We could all use something new to watch. While we've all been keeping ourselves to ourselves during various lockdowns, the TV has been buzzing away. But what happens when all the feel-good shows are over? That's where we come in with our list of the best shows on Disney Plus.
We've watched a whole lot of television – too much! – to bring you this very list of everything excellent on Disney Plus. There are some of the streamer's originals that are required viewing for anyone with a subscription; a few documentaries for those looking for an educational time; and, of course, some animated classics that, though you may already be familiar with, are well worth re-watching. So, put down that screen and get watching another with our list of the best shows on Disney Plus.
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Let's be frank – if you have a Disney Plus subscription, you have probably already watched The Mandalorian. This is the streaming service's first must-watch original show – one that's great as a standalone series, but also expands the Star Wars universe in a meaningful way.
The Mandalorian follows a masked bounty hunter whose story quickly becomes entangled with a strange, green creature known officially as 'The Child' – though you will probably know it as Baby Yoda. The pair go on various adventures around a galaxy far, far away, becoming closer as the series progresses. Whether you're a fan of the movies or not, you'll probably find something to like in The Baby Yoda Show.
The Imagineering Story
Yes, cynics will dismiss The Imagineering Studio as simply a show constructed to help build Disney's reputation, revelling in all the joy the studio has put out without dealing with some of the darker elements of its past. Yet, rather than being a simple puff piece, the series offers a glance behind the curtain at Disney, and marks an educational historical document that will have anyone who's watched Disney's animated movies with nostalgic pangs hitting them every minute.
Those Disney Plus subscribers fully on board the Disney train will find a lot to enjoy here – just don't expect a tough documentary. And sometimes, that's no bad thing.
We don’t talk enough about Donald Duck’s Scottish heritage. So, thank you to DuckTales for bringing us that reminder in the form of Scrooge McDuck – an eccentric billionaire who somehow hasn’t yet been crushed to death from repeatedly diving into a pool of solid gold coins. He’s obsessed with maintaining his status as “the richest duck in the world”, which doesn’t give him much time to look after his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, foisted onto him after Donald decided to join the US Navy (of course).
DuckTales (woohoohoo!) not only has one of the catchiest theme tunes to have ever been created, but it was also the reliable highlight of Disney Afternoon’s line-up. It’s a series filled with escapist adventures and globe-trotting intrigue. There are vikings, knights, pirates, and ghosts – who knows who we’ll meet and where we’ll go. And it’s great to see that same sense of ingenuity maintained for the 2017 reboot.
Great Migrations (2010)
We all know that Disney acquired a frankly terrifying amount of properties when it snapped up 20th Century Fox. Included in the deal was National Geographic, which conveniently means that Disney Plus will now be able to offer a lot more than just cartoons and hyperactive teen stars. Great Migrations, for example, is a seven-episode miniseries which follows the dangerous, awe-inspiring journeys undertaken by creatures both big and small – from delicate butterflies to gargantuan whale sharks.
Great Migrations has long been one of the jewels in National Geographic’s crown. At the time, it was the largest-scale enterprise the channel had ever launched and some have even argued that it’s better than the BBC’s Planet Earth. It’s a bold, but not totally unjustified claim, particularly when it comes to the show’s experimental finale. It features zero narration, meaning viewers can immerse themselves completely in all the wonders of nature.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)
Although things first kicked off with a 2008 feature film, the Clone Wars series has since carried on the story, filling in the three year-gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Both Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi feature prominently as characters, as they lead the Republic against the Separatist forces first brought together by former Jedi Count Dooku.
Despite the returning character, though, it’s all about Asohka. It’s pretty astounding that a character from an animated spin-off series has slowly grown into one of the most popular Star Wars characters of all time. She’s a hero with enough of a concrete sense of right and wrong that she’s able to question the very establishment she yearned to be a part of, making the choice to leave the Jedi Order because she no longer believes in the nobility of its practices. It’s an incredible piece of drama and an interesting way to muddy the waters without throwing out the entire concept of the light and dark side. Plus, the last season – a Disney Plus exclusive – is excellent.
