The launch of Disney’s new streaming channel, which is available across Europe now, is almost suspiciously well timed. Cinemas everywhere are shuttering, major releases being indefinitely postponed, and blockbusters in mid‑production being stalled. Schools have been closed down.
In bounds Disney+, with a wagging tail and a price of £59.99 a year,. For that, you get every Star Wars film, every Marvel film and every Pixar film, except the currently-in-cinemas Onward. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Disney have opened the vaults to give viewers access to 350 series and more than 400 films from their back catalogue – so we’re talking everything from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to both versions of The Lion King (1994, 2019) to Frozen (2013).
On a scan of their launch list, there doesn’t seem to be much missing. Want to revisit The Great Mouse Detective (1986) or The Rescuers Down Under (1990) or Muppet Treasure Island (1996)? Or The Santa Clause 3 (2006), for some reason? They’ve got you covered. Most importantly, there’s nowhere else you’ll be able to see these, quite possibly anywhere ever again – not even on terrestrial.
Christmas TV schedulers will be in a state of panic. Disney are withdrawing their films and programmes from every other platform, with very few exceptions. Existing Sky subscribers, for the time being, will still have access to The Simpsons, which Disney acquired in last year’s buy-out of Fox. But all 30 existing seasons will also be dropping on Disney+ at launch, as will season 31 this November.
The National Geographic channel will continue to exist on Sky, but much of its content, including feature documentaries like the great Free Solo (2018), about Alex Honnold’s astonishing rope-free ascent of the El Capitan rock face, is being ported to Disney+ as well. National Geographic will be one of five “pillars” of programming on the new service – the other four being Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars.
There may never be a better chance to explore the riches of Disney’s back catalogue – the Golden Age likes of Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942), say – or to attempt a Star Wars marathon taking us right up to The Rise of Skywalker. Although scheduled for May/June, this last part of the saga could well drop early on the channel as a public service during global quarantine.
The Mandalorian, the first live-action TV series to spin off from Star Wars, premiered when Disney+ launched in the US last November, and will be gradually rolled out on the European version, too. Disney aren’t missing too many tricks. While British viewers may have to wait until the theatrical window has fully closed on Frozen II, they just sped up its arrival on to the platform for US customers, undoubtedly boosting take-up: Disney reported 28.6 million subscribers in February, and that figure will have gone way past the 30 million mark by now.
Unlike Netflix, with its staggered subscription packages, the Disney+ offer is one-size-fits-all, allowing playback on four devices, and 4K Ultra HD streaming, assuming you have the right equipment, at no extra cost. Gaming consoles, streaming media players and smart TVs can all carry it. Beyond films, there’s a wealth of TV and original programming which Disney will now be premiering here and nowhere else, including hours and hours of animated Star Wars content, the new High School Musical show and NatGeo’s documentary series The World According to Jeff Goldblum, in which the actor learns about everyday objects, from trainers to coffee.
Anyone tempted to try a Marvel cinematic marathon, in order of either release or story chronology, should look no further. Plus, coronavirus delays notwithstanding, Marvel’s fan-servicing TV spin-offs will be landing, too – not just the alleged final season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but their forthcoming The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, What If...?, Hawkeye, Ms Marvel, She-Hulk, Moon Knight and… well, that’s surely quite enough for now.
The impact Disney+ will have on existing streaming services – Netflix, Amazon Prime, NOW TV and so forth – is as hard to predict as everything else in the current climate. Back in November, when Disney+ launched Stateside, Netflix didn’t suffer too significantly – their downloads stood fast at a fairly typical 70,000 a day even through the first week of the rival service and its marketing hype. It’s a sign that consumers are willing to set aside an extra portion of their monthly outgoings if it’s Disney, bearing in mind the value being offered: no more DVD or Blu-ray purchases of their titles will ever be needed.
With the theatrical release window currently being shattered by coronavirus, and films such as Universal’s Trolls World Tour, which would normally have launched in hundreds of cinemas, dropping on streaming platforms instead, such affordable access to the Mouse House catalogue will be a no-brainer for many families.
