After years of anticipation, Disney+ launched in the United States and several countries around the world in mid-November. The much-reviled Disney Vault is now open — for a low monthly fee. Other streaming services have more content, but few provide the balance of quantity and quality that Disney and its studios offer. Here is Flixed’s complete review of Disney+.
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Ever since the early days of home video, Disney has rationed access to its popular library of movies and TV shows. The company even had a name for it: The Disney Vault. Once a film ended its first distribution run, Disney would lock it away in the vault for decades. When a new generation of home video formats became available, Disney would re-release the film.
This strategy let Disney milk the popularity of VHS and then DVD and then Blu-ray while capturing new generations of fans.
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Over the past few years, however, Disney executives came to the conclusion that Netflix and the age of streaming were making that business model obsolete. “We believe another area of growth for this company is in the direct-to-consumer space,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said on a May 2017 call with Wall Street analysts. “Not just with ESPN, but with our other brands, and not just in the U.S, but worldwide.“
Iger and his fellow executives believed that the Disney brand was so strong and such a global presence that it could quickly distinguish itself from other on-demand services. “One of the most compelling brands for a direct-to-consumer product is Disney,” Iger said. “And to that end, we will launch a Disney-branded streaming service in 2019 – which will be unlike anything else in the market.”
Over the course of 2017 and 2018, Disney slowly revealed more details about its plans. They would make this new service the sole way to watch Disney content online. Essentially, the company was opening the Disney Vault to everyone — for a fee.
Disney also announced that it would not renew licensing agreements with Netflix and other streaming services. Content from Disney as well as its other studios — including Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm — would be part of the new streaming service.
What really surprised the industry was the low price Disney set for that subscription. At less than half the cost of similar plans from Netflix, Disney+ would be one of the most affordable on-demand streaming services.
Family-friendly content only
In keeping with the Disney brand image, Disney+ is filling its content library with family-friendly content. For the most part, any films or TV shows developed by Disney Studios, Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel, the Muppets and National Geographic fall in that category. Most of the films and TV shows from 21st Century Fox and FX are more adult-oriented. That content will more likely be part of the Hulu library.
Disney+ “global” availability
As Iger mentioned back in 2017, Disney envisions its streaming service as a global platform. The long-term goal is to provide universal access to Disney content no matter where you go. However, that’s the long-term.
On the day it launched, Disney+ was only available in the United States, The Netherlands and Canada. A week later, the streaming service opened up in Australia and New Zealand. A tweet from Disney+ announced that further expansion in Europe will include France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom in March 2020.
Citing “sources familiar with the company’s plans”, TechCrunch reported that Disney plans to fold its Disney+ content into the Hotstar streaming service. This would make Disney+ available in India and across Southeast Asia.
Where Disney+ appears next depends on how quickly the company can renegotiate its distribution deals. In addition, many countries have strict content requirements to protect their indigenous film industries.
Writing a review of Disney+ that doesn’t get too fan-boy isn’t easy. Other than a few opening-day glitches, there really isn’t a lot that you can complain about Disney+. By consolidating high-quality content from Disney, Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel, the Muppets, National Geographic and more into one place, Disney+ was destined to be successful.
But by offering all of that with premium features at a low $7 monthly price, Disney stands to dominate the on-demand streaming industry.
Disney’s global ambitions promise to bring the Disney+ app to more streaming devices and more countries over the coming years. At launch, Disney+ got off to a good start with solid support for the major streaming services.
The biggest issue Disney+ faces in the near-term, however, is the legacy of the licensing deals that The Walt Disney Company made in the early 2010s. These deals have kept some of the biggest recent box office blockbusters from being included in the Disney+ content library.
Unless your media tastes run in a completely different direction, you’ll have to give Disney+ some serious consideration in your streaming plans.
It’s hard not to like Disney+. The quality of content produced by Disney and its various other studios over the past sixty years — combined with the low Disney+ subscription — appeals to a wide swath of the global population. Here’s a quick recap of the highlights and low lights in this review of Disney+.
- Low monthly and annual subscription plans
- Huge library of popular content
- Wildly-anticipated original content
- Strong app support
- 4K Ultra HD and HDR streaming
- Early technical glitches at launch
- Titles missing due to existing licensing deals
- US availability doesn’t extend to other US territories
- Limited global rollout
Given how much Disney charges for a day at Disneyland, many people expected the company to charge a premium for Disney+. After all, Netflix charges $16 per month and HBO charges $15 per month. When Disney announced that its streaming service would only cost $7 per month or $70 per year, people were delighted. And for the most part, this pricing is consistent in every territory where Disney+ is available.
Plans and Pricing in the United States
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7,000+ TV episodes
4 simultaneous streams
7,000+ TV episodes
4 simultaneous streams
At its launch, Disney+ offered three plans for its US subscribers. If all you want is Disney+, then you can get the basic monthly or annual plans. Before the launch, members of Disney’s official fan club, D23, received a 30% discount when they made an advanced registration. After the launch, Disney+ and Verizon cut a deal that gave certain Verizon customers free access to the service.
But Disney+ isn’t the company’s only streaming service. Rather than paying $18 per month to get Disney+ and ESPN+ and the ad-supported version of Hulu, you can save about 28% by getting the $13-per-month bundle deal. A single ID and password will work across all three services.
While Disney+ probably won’t offer more promotions in 2019, you can bet the company will find ways to co-market its streaming service with its theme parks, cruise lines and merchandising.
Advertising on Disney+
Disney+ claims that it will be “a consumer-friendly experience that’s easy-to-navigate with no ads.” And that claim is mostly true. In order to get out of its licensing agreement with Starz, Disney had to agree to run ads for Starz on the public Disney+ website and apps. Fortunately, the ads disappear once you sign in to Disney+.
That doesn’t mean The Walt Disney Company won’t use Disney+ to cross-promote other Disney products. One of the Disney+ originals coming next year is Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2. Timed for the film’s premiere, it will help drive ticket sales at the box office. Other “documentaries” Disney+ is producing promotes the new attractions at Disney theme parks.
Free Trial and Renewing
New subscribers at the monthly level get a seven-day free trial. The free trial lasts for a month if you subscribe at the annual level. You must provide your credit card information upfront. If you don’t cancel your subscription before the free trial ends, then Disney+ will charge you for the first payment.
As long as your payment information is up-to-date, Disney+ will charge you whenever your subscription period comes to an end.
People in Canada and The Netherlands received access to Disney+ at the same time as the United States. New Zealand and Australia followed a week later. Neither Hulu or ESPN+ are available in these markets, so there was no bundle. But the standard subscription rates are priced similar to the US.
- Canada: $9 CAD per month, $90 CAD per year.
- The Netherlands: €7 per month, €70 per year.
- Australia: $9 AUD per month, $90 AUD per year.
- New Zealand: $10 NZD per month, $100 NZD per year.
What’s driving the popularity of Disney+ are the fan communities built up around its various content franchises. Animated content from Disney and Pixar is a standard part of most families’ entertainment budgets. Star Wars kicked off the blockbuster approach to movie-making. The Marvel Cinematic Universe took that approach to new levels and has inspired a dedicated following around the world.
In total, Disney+ has more than 500 movies and 7,500 television episodes in its content library. The library will keep growing as licenses with other streaming services expire and new movies get released. On top of that, Disney+ has its own slate of original content produced by all of Disney’s studios: Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios, National Geographic, The Muppets Studio and 21st Century Fox.
If you want to review all of the content on Disney+, check out these other Flixed articles:
Parents can create a Kids Profile in order to limit their children’s access to more age-appropriate content. In general, Disney+ will only display content that has a G or TV-7VF rating. Some PG-rated titles may also appear.
However, parents will still need to supervise their kids since choosing the Kids Profile does not create a password lock. Two taps in the app are all it takes to switch the library from Kids to Adults.
Content from Disney’s Studios
With only a few exceptions, every movie and TV show from the Disney Vault will be available to stream on Disney+. The titles go back as far as the original Mickey Mouse cartoon, the 1920’s-era Steamboat Willie. They also include animated series from Disney’s cable channels like Vampirina.
Disney Studios is creating original content that will only be available on Disney+. This includes a live-action remake of Lady and the Tramp which was available at launch. On the roadmap is a follow-on to the popular Disney series Lizzie McGuire.
Content from Pixar Studios
Just about every film and animated short Pixar has made were available to stream on day one. However, licensing deals kept Coco and Incredibles 2 from joining the library.
Pixar Studios is developing some original content for Disney+, including an animated series starring Toy Story 4’s Forky. In 2020, a short film will star Toy Story’s Bo Peep.
Content from Marvel Studios
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s presence on Disney+ was hit especially hard by Disney’s old licensing deals. Of the nearly two dozen films in the MCU, only 16 were available at the launch. Getting the most recent blockbusters, Captain Marvel and Avengers: End Game was one of the reasons Disney cut the advertising deal with Starz. Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther and the MCU Spider-Man films are among those missing.
Marvel has some non-fiction original content on Disney+ right now, but most people are waiting for the mini-series being rolled out over the next few years. Marvel characters like She-Hulk, The Falcon and Loki will be getting their own shows.
Content from Lucasfilm
With the Skywalker Saga coming to an end, Star Wars fans face a several-year drought before another film comes from a galaxy far, far away. But they can binge most of the movies that animated series. However, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Solo: A Star Wars Story are tied up in licensing deals. And the Star Wars Christmas Special is nowhere to be seen.
But Star Wars fans do have another hope. The first live-action series in the Star Wars franchise will be Disney+ originals. Starting with The Mandalorian, fans will be seeing new series about Obi-Wan Kenobi as well as Rogue One’s Cassian Andor.
Content from The Muppets Studio
Sesame Street may belong to HBO, but Disney owns the rest of The Muppets. You won’t find the original Muppet Show, but The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppet Christmas Carol are there. For some reason, though, Disney doesn’t have a featured category for The Muppets. The easiest way to find content is through the search box.
One original show is coming in 2020 from The Muppets Studio. Not much is known about it other than it will be improvisational like The Muppet Show and feature special guest stars.
Content from National Geographic
When Disney purchased the entertainment assets from Fox, a joint venture with the National Geographic Society came with the deal. So Disney now owns the National Geographic and its catalog of documentaries like The Lost Tomb of Alexander the Great.
Original content from Nat Geo includes a new series called The World According to Jeff Goldblum.
Content from 21st Century Fox
Most of the content from 21st Century Fox, FX and Disney’s other adult-oriented studios won’t be available on Disney+. However, family-friendly movies like The Sound of Music and Avatar have found their way onto the streaming service.
When you open the Disney+ app, you’ll find that the interface is fairly easy to navigate. Reviewing Disney+ apps across multiple devices, you’ll a consistent look-and-feel as well as organizational structure.
The landing page has tiles that let you jump to dedicated pages for each of Disney’s main studios. As mentioned earlier, The Muppets Studio is the only exception. Within those studio pages, Disney+ has organized content thumbnails by content type, interests and themes.
Below the studio tiles on the landing page, you’ll find featured content from all of the studios also organized by type, interests and themes.
The menu at the top takes you to the Search page and your Watchlist.
The Original content section collects the twelve shows that are available at launch.
Within the Movie section, you can filter the titles by genre and Ultra HD.
The Series section only lets you filter the titles by genre.
Managing your Account
The profile icon in the top right corner of the Disney+ interface lets you manage your account settings, manage profiles and access the support site.
You can create profiles for each member of the family so you don’t have to share watchlists and viewing histories. This section also lets you create a Kids Profile to filter the Disney+ library for kid-friendly content.
The Account section lets you manage your security settings, subscription and billing information.
Although the Disney+ launch did not go without a hitch, people are generally impressed with the streaming service’s quality. You need to have the right hardware, however, to take advantage of every feature.
Video and Audio Formats
Many of the titles in the Disney+ catalog are available to stream in 4K Ultra HD resolution and usually have high dynamic range (HDR) image quality — either HDR10 or Dolby Vision.
Much of the cinematic content and some of the television content is available in Dolby Digital Plus for 5.1 surround sound. A smaller, but growing, selection is available in Dolby Atmos for 360-degree surround sound.
The home page has a dedicated carousel for Ultra HD and HDR content. You can also filter the Movies catalog by Ultra HD and HDR. Keep in mind that your televisions, speakers and other entertainment hardware has to support these features.
Disney’s goal is to have Disney+ apps available for every streaming video device in the household. At launch, Disney+ was in the app stores for just about every major streaming platform.
Disney+ on Roku
The Roku Channel Store has Disney+ and it will work on all recently-made Roku devices and televisions based on Roku. Support for features like 4K and downloadable content will depend on the hardware configuration.
Older Roku devices going back to the Roku LT (2400X) and the Roku Streaming Stick (3420X) won’t work. Of course, even Roku has stopped supporting those older devices.
Disney+ on Fire TV Stick
Disney+ supports all Amazon Fire TV devices and televisions running Fire TV Edition. Surprisingly, this almost didn’t happen. As recently as a month before the launch of Disney+, the media reported that Amazon and Disney were deadlocked in their negotiations. Although nobody knows what kind of deal got cut, the two companies reached an agreement days ahead of the launch.
