most people may not have thought about in decades, some for good reason. But that sheer amount means there is a little something for everyone, and the variety may be enough to sway consumers to at least check out the service.
While an approach based on quantity may be the focus Disney+ is taking with regards to the past, they are arguably doing the opposite with their originals. Separating their exclusive content into films and shows really highlights how little new is currently available on the service. There are only two original films, and neither of them inspire much confidence in upcoming projects. The live-action remake of Lady and the Tramp is easily one of the most boring and fundamentally bland Disney remakes released yet, and Noelle is a shockingly below average Christmas film combining the worst parts of both Elf and the Santa Clause films. Thankfully the series side does fare at least marginally better in terms of both quality and variety. The big ticket item here is The Mandalorian, a visually polished show that gets off to an unfortunately rough start with some writing and pacing issues present throughout the first episode. Luckily, the second episode is much stronger and makes clear that the series just needs time to grow into itself. There is also the bizarre High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, which is surprisingly compelling beyond the frankly insane title, even if most of what makes it work banks hard on nostalgia for the original source material. Encore is a pretty enjoyable if slightly repetitive docuseries that mixes personal drama with musical theater while The World According to Jeff Goldblum really hopes you want to watch Jeff Goldblum explain things for 30 minutes. New episodes of shows come out weekly on Fridays, with Disney clearly hoping that customers will find a show they like and stay subscribed to the service while they wait for the next episode.
Many consumers have likely already decided if they are going to take the jump into Disney+, but for those still considering it would be prudent to not just point out what the service has, but also what it does not have. For one, the actual site is a bit of a mess. Navigating between pages is a pain, and there are still numerous bugs plaguing both the UI of the site and the streaming of content. And many features considered standard for streaming services are outright missing, like a “continue watching” feature or personal recommendations based on viewing habits. The glaring flaw, however, is that the service lacks most of the Fox film catalogue. The acquisition of Fox was stated to be directly connected to the creation of Disney+, and neglecting to include much of their library is going to lose them consumers who may have hoped for their inclusion. There is also the revelation that the service will not carry R-rated films. And franchises like Deadpool, Die Hard, and Predator will most likely be omitted from Disney+ as a result, along with Touchstone pictures like Good Morning, Vietnam and the many critically-acclaimed films from Fox Searchlight such as The Grand Budapest Hotel and 12 Years a Slave. And without Disney+ as an option, these films could potentially fall into streaming limbo unless Disney decides to plop them onto Hulu instead.
Disney+ is certainly an enticing investment upon first glance, and the free first week being offered to all adoptees will most likely leave a good first impression. But digging below the surface shows a service that was obviously rushed out the door before it was ready, lacking the features and original content to really impress and warrant paying for another week. And yet, to many people that probably will not matter. Disney+ is aimed at families who just want a cheap and accessible way to entertain their children and millenials who have nostalgia from growing up with these properties, and those groups seem the most satisfied with it so far. It was never in doubt if Disney+ was going to be a success at the beginning; the real test will be the coming year and beyond. Because unless Disney can evolve their platform and keep producing new content people actually care about, even the most diehard fans may not stick around.