If Disneyland is "the happiest place on earth", it stands to reason that Disney Plus would be the happiest streaming service. And for the most part, it is. This is our childhood bundled up for comfort-watching.
Alright, so it isn't perfect. It needs more original content and is lacking mature shows due to a family-friendly image (in the US, anyway). But it couldn't have come at a better time nonetheless. Disney Plus is exactly what we need right now, and that's just as true one year on as it was when the service first came out in 2019.
Disney Plus content
When Disney Plus was first announced, some scoffed at the idea. What would it offer that we couldn't already get from Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu (opens in new tab)? Quite a lot, as it turns out. The service draws from over 90 years of movies, TV shows, and documentaries that go way beyond Disney cartoons. More specifically, its library stretches from Loki all the way back to Steamboat Willie, a 1928 cartoon that served as one of Mickey Mouse's first appearances.
It also spans some of the world's most popular franchises. All things Disney are obviously present and correct, but so is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That includes all of the movies you'd expect, not to mention TV shows.
Star Wars has made the leap as well, and the saga appears on the service in its entirety. That means you can catch up on the Skywalker story or blaze through spin-offs such as The Mandalorian or The Bad Batch.
Then there are Fox properties like The Simpsons, X-Men, Avatar, and National Geographic. In short? Disney Plus is surprisingly well-stocked.
Because the service streams in 4K resolution wherever possible, many of the above will look better here than anywhere else as well. Seeing as Netflix and other competitors charge extra for the privilege of 4K, that's a big selling point.
The service does a pretty good job in terms of value as a result. There's a whole lot to enjoy in a Disney Plus sign-up, and I'd argue it's got something for everyone (be it fans, kids, or viewers that just want something to do during the pandemic where indoor fun is a bit more important). Seriously, you could sit nostalgic Disney nerds like me or younger members of the family down in front of it and not see them again for months.
Casual viewers aren't as well served, though. In fact, I'm not sure there's enough to hold their attention past the first few months. Even though the situation is improving with every passing week, Disney Plus still doesn't have the wealth of original content you'd find on Netflix. Shows like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier or WandaVision are flat-out excellent, but must-watch hits are otherwise few and far between. Yes, Soul arrived during Christmas 2020 and you can stream Hamilton via the service. But there's nothing truly essential for a broader audience beyond Marvel and Star Wars. As such, I'm not sure I could recommend much more than a couple of months' subscription for most people.
Fortunately, that's due to change as 2021 wears on. Various Disney Plus-exclusive films and throwback series (such as Home Alone) are on their way. In addition, an Obi-Wan series is in production as we speak along with a Hawkeye miniseries. As such, the list of upcoming content is impressive.
But the emphasis is on 'upcoming'.
Equally disappointing is the lack of more grown-up content in the US. Although I understand the decision (Disney Plus has always been pitched as an all-ages venture), it means we miss out on classics from Disney-owned studios that would really round out the library. Alien. Logan. Even MCU shows like Daredevil or The Punisher, which are of course still showing on Netflix. It's a noticeable gap, and not one I can ever see being filled.
This is frustrating. Isn't the whole point of Disney Plus to have all your content under one roof? While the US at least gets the more mature Hulu discounted via a Disney Plus bundle, it's an irritating extra step.
Still, I can't really knock Disney Plus too much for this. It'd be like criticizing The Lion King for not being more violent. That's not really what it's for.
It's not a problem for folks based in the UK, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand, either. These regions now benefit from the 'Star' channel, and it's home to a wealth of sorely-needed dramas, sitcoms, thrillers, and horror. Click on the Star icon and you'll be able to binge the sort of programming you'd normally have to rely on Netflix or Amazon for, including but not limited to The Walking Dead, Family Guy, 24, Lost, How I Met Your Mother, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias, and Modern Family. I could go on.
To cut a long story short, this is a shot in the arm for Disney Plus. The fact that you can keep it out of your children's reach via comprehensive parental controls sweetens the deal further.
The addition of Premier Access is another big win for the streaming service no matter where you live, too. Allowing members to watch brand-new movies on the same day they launch in theaters (for a small fee, of course), it lets us catch up on some of the year's biggest films without braving the great outdoors. And while you may balk at the extra Premier Access cost, think of it this way: it'd be much more expensive for a whole family to watch that same film at the cinema. Sure, seeing it on your TV isn't the same experience. It might not be worthwhile for a singular person, for that matter. But you do get to watch the film as often as you like and at your leisure. You're paying for ease, and that's a big deal.