Disney+ on Apple TV
You’ll get the Disney+ app on both the Apple TV HD and Apple TV 4K (the fourth and fifth generations, respectively). If you subscribe to Disney+ through an in-app purchase, then Disney’s content will integrate with the Apple TV app.
Disney+ on iPhones and iPads
All iPhones and iPads that run iOS 11 or later can get the Disney+ app. Integration with the Apple TV app works here, too. Officially, Disney+ doesn’t support streaming on mobile devices. However, iPadOS devices (iOS13) have a desktop version of Safari so it works fine.
On the day of launch, Disney+ had a rating of 4.7 stars in the Apple App Store. The negative reviews were, frankly, a little lame.
People were shocked — SHOCKED — that the most popular brand in entertainment ran into bandwidth issues when a hundred million households started streaming at the same time. There were also a few snippy reviews from people who couldn’t stream content outside of the original launch markets. And one person complained that DC movies weren’t part of Disney+.
More legitimate criticisms came from people in Puerto Rico who were blocked by the service. In the months leading up to the launch, Disney+’s twitter account said that Puerto Rico is part of the US and would get access. However, Puerto Ricans’ access was restored one week after the launch.
Disney+ on Android Phones and Tablets
With a much more disjointed Android ecosystem, any app faces an uphill challenge. Still, the Disney+ app garnered 4.0 stars on its first day. Some of the more constructive criticisms pointed out weaknesses in Disney+’s support for Chromecast. People in The Netherlands questioned why so many movies weren’t available in Dutch.
Disney+ has targeted Android smartphones and tablets running Lollipop (version 5.0) or later. Given how few device makers support four-year-old phones, your mileage may vary. You can’t use a mobile browser to watch Disney+ on Android devices.
That limitation also impacts Chromebook owners who will have to download the Android app.
Disney+ on Smart TVs
A number of smart TVs can run the Disney+ app. If your TV is based on a recent version of Roku, Amazon TV or Android TV, then you should be able to download the app — provided the manufacturer has updated its app store.
LG televisions manufactured after 2015 and running the WebOS smart TV system, but not the NetCast OS, are getting the app. Samsung’s HD and 4K televisions made after 2015 and running the Tizen smart TV system will get the Disney+ app as well.
Disney+ on Desktops and Laptops
You can watch Disney+ on Windows PCs and Macs using your computer’s browser. Microsoft Edge, Apple’s Safari, Chrome (73+), Firefox (68+) and Internet Explorer 11 are all supported. You’ll need at least Windows 7 on a PC and preferably macOS 10.12 (Sierra) on a Mac.
Disney+ On Game Consoles
At launch, gamers will be able to run the Disney+ app on both Microsoft Xbox One consoles and Sony PlayStation 4’s. Depending on how old the console is, however, it may not be able to support 4K Ultra HD and HDR content.
The NVIDIA Shield, which is based on Android TV, also has the Disney+ app.
When you’re traveling and don’t want to get hit with roaming charges or international data rates, being able to download content to a mobile device is a huge deal.
Disney+ lets you download as much content as you want to as many as ten devices. However, downloads are only possible on smartphones and tablets.
There’s no limit to how long you can keep those downloads, but at least one device must connect to Disney+ every thirty days.
As you’d expect from a company that focuses so much on the customer experience, Disney+ launched with an extensive range of support options. A well-documented knowledge base addresses the general questions most people will have. Pretty much everything you need to know to get up-and-running quickly.
A customer support team is also available to answer account-specific questions through online chat, telephone, email or the support team’s Twitter account.
If you subscribed to Disney+ directly through its website, then you have to log in to your account on the web in order to cancel your subscription. It will take four mouse clicks to complete the process.
If you subscribed to Disney+ through in-app purchases, you will have to use Google or Apple’s system to unsubscribe.
Disney+ Refund Policy
Disney+ does not refund the unused balance of your account when you cancel your subscription. Monthly subscribers are only out $7, but annual subscribers don’t get any of their $70 back.
If you have any interest in Disney/Pixar animation or the Marvel and Star Wars franchises, subscribing to Disney+ is a no-brainer. The sheer volume of high-quality content, combined with the low monthly cost, makes Disney+ a compelling alternative to Netflix and other services.
If your tastes run towards adult-centered dramas and independent films, then you should be looking at services like the Criterion Collection for your streaming fix. Likewise, services like Shudder or Netflix may better serve people looking for content that’s a little edgier.