Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A First Look at Disney+

Tuesday, November 12th, marked the eagerly anticipated debut of Disney's new streaming service, Disney+.

I previously wrote extensively about the service's initial original programming after attending the D23 Expo in August.

I also shared Leonard and Jessie Maltin's thoughts from the Expo on some of classic film content available on Disney+.

Disney+ actually went "live" on some apps earlier than announced, on Monday evening, Pacific Time. Although we experienced some short-lived glitches with unlisted titles or difficulty setting up a profile, all in all I consider the launch a great success.

We had no problems at all when it came to watching anything; the streaming worked perfectly on both our Roku and my iPad, with no buffering or other interruptions.

There were some nice surprises available for viewing, such as the SPIN & MARTY serial from THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB. I could have missed it but I don't recall having seen that title would be available in the many articles I read in the run-up to the Disney+ debut.

Another nice surprise was that some films which Disney has previously censored are presented on Disney+ in uncensored versions. For instance, the cigarette which does not appear in my VHS copy of MELODY TIME (1948) was restored to the "Pecos Bill" segment; instead there is a disclaimer prior to the film. That is certainly a more appropriate way to handle things, if Disney feels obligated to advise viewers about material which may make them uncomfortable, rather than outright censorship.

That said, I'm told a cigarette in SALUDOS AMIGOS (1943) is still edited out; perhaps the print will be upgraded to the original version in the future?

I haven't yet seen for myself, but I've read that the 20th Century-Fox logos have been restored to the original STAR WARS films now that Fox is owned by Disney, which is good news. On the other hand, another edit of the Han-Greedo shootout?! Oh, please, no. Can we just go back to the "Han Shot First" release version already?

Meanwhile, fans of Disney's recently acquired THE SIMPSONS are dismayed that the service is showing the cartoon series in the wrong aspect ratio. So Disney+ is a mixed bag in terms of presentation pros and cons at the present! (November 15th Update: Disney has announced that THE SIMPSONS will be available in its original aspect ratio on Disney+ beginning early in 2020.)

I'll have more to say about classic films and Disney+ further down in this post, but first, a few words on the first two original programs I sampled on the service.

The first new show we watched was the much-anticipated STAR WARS original TV series, THE MANDALORIAN, with Pedro Pascal in the title role.

Supporting actors over the course of Season 1 of THE MANDALORIAN will include Carl Weathers, Ming-Na Wen, Brendan Wayne, Nick Nolte, Taika Waititi, and Werner Herzog. It was created by Jon Favreau, who has previously both directed and acted in Marvel films.

The series is set in the "Wild West" days after the fall of the Empire in RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983), and it is most definitely a Western, with a touch of samurai on the side. Among other things, you've got a saloon shootout and the Mandalorian learning to ride a bucking "horse."

Some have likened the title character to Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name" of spaghetti Westerns, as there's not a great deal of characterization at this point, given we've yet to see his face. He does speak occasionally, at least!

Despite the entire first episode focusing entirely on a "masked" (helmeted) man, it was a good watch, around three stars on a four-star scale. It was set in a pleasantly familiar STAR WARS world, while also featuring some entertaining new things. The show's "lived in" world reminded me of the original STAR WARS (1977) or the more recent films which I've liked the most, ROGUE ONE (2016) and SOLO (2018), both of which were subtitled A STAR WARS STORY.

The episode's ending was a bit of a jaw-dropper for STAR WARS fans, which should definitely pull viewers back for Episode 2!

The running time for this episode was 40 minutes. Unlike some streaming services, Disney+ will be featuring new episodes on a weekly basis, rather than dropping an entire series at once; the next episode premieres this Friday and then on ensuing Fridays from there on out. (November 15th Update: Thumbs up for Episode 2, which runs a short and sweet 33 minutes. Solid adventure story firmly grounded in the STAR WARS world, told with a minimum of dialogue.)

I'm grateful for a few days between episodes, as dumps of entire seasons tend to lead to family members disappearing for many hours on end to catch the latest show before they hear any spoilers!

