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).

‘Lady and the Tramp’ Screening

The Cinema Society hosted a screening of Disney’s live-action remake of Lady and the Tramp at iPic Theater in New York Oct. 22. The film will be available through the Disney+ streaming service when it launches Nov. 12. Among the attendees were representatives from North Shore Animal League America, which has been making a positive difference in the lives of homeless animals for 75 years. They kicked off their collaboration with Disney and were on hand with adoptable rescue dogs.

Disney+ D23 Expo Presentation Showcases App Features, Unveils Content Slate Including New ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi,’ Marvel, ‘Lizzie McGuire’ Series

Disney+ unveiled six series in development, a slate of original series and films, and details about the service during a showcase presentation at Disney’s D23 Expo Aug. 23 in Anaheim, Calif.

The Disney+ app made its debut on the show floor, with features and functionality confirmed for the global launch dates in November. Disney+ ($6.99 per month; $69.99 annually in the U.S.) offers viewers:

• Unlimited Downloads: Subscribers have access to unlimited downloads of shows and movies on the Disney+ app to watch offline later on up to 10 mobile or tablet devices, with no constraints on the number of times a title can be downloaded per year. Once downloaded, subscribers can watch on the go and without an internet connection. The number of titles stored at one time on a device is dependent upon the available storage space on a subscriber’s device.

• High-Quality Viewing: Subscribers can get ultra-high-definition viewing with up to 4K Ultra HD video playback in Dolby Vision, HDR10, and Dolby Atmos immersive audio on supported devices for available programming.

• Commercial-free Viewing: Subscribers can access unlimited viewing of Disney+ content without having to watch commercials.

Profile Customizations: Subscribers can set up to seven different profiles and choose an avatar tailored to their favorite Disney, Pixar, Marvel or “Star Wars” characters, with more than 200 avatars available.

Concurrent Streaming: Disney+ allows subscribers to concurrently stream video content on up to four registered devices with no up-charges.

• Multiple Languages: At launch, Disney+ will offer support for English, Spanish, French and Dutch languages, including both user interface as well as audio support and/or subtitles for library content, with additional languages available for Disney+ originals.

• Accessibility: The app offers support for closed captioning, descriptive audio and navigation assistance for subscribers with disabilities.

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Actress Yvette Nicole Brown, who stars in the Disney+ original film Lady and the Tramp, hosted the content presentation, welcoming Kevin Mayer, chairman, direct-to-consumer and international.

“With less than three months until launch, Disney+ will soon entertain and inspire audiences of all ages for generations to come, and we’re excited to preview some of the amazing original content being created for the service exclusively from our world-class brands today at the D23 Expo,” said Mayer. “Storytelling is the cornerstone of The Walt Disney Company and we’re thrilled to unveil a new slate of original shows from the Star Wars and Marvel cinematic universes, along with popular television franchises set to return with all-new series streaming only on Disney+.”

Executives behind the Disney+ content slate also appeared, including Sean Bailey, president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production; Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios; Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm; and Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer of Disney Channel Worldwide.

The executives discussed the status of previously announced content as well as introduced additions to the slate:

Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi in 2005’s ‘Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith’

Ewan McGregor was on hand to confirm his return as Obi-Wan Kenobi in a new series from Lucasfilm, presumably set between the events of the “Star Wars” prequel and original trilogies, when the character was exiled on Tatooine watching over young Luke Skywalker. Alec Guinness played the role in the original “Star Wars” in 1977, as well as 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s Return of the Jedi. McGregor played the younger version of the character in the prequels from 1999 to 2005. Reports about the series had been swirling in the week leading up to the D23 Expo, following years of speculation that McGregor would return to the role in a spinoff movie;

Feige announced that Marvel Studios is developing three new live-action series, “Ms. Marvel,” “Moon Knight” and “She-Hulk,” all derived from Marvel comics;

Hilary Duff surprised the audience with an appearance to announce she will reprise the role she made famous in an all-new Lizzie McGuire series from Terri Minsky; and

Forty years after leaving the swamp in his big screen debut in The Muppet Movie, Kermit the Frog along with the Muppets gang will appear in their first-ever unscripted short-form series, “Muppets Now.”

Disney+ also showcased original movies and shows set to stream when the service launches on Nov. 12.

“The Mandalorian”

For Lucasfilm’s “The Mandalorian,” executive producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni joined series stars Pedro Pascal, Gina Carano, Carl Weathers and Giancarlo Esposito, along with Taika Waititi, who brings the droid IG-11 to life, to premiere the teaser trailer for the first Star Wars live-action series. Earlier in the day at the Disney Legends Awards Ceremony, Robert A. Iger,chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Co., announced that new Disney Legend Ming-Na Wen will join the cast of the series. Set after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order, “The Mandalorian” follows the travails of a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy far from the authority of the New Republic.

 

The cast of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” participated in a live performance of the multi-platinum hit song, “We’re All In This Together.” Following the presentation, cast members Joshua Bassett, Olivia Rodrigo, Matt Cornett, Sofia Wylie, Julia Lester, Larry Saperstein, Dara Reneé, Frankie A. Rodriguez, Kate Reinders, Mark St. Cyr, and Showrunner Tim Federle invited 3,600 fans to watch the first episode in the D23 Expo Arena and revealed the series’ teaser trailer. The 10-episode scripted series, set at the real-life East High, where the original movie was filmed, follows a group of students as they countdown to opening night of their school’s first-ever production of “High School Musical.”