Disney Plus user-experience
Everything else aside, I've been impressed when it comes to using Disney Plus. It's fitted with a handsome layout that's easy to browse, and the whole thing feels flashier than its competition. For instance, the brand boxes along the top - for Marvel, Star Wars, etc - are animated and eye-catching when you select them. Elsewhere, the homepage pops with color. Basically? This doesn't feel like a cheap rip-off. It's every bit as premium and well-crafted as you'd expect from one of the biggest companies in the world.
Sure, it borrows features from rivals here and there. But I'm not complaining. As with Netflix, you can back out of a show and it'll remember exactly where you were when you drop back in later. Then there's the now-essential 'skip intro' option, a countdown to the next episode, and an intuitive, easy-to-use interface. So long as it works, I don't much care where it's from.
It's true that Disney Plus as a system hasn't always been plain sailing. It sucks that some shows like The Simpsons weren't being displayed in their original aspect ratios at first (thus cutting off some visual gags), and a few teething issues like random German dubs replacing English voiceovers were weird. Yet most problems have been worked out in the months since launch. What's left is pretty fantastic.
Disney Plus price
If there's something about Disney Plus I can't fault, it's the cost. The service is aggressively affordable across the world, and in most regions, it's around half the price of a Standard HD month of Netflix. More specifically, it sets you back $7.99 per month in the US, $11.99p/m in Canada and Australia, and £7.99p/m in the UK (opens in new tab). Considering how many services there are jostling for our attention these days, that's a welcome twist.
I'll admit that it's more expensive now than it was thanks to the Disney Plus price increase, but it's only gone up by a single dollar for US subcribers since launch. And because the in the UK, Canadian, and Australian price hike arrived alongside the Star add-on and its avalanche of new content, fans elsewhere are hardly being short-changed.
The monthly subscription (which you can cancel at any time) is pretty great because of this. While it's disappointing that the seven-day Disney Plus free trial has vanished, the low entry fee keeps Disney Plus broadly accessible nonetheless.
Unfortunately, the annual membership - which gives you 12 months for the price of 10 - is slightly harder to recommend in the US. Because many viewers will get bored after a few weeks, I'm not sure how sensible it'd be to invest in a full year if you're not a Disney fan and aren't compelled to watch the new shows coming in 2021.
Unless you have kids, that is. If your children are going to watch Disney Plus as well, it's fair bang for buck regardless of which package you go for. It's not all essential viewing, but the smorgasbord of movies, cartoons, and TV shows at your finger-tips will amuse any child for months.
That makes it a no-brainer during holidays such as Christmas or Thanksgiving when you'll be spending more time with family. Indeed, this is arguably when Disney Plus is at its best.
I just wish there were more offers on it across the world. You can choose from a handful in the US - like the exclusive North American bundle of Disney Plus, Hulu, and ESPN Plus for $13.99 (opens in new tab) per month - but everyone else misses out. As an example, the only discounts we've seen in the UK would be an O2 extra and an Xbox Game Pass / Disney Plus combo.
That said, these are niggles rather than actual problems. For the most part, it's hard to criticise the value of Disney Plus if you're paying on a month-by-month basis; there's more than enough to justify it in the short-term. And if you're living anywhere other than the US, concerns about value are fast fading away thanks to the Star add-on.
Overall - should you buy Disney Plus?
If you're a Disney fan or a lover of all things Marvel, Star Wars, and Simpsons, you can't ask for much more. Disney Plus brings the goods both new and old, and it's the TV equivalent of a massive hug. The low price certainly doesn't hurt; even if you only watch it for a month, you won't have lost much doing so.
For more casual viewers, on the other hand? I can see the service losing its shine after a little while (unless you live outside of the US and have access to the Star add-on, anyway). At the time of writing, there's not enough red-hot original content to keep you coming back day after day.
That's not to say this will always be the case, of course. It may not be on-par with Netflix right now, but it's worth remembering that Disney Plus is still in its infancy. From everything the House of Mouse has announced so far, there are many reasons to believe it'll continue flourishing down the road.
With that in mind, I'd recommend grabbing a monthly subscription and playing it by ear if you're not massively pro-Disney. It's easy enough to cancel once you're done, and you can always sign back up again later when something new arrives.