The other series I watched last night was Episode 1 of THE IMAGINEERING STORY, directed by Leslie Iwerks, whose family has a long history with Disney.

The 68-minute episode, "The Happiest Place on Earth," focused on the creation of Disneyland. I've seen many documentaries and presentations on Disneyland history over the years, as well as archival specials such as those included in the Disney Treasures set Disneyland USA, and I'm pleased to report this show was absolutely superb, a definite four stars.

It was beautifully crafted and somehow felt fresh and new despite going over some familiar material. I loved the close looks at miniatures of various attractions, and the vintage Disneyland footage was truly gorgeous. (And I'll never get over being sad that Rolly Crump's Tower of the Four Winds didn't survive the 1964 World's Fair...)

There were also very special new moments. Watching Bob Gurr walk through the Matterhorn he designed and shoot hoops on the infamous half basketball court inside the mountain was simply marvelous.

I don't know how anyone could not be moved watching Gurr and Crump tear up when discussing Walt Disney's death, over half a century since he left us. (I reacted similarly when I got to the final exhibit in the Walt Disney Family Museum a couple years ago.) What an enormous loss Walt's passing was for all of us.

I cannot be more enthused about THE IMAGINEERING STORY, and I'm looking forward to Episode 2 on Friday! Looking further down the road, I'm very much looking forward to the forthcoming INK & PAINT documentary on Disney+.

Regarding classic-era films, it's been said by Disney CEO Bob Iger that almost every title in the Disney catalogue will eventually be on the service, but it should be understood that the service is not yet at that point. It has a deep library currently available but there are still many titles missing.

When it comes to classic-era films on Disney+, my personal interest is more muted, as simply put, I already own every available Disney title I want on Blu-ray, DVD, and/or VHS (looking at you, MELODY TIME and MICKEY'S MAGICAL CHRISTMAS!). However, streaming access to these titles is a topic of great interest to many of my readers and/or potential subscribers, so I've been watching the issue closely.

Last month I was traveling on the day the initial list of films available on Disney+ was announced, and on the fly I put together a list of older Disney titles not available on Disney+ launch day, which I shared on Twitter.

The list of titles not yet on Disney+ is pretty extensive, including SO DEAR TO MY HEART (1948), JOHNNY TREMAIN (1957), SUMMER MAGIC (1963), or THE MOON-SPINNERS (1964) to name just a few. There are numerous other titles among the missing.

These titles may possibly be absent from Disney+ due to pre-existing agreements, which are also keeping some newer titles off the service for the time being, or they may also be in need of work before they look good enough to broadcast. (And, sadly, I doubt we will ever see SONG OF THE SOUTH on the service, despite it featuring the work of the first black male actor to win an Academy Award; perhaps one day Disney will be brave enough to show it with one of the disclaimers described above, but I won't hold my breath.)

As Leonard and Jessie Maltin said at the D23 Expo, it's important for Disney fans to let Disney know what they'd like to see on the service, whether it's more classic Disney films, shorts, TV shows and serials, or Leonard's own great Disney Treasures introductions. I recommend viewers share their thoughts on social media and also actively watch the older programs currently available on Disney+ to show there's an eager audience.

The future of classic era 20th Century-Fox films is also a huge question mark. A tiny number of Fox titles are available on Disney+, including MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), but at this point no one really knows what will happen in terms of access to these films. Disney plans to show newer Fox content on the Hulu streaming service, so it's always possible some will end up there. The future of these 20th Century-Fox films for theatrical showings is also an unknown, as Disney has recently been cutting off some repertory theaters from showing films in the Fox library.

All in all, my initial feelings on Disney+ are positive. There is very good original new content, with much more to come over the next year; some nice surprises in terms of available titles and prints restored to their original versions; and a very deep library.

The positives are, of course, offset by the types of problems and questions outlined above, so I'll be watching developments closely going forward.

And now it's time to decide what to watch next on Disney+!


Blogger DKoren said...

I've been checking it out as well. My biggest problem is that so far I can't find a way to resume or continue something I leave off in the middle of. I don't know if this is just a launch/swamped issue, or what, because you can't not have a resume watching option. This is driving me crazy right now.

I did quite enjoy the Mandalorian ep, and I also checked out the first ep of The World According to Jeff Goldblum, and that was fun and crazy and a bit eye-opening.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Deb!

That's interesting about stopping in the middle of an episode...I didn't have that problem because I watched the two programs without stopping, but our daughter mentioned the same thing. Hopefully that will be fixed!

I noticed that under "Help" there is a "Give Feedback" where you can mention features you would like to see *along with shows you'd like to see*! So we should all definitely mention that issue and hopefully they'll put in a "resume watching" feature at some point. (And I requested Leonard Maltin's Disney Treasures intros and ANNETTE!)

Daughter got up early to watch THE MANDALORIAN episode 2 before work and was enthused...looking forward to seeing more of it and THE IMAGINEERING STORY tonight! I haven't started THE WORLD ACCORDING TO JEFF GOLDBLUM yet but husband pronounced it "cute." LOL. Based on both of your reactions I will try it!

Keep me posted on your Disney+ thoughts, and I'd love to hear what others think as well!

Best wishes,

8:51 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

We watched the second Mandalorian ep last night and loved it. Some really good stuff in there that just delighted us no end. Really looking forward to seeing where they go with the story.

I watched the first ep of Imagineering Story and it was absolutely wonderfully fantastic. Can't wait to show it to my mom, who was there when Disneyland first opened. She's going to flip. It was so well-done, and so amazing to see them breaking ground, etc. Looking forward to the second ep of that. The second ep of the Jeff Goldblum show should have been great, given it was about ice cream... but it was just rather weird and not actually intersting like the first ep was. My sister and I also didn't relate to its premise that ice cream always takes you back to special childhood memories. We just shrugged over that.

Still no resume/continue option, but I will go check the give feedback section. I had started Pinocchio, and left off an hour in... it started from the beginning next time I came back. Sigh. That is deeply frustrating. Means I probably won't watch anything for now unless I know I have time to finish it.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Deb! I loved Part 2 of THE MANDALORIAN even times there was such little dialogue I thought of silent movies. The short running time, with a weekly release, also calls to mind the serials which helped inspire the original STAR WARS (1977).

So glad you enjoyed THE IMAGINEERING STORY! I'm very excited to see Part 2 in the near future.

Thanks also very much for your thoughts on Jeff Goldblum Part 2.

I have seen on Twitter there are now Resume and Restart buttons, but I haven't tried it out myself yet to see...let me know if it's rolled out to your device yet!

Best wishes,

3:53 PM  
Blogger DKoren said...

I checked last night and didn't see the resume/restart options yet, but will be checking again today.

I don't know if Midway is on your radar, but I recommend it. My family went and saw it twice already and really loved it. It's quite old-fashioned in flavor. No modern attitudes or agendas creeping in, just a straight-forward account of events. I should write a review up of it on my blog shortly.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi again, Deb!

Some people are still Tweeting they don't have Resume/Restart, but I've also seen a photo of a screen with the feature which looked real, so I am wondering if it's rolling out to devices in waves...?

*Thank you* for the recommendation of MIDWAY. It's a topic I love (Walter Lord's book is an oft-read favorite), and I haven't been sure whether the movie would look "too CGI" and what its attitude would be. I am now hoping to see it later in the month, along with FORD VS. FERRARI and FROZEN 2. I appreciate the tip as our tastes are so often in sync. I'll be watching for your review!

Best wishes,

3:35 PM  
Blogger DKoren said...

The resume option just appeared on my Disney+ tonight! YAY!!!! Finally. Also, Mandalorian keeps getting better. Really loving this show.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Yay for the resume option!!!

Just watched Episode 3 of THE MANDALORIAN. My heart!!! This is the STAR WARS we never dreamed of but it turns out we really needed LOL. I want a picture of Baby Y and the "ball"!

Best wishes,

3:03 PM  

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