 

Host Brown joined fellow Lady and the Tramp cast members Rose (“Lady”) and Monty (“Tramp”) — the canine stars of the film — to premiere the first trailer of the live-action remake of the 1955 animated classic, In the film, a pampered house dog and a tough but lovable stray embark on an unexpected adventure and, despite their differences, grow closer and come to understand the value of home.

 

Noelle stars Anna Kendrick and Billy Eichner joined Sean Bailey to announce their film will premiere on Disney+ Nov. 12 before sharing a new trailer. In the holiday comedy, Kris Kringle’s daughter is full of Christmas spirit and holiday fun, but wishes she could do something important like her beloved brother Nick, who will take over from their father this Christmas. When Nick is about to crumble from all the pressure, Noelle suggests he take a break and get away. When he doesn’t return, Noelle must find her brother and bring him back in time to save Christmas.

 

Jeff Goldblum, who stars in and hosts 12-episode “The World According to Jeff Goldblum” from National Geographic, gave fans a peek inside the series including a new trailer for the show.

 

Executive producer Kristen Bell shared a first-look trailer and a taste of what’s to come in the unscripted series “Encore!” that brings together former castmates of high school musicals, tasking them with re-creating their original performance years after they last performed it.

 

Tony Hale, who reprises role as Forky from Toy Story 4 in the new collection of Pixar animated shorts “Forky Asks a Question,” premiered the first short (“What is Money?”). In the 10 shorts, Forky explores important questions about how the world works, such as: What is love? What is time? 

Forky

Disney+ also detailed titles set to premiere after the service launches:

The audience was treated to a scene from the Disney+ original film Togo, an untold true story set in the winter of 1925 in the Alaskan tundra. The film, which will launch on the service in December, stars four-time Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe and is directed by Ericson Core. It also stars Julianne Nicholson, Christopher Heyerdahl, Richard Dormer, Michael Greyeyes, Michael McElhatton and Michael Gaston.

Director Kari Skogland introduced Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, the stars of Marvel Studios’ The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, which finds Falcon and the Winter Soldier teaming up after Avengers: Endgame. Emily VanCamp came on stage and Feige revealed that she will reprise her role as Sharon Carter. Then, he introduced the crowd to Wyatt Russell who will play John Walker — a character from the comics coming to the screen for the first time. Head writer Malcom Spellman was also on hand to greet the crowd. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier will launch on Disney+ in 2020.

Stars Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen were on hand for their new series, Marvel Studios’ “WandaVision.” Bettany returns as Vision and Olsen as Wanda Maximoff — two super-powered beings living their ideal suburban lives who begin to suspect that everything is not as it seems. Feige surprised the audience by bringing to the stage Kat Dennings and Randall Park who will reprise their roles from Thor and Ant-Man and The Wasp, and then he introduced Kathryn Hahn who has been cast as a new character in the series. Director Matt Shakman and head writer Jac Schaeffer joined everyone on stage to reveal that the streaming series will blend the style of classic sitcoms with Marvel Cinematic Universe. “WandaVision” premieres on Disney+ in 2021.

Feige welcomed the director, Kate Herron, and head writer, Michael Waldron, of “Loki” to the stage. In Marvel Studios’ series “Loki,” Tom Hiddleston returns as the mercurial Loki, the god of mischief, in stories that take place after the events of Avengers: Endgame. “Loki” debuts on Disney+ in 2021.

For Marvel Studios’ “What If …?” Hayley Atwell was on hand to greet the audience. Atwell will voice Peggy Carter in Marvel Studios’ first animated series that focuses on different heroes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and imagines what would happen if the events in the films worked out differently. Feige also introduced director Bryan Andrews and head writer Ashley Bradley to the crowd.  “What If…?” premieres on Disney+ in 2021.

Kennedy announced that the new season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” will stream on Disney+ in February 2020. The Emmy award-winning animated series will be returning with 12 new episodes and will mark the return of classic characters Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, as well as Ahsoka Tano and Captain Rex.

Stars Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk joined Kennedy to introduce the audience to the second Lucasfilm live-action series for Disney+, which is now in development. Both actors are reprising their roles from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and the stories follow Cassian Andor’s adventures as a rebel spy during the formative years of the Rebellion, before the events of A New Hope.

Executive producer and recurring guest star Gina Rodriguez joined “Diary of a Female President” lead Tess Romero to announce the series will premiere on Disney+ in January. Told using the narration from her diary, the half-hour single camera comedy follows 12-year-old Cuban-American girl Elena’s journey through the trials of middle school, which set her on the path to ultimately become president of the United States.

Bailey shared a first look at the original film Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made based on the best-selling book series by Stephan Pastis and launching on the service in early 2020. The film follows the exploits of a quirky, deadpan hero, Timmy Failure, who, along with his 1,500-pound polar bear partner Total, operates Total Failure Inc., a Portland detective agency.

The stars of Stargirl, Grace VanderWaal and Graham Verchere, helped introduce the coming-of-age film based on the New York Times best-selling young adult novel. The film also stars Karan Brar, Maximiliano Hernandez, Darby Stanchfield and Giancarlo Esposito. It will launch on Disney+ in early 2020.

“Monsters at Work” stars Ben Feldman and Aisha Tyler unveiled the latest design of their characters Tylor and Millie. Inspired by Disney and Pixar’s Academy Award-winning feature film Monsters, Inc., the new series from Disney Television Animation returns to Monstropolis and follows a new cast of monsters with special appearances from Mike and Sulley (voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman).