With the launch of Disney+ in the country this week, Australians now have yet another choice when it comes to streaming movies and TV shows at home and on the go.
It’s a unique platform in many ways. Unlike Apple TV+ it offers a massive back catalogue of content in addition to exclusive originals, so it should be easier to find something to watch. Unlike Netflix and others, which produce originals in addition to striking licensing deals to host other company’s content, everything on Disney+ is owned by Disney, so you shouldn’t have to worry about it disappearing.
It definitely shows signs of an early service, but it also does certain things right off the bat that long-established services still fumble.
Plans and availability
As with Apple TV+, but unlike other major streaming services, there are no tiers or premium extras for Disney+. There’s just one $8.99 per month tier, and all subscribers get up to 4K resolution and HDR (on supported titles), up to seven user profiles with the option to designate any as children and the ability to stream on up to four devices at once. Comparable plans cost $19.99 and $17 per month respectively on Netflix and Stan (which is owned by Nine, the publisher of this masthead).
The Disney Plus app is currently available on Android, iOS, Apple TV, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and many smart TVs. You can also watch it in a web browser or Cast it to a compatible screen.
Catalogue and treatment
Disney says the service has launched with more than 600 films and more than 7000 TV show episodes. In fact thanks (presumably) to international rights deals, a lot of the content missing from the US Disney+ launch is present and accounted for here in Australia. Disney breaks its catalogue up into five pillars, which are:
Disney: from Mickey Mouse to Pirates of the Caribbean and from Old Yeller to Frozen, Disney’s vault includes hundreds of films, features and shorts from as far back as the 1920s. Then there’s content originally made for TV channels Disney Channel and Disney Junior, plus a handful of new exclusive originals like Lady and the Tramp and a High School Musical series.
Pixar: the studios’ CG feature films are the main attraction here, backed up by decades of smaller shorts and snippets. There are even practically forgotten blocky animations from the ’80s. A new series of shorts called Sparkshots appear exclusively on Disney+.
Marvel: With the exception of The Incredible Hulk and Sony’s Spider-man films, every Marvel Cinematic Universe film is here for streaming. That’s 20 films total. TV tie-ins like Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter and Inhumans are also present, plus four decades of superhero cartoons.
Star Wars: Every film is accounted for, including the eight Skywalker Saga films plus Rogue One and Solo. Animated series The Clone Wars, Rebels, Resistance, Forces of Destiny and Lego Star Wars are also included, plus the first episodes of exclusive live action show The Mandalorian.
National Geographic: As you might expect, this is home to a library of nature and historical documentary films and series examining everything from sharks to Stonehenge. There are also shows hosted by vets and celebrities, including a quirky new exclusive series featuring Jeff Goldblum.
Outside of those pillars there’s a smattering of content from Disney’s aquisition of Fox, including Avatar, Home Alone and 29 seasons of The Simpsons. However the large bulk of Fox content, including Marvel-affiliated movies like X-Men and Deadpool, are not here.
It’s a vast library overall, although the bulk of the content is esoteric old films and ’90s TV shows aimed mainly at kids and families. If you’re not into Star Wars or Marvel the options for contemporary drama are currently a bit limited.
Most content is displayed in its original format, though some has been modified with mixed results. Classic Mickey animations like 1935’s The Band Concert have been lovingly restored in HD and look incredible, while in contrast early Simpsons seasons have been clumsily cropped to a widescreen format (Disney says they’ll eventually offer the original 4:3 as well). Many of the latest offerings are in 4K HDR if you have the internet speeds for it, though the quality won’t quite live up to a UHD Blu-Ray disc.
Disney’s massive empire of brands is of course the service’s main strength looking to the future, and you should expect every new film and TV show from those brands will appear on the service. The company has also outlined a rollout plan for its exclusive originals through the end of 2021, including several new animated and live action series in the Star Wars and Marvel universes, new game shows and documentaries, and revivals of the Willow, True Lies, Chip ‘n’ Dale, Muppets, Sandlot, Mighty Ducks, Short Circuit, Lizzie McGuire and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit franchises.
Interface and extras
There’s so much back catalogue here that Disney’s biggest challenge is making sure you can discover it. The home page does a good job of highlighting the biggest and newest content, but only a handful of lesser known classics.
As with many streaming services the search function isn’t great, but it will find what you’re after if you know what the movie you want is called. Meanwhile a series of curated “collections” gives you a good alternative to scrolling around aimlessly. If all else fails you can see the entire collection by genre or A-Z, which Netflix notably will not let you do.
One of the most impressive thing about Disney Plus is the careful attention given to each and every title. They all have custom art and written details, and many of them have extra features including the kinds of deleted scenes, featurettes and interviews you might find on a retail release.
One thing currently missing (but surely in the works) is any indication of the videos you’ve already watched. There’s no “continue watching” or “watch again” tab, and series episodes aren’t checked off or marked as you go. You can add movies and shows to a handy watchlist, and on mobile you can download anything for offline viewing, but you’ll need to keep track yourself. Thankfully, if you only watched half a movie or part of a series and then find it again later, it will let you resume from where you left off.
While watching content the interface is very minimal. Generally stream performance appears to be rock solid but there are some issues characteristic of an early service. For example things can appear to fall apart on TV apps if you try to scrub or skip around, prompting buffering. On the TV apps and browser there are extensive and appreciated subtitle visibility options, including size, colour, font and background box customisation.