Disney+ First Impressions

The Nov. 12 launch of the new Disney+ streaming service has made quite an impact its first day, lighting up social media with several trending topics.

The chatter began almost as soon as the app became available in the U.S. around midnight, with users prancing around the site eager to discover all the goodies Disney was bringing us, in terms of both highly anticipated originals and a few new surprises.

My own experience began with pulling up the app on my PlayStation 4. The login required an email authentication but the process was only hampered a bit by Disney’s push to unify all its online services under a unified account, requiring me to change my password from what I had set up when I preordered Disney+.

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At first blush, the well-designed site offers a relatively easy user interface that isn’t too unlike Netflix’s, with lots of recommendations and genre groupings to stumble onto, but not as in your face about it (though the clustering of some of the videos does present a few oddities here and there). The platform’s five main categories — Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic — are put up top for easy access.

As far as I was concerned, I came for the “Star Wars” but was quite amused by some of the other offerings. Not unlike the collector navigating all the youngsters at the Disney Store just to pick through exclusive Marvel and Star Wars merchandise. Make no mistake, though, this is a family-friendly platform and should please many a parent looking to keep their kids distracted.

In the early goings, the platform wasn’t without the occasional technical glitches, unsurprising given what had to be a healthy early volume of first watchers. A had a few instances of the app dropping service that was widely reported online. A few times the video would stall as the audio continued, then would reset to a few seconds back as the buffer adjusted. All-in-all, relatively minor hiccups in an otherwise smooth viewing experience.

To browse the content, there’s an account menu (off to the left on the PS4 app, up top on the website) for searches, or to just look through all the original content, movies or TV shows the site offers.

Another surprise: DVD-style bonus material. While most of these extras, when offered, are simply trailers for the given movie or TV show, some have a lot more, such as audio commentary, featurettes and deleted scenes.

Of note, Avengers: Endgame has deleted scenes that weren’t released with the Blu-ray or digital download versions, including Tony Stark meeting his future daughter (the selection seems to change depending which device is playing the app — the phone app has the scene while the PS4 version just has the scene with director’s commentary).

The original content is quaint so far. “The World According to Jeff Goldblum” is just as quirky as the premise would imply, with the actor delving into the history of sneakers in the first episode. Fans of the company’s storied legacy will enjoy a new documentary series about the Imagineers who built Disneyland and subsequent theme parks. The live-action Lady and the Tramp remake seems cute for what it is (and, for those curious, the Siamese cat song has been replaced with something less likely to be seen as racially insensitive).

The Siamese cat song is still in the original animated Lady and the Tramp, which is offered unaltered alongside other animated classics such as Dumbo and Peter Pan that contain content now deemed “problematic,” though with a disclaimer that they contain “outdated cultural depictions.”

For all the obscure titles Disney pulled from its vault to stock the site, fans like me of the studio’s history might find it amusing what isn’t here. And I’m not talking about Song of the South, which at this point may never see the light of day with an official re-release again.

There are still a lot of old TV shows and movies that Disney could mine. For example, Conderman isn’t here, or the studio classic So Dear to My Heart, both of which are subjects of exclusive disc releases from the Disney Movie Club. The 1961 The Parent Trap is here, but not its three 1980s TV movie sequels. The five “Herbie: The Love Bug” theatrical movies are prominent fixtures, but not the 1997 TV remake of The Love Bug, or the five episodes from the 1982 spinoff TV series.

My guess would be what’s on the site is a factor of availability in high-definition, as some of the older movies that have been released on DVD only, as opposed to Blu-ray, or that have never been released on home video at all are the most notable absences. The HD factor is probably why the site is only offering the widescreen versions of the early seasons of “The Simpsons,” even though the show was produced in 4:3 and cropping for widescreen cuts out many sight gags.

As a record of Disney history, the site also offers a few curiosities. Under the search function, there’s a “Disney Through the Decades” category, which offers selections of Disney movies and cartoon shorts grouped by the decade of their release. What’s a bit dubious here is how Miracle on 34th Street is listed in the 1940s section. Likewise, The Sound of Music is under 1960s and Home Alone is listed in 1990s. These were not made by Disney, but acquired by the studio when it purchased Fox. Similarly, the original Star Wars is listed under the 1970s Disney category, and The Empire Strikes Back with the 1980s. Perhaps Disney is simply retroactively declaring some of the family friendly Fox films to be Disney films in spirit? (It brings to mind in the 1980s when Roger Ebert famously opined that the “Star Wars” movies were the types of films Disney should be making. He also predicted after Revenge of the Sith that “Star Wars” was profitable enough that someone would start making new movies without George Lucas).

Speaking of “Star Wars,” Disney has added the Fox fanfare back to the original six films where it had removed them for their digital download release a few years ago (except for the original film, Episode IV, which always had the fanfare because Fox controlled its distribution in perpetuity). This is a nice nod to the history of the franchise, although I wish they had added the fanfare to the Disney-produced movies such as The Force Awakens, just for kicks and a little consistency (assigning distribution to its now subsidiary Fox studio, as it were). But alas.

The first six movies are offered in 4K with Dolby Vision for the first time, as they haven’t been released on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray yet. With this, the notorious “Greedo vs. Han” scene from Episode IV has been tweaked yet again, which has caused quite a stir online (The alteration seems to have come from George Lucas’ efforts to remaster the films for 3D and 4K just before Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012). Famous as the most derided change in the 1997 special-edition re-release that allowed bounty hunter Greedo to get a shot off at Han before being blasted by the rogue pilot, the latest version cuts to a close-up of Greedo saying something that sounds like “Maclunkey” in untranslated Huttese before getting blasted. The alien phrase has appeared in canon before, loosely translating to “This will be the end of you.”

However, the buzz about the new scene naturally started the #Maclunkey trend on Twitter and gave rise to what is probably the first Disney+ meme.

Not to be outdone, the new “Star Wars” series “The Mandalorian” debuted its first episode, with its second episode bowing on Friday, which will be the day new episodes drop going forward. (See review here).

The show comes with slick a new “Star Wars” brand logo, as well as a gritty tone that harkens back to the rustic qualities of the early “Star Wars” films. There are even references to The Star Wars Holiday Special (another ‘movie’ notably absent from the Disney+ menu, by the way).

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