The big question is how much viewing habits will revert to their previous norms when we eventually get back into cinemas. While Disney will certainly never turn up their noses at the vast profits cinema achieves for them – look at the $1.45 billion Frozen II has grossed to date, or the $1.67 billion haul of last year’s Lion King – they’re also giving these films a much more practical afterlife than ever before.
Disney’s top 10 Classics for all ages
Toy Story (1995)
This could have been a mere demo reel for computer animation, but instead, no one could fault a frame of Pixar's impeccably imagined plastic world, which packs in Tarkovsky-esque levels of existential crisis. Popping with this much cleverness and wit, it's just irresistible, but also a profound education in getting along.
The Jungle Book (1967)
Forget every other version: this is 78 minutes of pure escapist joy, with the best songbook of Disney’s oeuvre, and matchless vocal turns from George Sanders, Louis Prima et al. If there’s one Disney animation in which you can endlessly curl up, with the lack of plot a relaxing asset, it’s this.
Mary Poppins (1964)
None of Disney's other live action features come close to this level of polish and charm – plus it’s braided with animated parts in ways only Walt, in the pre-Roger Rabbit days, could really make work. As a musical, it soars, and quite justifiably won Julie Andrews the Best Actress Oscar.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Disney’s Renaissance, already kick-started by The Little Mermaid, reached a majestic plateau with this grand fairy-tale reimagining, which has the best use of a blue-ochre colour palette in film history, and was helped immeasurably by the final lyrics of Howard Ashman.
A mythic morality tale – frightening and trippy beyond many things Disney would attempt – this was too much for the world to handle in the early days of World War II, and didn’t make a profit until 1945. The dreamlike imagery and earthbound quality of it as a fable make it endlessly fascinating.
Toy Story 2 (1999)
Not even Pixar themselves expected to come up with a sequel this inspired, which was envisaged as a direct-to-video offering before it became clear they’d struck gold again. The new characters, especially Stinky Pete and Jessie, add tangible layers to its plot about love and value.
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Pets in cinema don’t come much weirder than the feral alien experiment adopted here by a lonely Hawaiian orphan. Stitch is an unbeatable creation – the filmmakers pretty much copied his attitude for How to Train Your Dragon – and the film endures splendidly as a meditation on what family means.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
For a threequel, the levels of emotional resonance here are off the charts, as Woody and pals are frisked out of the frying pan and right to the fiery brink. The prison breakout scenario is just dandy, but it’s the elevation of the toys’ owners into growing, feeling characters that made it sing.
The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
Hailing from Disney's most neglected age, this delightful Sherlockian pastiche is one of their ripest films for rediscovery. I saw it at the impressionable age of eight and it’s stuck ever since – especially Vincent Price’s scary Professor Ratigan, and the helter-skelter finale inside Big Ben.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
What if Christmas and Hallowe’en merged? That’s the conceit in this gleefully ghoulish Tim Burton production, a cracker from stop-motion wizard Henry Selick (Coraline). Jack Skellington's plan to kidnap Santa and lord it over the chirrupy Christmastown is strangely heroic – and Danny Elfman’s song score a lugubrious treat.
Disney+: Everything you need to know
When does Disney+ launch in the UK?
What is it?
A TV and film streaming service with all past and future content from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic.
How much does it cost?
A monthly subscription is £5.99. An annual membership is £59.99.
How can I watch it?
There will be an app on Sky Q, Roku, Now TV, Amazon Firestick, most smart TVs, android and Apple smartphones, Google Chromecast, and the PS4 and Xbox One gaming consoles. At the moment, it is not available via Virgin Media or BT TV.
How many devices can I watch it on?
It allows up to four concurrent streams.
Is there any content for parents to worry about?
It’s Disney, so not really. But you will be able to set up kids’ profiles, restricting them to age-appropriate content.