Can we call it the ultimate X-men TV series? It’s relatively faithful in copying the look and feel of the comics at the time (specifically those drawn by Jim Lee) and makes perfect use of a familiar lineup: Cyclops, Wolverine, Rogue, Storm, Beast, Gambit, Jubilee, Jean Grey, and Professor X. Although a lot of the stories are completely original, the show isn’t afraid to dip in and out of the source material – it arguably features the best on-screen adaptation of the Dark Phoenix storyline (sorry, Famke Janssen and Sophie Turner).
The animation may have been on the cheap and cheerful side, but it nailed the thrilling action of the comics. It also committed to a more serious tone that didn’t feel overly grim, while also avoiding the kind of cutesy gimmicks that feel like they’ve been created just to sell toys. It was unique at the time for having multi-episode arcs, which not only had a major influence on Saturday morning TV, but even helped pave the way for the live-action movies. And give it up for the show's killer theme.
That's So Raven (2003)
That’s So Raven is best described as mildly supernatural, hitting a midpoint between Lizzie McGuire and Wizards of Waverly Place. Our hero Raven has psychic abilities but, unlike most pop culture physics, she doesn’t go crazy and start killing verybody. Instead, she mainly uses her powers to help out her family and advance her career as an aspiring fashion designer.
That’s So Raven is the undisputed peak of Disney Channel sitcoms. So much so, it convinced the network to finally discard with their bizarre rule of limiting every series to 65 episodes. It’s a winner partially because of the chemistry between Raven Symone and her onscreen friends, played by Anneliese Van Der Pol and Orlando Brown. But, more importantly, Symone herself is a delight in every second she occupies the screen. She can sell goofy physical comedy like no nobody else.
The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1988)
The reason there’s a “new” in the title is because the show follows on pretty directly from the 1977 film The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (and the handful of shorts that came after it). Inspired by A.A. Milne’s stories, it follows our beloved bear as he wanders aimlessly through the Hundred Acre Woods, doling out zen catchphrases and getting his curvaceous behind stuck in various burrows and tree stumps. Everyone’s favourites are here, from Eeyore to Tigger, while it remains the only series to regularly feature Christopher Robin as a character.
The series is a near-perfect continuation of the stories we all know and love. It just has such a calming presence. It’s like a big hug from someone wearing a fuzzy jumper or a cup of tea on a blustery day.
The Simpsons (1989)
The first 11 seasons fo The Simpsons are arguably some of the best television of all time. Admittedly, the show isn’t quite the titan that it used to be. Most people would agree that it’s been steadily declining in quality over the past few years, but The Simpsons still changed the face of television, ushering in a new era of smart, witty, and adventurous comedy writing.
It’s more well-known episodes have become integrated into our culture and into our language, to the point that you can barely make it through a day now without someone in your life trying to drop a reference (unless, of course, that person is you). And now it’s all here on Disney Plus, which is a little ironic considering many people reacted to the news of Disney’s ever-expanding monopoly with the line, “I, for one, welcome our new rodent overlords.”
Phineas and Ferb (2007)
Like many of the shows on this list, Phineas and Ferb is all about siblings hatching up harebrained schemes. In this case, the biggest threat to their success is their sister Candace (this universe appears to contradict the wisdom of “snitches get stitches”, as Candace remains unharmed throughout the show’s entirety). While the kids keep busy, their pet platypus Perry has a sideline career as a secret agent.
The show was once described by its co-creator Dan Povenmire as a cross between SpongeBob SquarePants and Family Guy (he’s worked on both). It blends the former’s silliness with the latter’s love of pop culture. This careful balance is what makes the show such a cross-generation hit. There’s something for everyone, all tied together by the sweet, affecting way Phineas and Ferb’s relationship – as two step brothers – is represented.
Agents of Shield (2012)
Remember Agent Coulson? The guy who apparently died in Avengers? Well, he didn't actually die. Actually, he sorta did die but ended up going to this place called Tahiti – a magical place – where he was resurrected and brought back to work for Shield and put together a new team, this time with only one of two super-powered beings.
Leading the way is Skye, later Quake, played by Chloe Bennet. She's a skilled hacker who doesn't want anything to do with Coulson – soon enough, he's basically a surrogate father. While the first season may be a bit of a slog, keep with Agents of Shield and you're bound to have a good time, especially when it comes to Ghost Rider and the time-twisting shenanigans of the later seasons. And, of course, there's FitzSimmons, the best love story in the MCU. There, we said it!
Elena of Avalor (2016)
Elena certainly has her fans. She's a 16-year-old princess who was trapped in an amulet for 41 years, before being unleashed just in time to save her kingdom from an evil sorceress. She wants to rule with a fair and compassionate hand but, as we soon discover, that isn’t always so easy.
Elena is very much a modern Disney princess. She’s a leader, a fighter, and has a really great wardrobe. She also happens to be Disney’s first Latinx princess, hailing from the fictional country of Avalor, created to be a blend of Latin cultures and beliefs. For example, we see her celebrate the Mexican holiday of Día de Muertos. An incredible amount of thought and care has gone into this series, which is why it can stand tall next to the likes of Brave or Moana.
The Incredible Hulk – Series (1996)
The Incredible Hulk may have only lasted for two seasons, but it certainly didn’t skimp on the action. We start off with Bruce Banner on the run from General Ross, while also in search of a cure so that he can finally separate himself from his big, green, and angry alter ego. By the time season two rolled around, however, She-Hulk’s role was beefed up and the show’s named was changed to The Incredible Hulk and She-Hulk. That coincidentally makes it pretty good homework for those wanting to study up before Disney Plus drops its own live-action She-Hulk series.
The Incredible Hulk is a fairly faithful translation of the source comics, not only in its look, but in the many cameos from familiar heroes. We get appearances from Iron Man, Thor, War Machine, Doctor Strange, and the Fantastic Four – all characters that even the most casual of Marvel fans are now sure to recognise. The cherry on top, however, is Lou Ferrigno’s returns as the voice of the Hulk, having famously played him in the '70s live-action series.
Timon & Pumbaa (1995)
Set after the events of The Lion King, the series follows the pair on a whole new host of comical misadventures, with Simba occasionally dropping by to set them back on the straight and narrow. If he’s not available, you might get Rafiki, Zazu, or the hyenas (Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed) instead. While most of the action takes place on the African plains, the show is notable for sending them out on a number of international tours, with stops in both Canada and Antarctica. Although Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella initially returned to voice Timon and Pumbaa, Lane was later replaced by Kevin Schon and then Quinton Flynn.
Timon and Pumbaa are absolute scene-stealers. The show works as a Disney-branded riff on the Looney Tunes, leaning heavily into slapstick comedy and surreal logic (how do you think they got to Canada?). It also serves as a mini-precursor to the Lion King 1 ½, a deeply underrated sequel.
The Suite Life of Zack & Cody
Riverdale fans will already be familiar with one of the stars of Suite Life, Cole Sprouse, who here got his start alongside his twin brother Dylan. The duo play Zack and Cody, while the basic premise of the show revolves around the question, “How cool would it be to live in a hotel?” The answer is very cool, as it allows you to get up to all sorts of hijinks. The show also features a Paris Hilton parody in the form of Brenda Song’s London Tipton and a role for High School Musical’s Ashley Tisdale.
It’s unashamedly goofy, fulfilling the childish fantasy of having no rules and no limitations. These kids run riot. It’s like the hotel turns them into non-murderous, sugar-fuelled little Jack Torrances. It’s definitely miles away from Jughead “I’m a weirdo” Jones, but it’s the kind of fluff that is pure Disney Channel.
Recess (for UK readers, that means break time) throws together a bunch of misfit fourth-graders, as they struggle against the microcosm of society presented to them on the school playground. It’s a place filled with strict laws and codes, ruled over by the ruthless sixth-grader named King Bob.
Not only are the characters instantly likeable (Spinelli for president), but Recess seems thematically complex for a kid’s TV show. The way the opening titles parody The Great Escape is a good indicator of what the series is aiming for: a smart satire about the suppression of the individual by society. Everyone is broken down into their cliques, from the popular girls to the (possibly) cannibalistic tribe of kindergartners. It’s a place where the biggest rebellion of all is just being yourself.
Star Wars Resistance (2018)
While the animated shows of the past have focused largely on the gap between the prequels and the original trilogy, Star Wars Resistance takes place right before, and then runs parallel to, the new sequels. Its protagonist is Kazuda Xiono, a pilot recruited by the Resistance and asked to spy on the comings and goings of the First Order. Although it’s got a whole new cast of characters, there are still appearances from familiar faces like Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), and BB-8.
Created by Dave Filoni –who’s also behind Clone Wars and Rebels – Resistance is interesting in how it diverges from the usual stories about the Jedi Order, meaning that, like Rogue One, we get to see how ordinary people in the Resistance get by. Kazuda’s high-flying antics definitely have a touch of Top Gun to them, too.
Gravity Falls (2012)
Created by Alex Hirsch, Gravity Falls blends the nostalgic feeling of long summer days with the thrill of the supernatural. So, it’s like Stranger Things, but also nothing like Stranger Things. Twins Dipper and Mabel are dropped off in a remote town in order to spend their vacation with their great uncle Stan Pines (otherwise known as Grunkle Stan). Soon enough, they start unravelling a few of the local mysteries.
Gravity Falls is Disney’s contribution to the modern era of original children’s programming – the kind that’s proven as addictive for adults as it is for kids. It’s a spiritual sibling to the likes of Adventure Time and The Amazing World of Gumball. The show’s success is also partially down to how brilliant its voice cast is, with the likes of Kristen Schaal, Jason Ritter, Linda Cardellini, and J.K. Simmons all on board. And, since it only lasted two seasons, the show actually delivered on an overarching mystery that was conclusively solved by the last episode.
Darkwing Duck (1991)
The avian world’s answer to Batman, Darkwing Duck is set in an entirely different universe to DuckTales, despite there being several crossover characters. Darkwing, the secret identity of Drake Mallard, always does the right thing in the end, but does struggle a little too much with keeping his ego in check. He’s joined by a loyal sidekick in the form of Launchpad McQuack – a lovable, dimwitted pilot who also happens to Darkwing’s number one fan.
Darkwing Duck may have been a staple of Disney’s afternoon lineup in the '90s, but it was also of a slightly different breed to the rest. While DuckTales and Talespin work as broad adventure stories, Darkwing was created as a parody of the pulp heroes and comic book characters of the '30s and '40s. Even the city of St. Canard was clearly based on Gotham City. It’s a silly, light-hearted homage to the past greats.
Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted (2019)
Any streaming service worth its salt has a good cooking show. It fulfils our base desires to watch delicious meals be prepared, all while we shove fistfuls of Doritos into our mouths and wipe the cheese dust on our sweatpants. Thankfully, Disney Plus is here to deliver. Gordon Ramsay’s globe-trotting National Geographic show sees him travel across the world, from Laos to Alaska, in order to broaden his own horizons as a chef.
Ramsay got a lot of unfavourable comparisons to Anthony Bourdain (who passed away in 2018) for this. Yet, while Bourdain was always an expert in international cuisine, Ramsay presents himself here as more flawed in his learning. He has to deconstruct his own preconceptions and be open to learning from others. He reluctantly eats bugs and struggles to navigate through the harsh environments he visits. For a chef known mostly for yelling at people, it’s humbling for his image.
Even Stevens (2000)
The legacy of Even Stevens probably begins and ends with the fact that it made Shia LaBeouf a star. He plays Louis, a prank king who’s gross and endearing in equal measure. He often clashes with his older sister Ren, an overachiever with zero time for nonsense.
Your view of the series may have been warped if you’ve caught the movie Honey Boy, which was partially inspired by LaBeouf’s experiences as a child actor. In later life, the actor suffered from PTSD and alcoholism. But it was always obvious from Even Stevens that he was destined for big things, too: his comic timing is impeccable, even if it’s something he’s never revisited much in his later career. Even Stevens was always one of the Disney Channel’s funniest shows. It’s just a shame that it was cancelled after it passed the 65-episode limit – a weird, slightly nonsensical rule imposed by the network.
Kim Possible (2002)
Life as a teenager is already a lot to handle. It only gets worse when you add in all the responsibilities of being an international spy. Thankfully, Kim is helped along the way by her best friend Ron Stoppable (largely ineffectual, but he tries) and his pet naked mole-rat Rufus. She even has her own dedicated arch-enemies in the form of Dr Drakken and his sidekick Shego. Last year, the show spawned a live-action adaptation and it remains one of Disney’s most popular shows, despite ending in 2007.
Kim has really earned her place as one of TV’s greatest onscreen heroines. She’s smart, she kicks ass, but still faces all the same problems and obstacles that every teen goes through. And she’s a true post-feminist: tough as nails, but still the pretty, popular cheerleader-type. Kim can really have it all – and that includes fighting in a crop top. But the show is also refreshingly funny and self-aware, offering a rare acknowledgement of the huge role the internet had started to play in teens’ lives.
Look, TaleSpin makes absolutely no sense. It’s just that '90s kids learned not to question it. Inspired by the classic film Casablanca, it casts The Jungle Book’s Baloo (whose full name is now Baloo von Bruinwald XIII) as a bush pilot whose air cargo freight business is acquired by the sharp, hotheaded Rebecca Cunningham. The pair spend their time fighting off air pirates, while maintaining the scintillating chemistry of the screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s.
It’s TaleSpin’s unabashed weirdness that made it work so well. It had the same appetite for adventure as the likes of DuckTales and Rescue Rangers, while its weirdly precise historical setting (around 1938) did well to sell the idea that this was basically Indiana Jones with talking animals. It’s something we never asked for but definitely won’t say no to.
X-Men: Evolution (2000)
Like an X-Men version of the Muppet Babies, the series sees many of our favourite mutant heroes aged down to teenagers (with the notable exceptions of Professor X, Wolverine, and Storm). They spend most of their time battling Magneto, as usual, while season 3 has mutants become public knowledge. It lets the show delve into the themes of prejudice that underpin the comics. There’s even a big face-off with Apocalypse, who’s looking a lot less surly than Oscar Isaac’s version.
While it’s less fondly remembered than the X-Men series of the '90s, Evolution is still very much a worthwhile watch. The show actually benefits from resisting the impulse to stay absolutely faithful to the comics. Instead, it has fun. It plays around with the characters and their appearances. X-Men: Evolution also happens to be responsible for the creation of X-23, who soon made her way to the comics and then on to 2017’s Logan.
Hannah Montana (2005)
The genesis of pop star and controversy hoarder Miley Cyrus, the show teases the thrills of living a double life. By day, she’s just your average American schoolgirl, Miley Stewart. By night, she’s top-selling recording artist, Hannah Montana. The show seemed dedicated to building Cyrus’ own brand image, since she basically played herself and roped in her own dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, to star as the show’s patriarch.
The idea that people wouldn’t know that Miley and Hanna are the same person, considering the only difference between them is a blonde wig, is downright hilarious. Apparently Clark Kent’s glasses were just too much of a convincing disguise for these people. But that’s the charm of this show. It’s so unabashedly positive, nice, and silly that it’s no wonder that so many people have admitted to it being a guilty pleasure. There’s no doubt about it – Hannah Montana was a wildly successful enterprise.
The dark horse of Disney’s afternoon programming, Gargoyles imagines that New York’s gargoyles, perched high above the city, come to life at night. In fact, back in the 1st century AD, they all lived freely and happily over in Scotland. Then the humans swooped in, hunted them down, and cursed them to a stony sleep – one they’ve finally woken up from thousands of years later and in a strange new world. As they adjust to the modern pace of life, they find the time to take down a bad guy or two.
Sat side-by-side with the likes of DuckTales and TaleSpin, it’s clear Gargoyles was never going to be as big a hit. Its stories were on an epic scale, drawing from British folklore and Shakespeare’s tragedies, especially Macbeth. Its tone was often dark and gothic. But it’s those same ingredients that have garnered it quite the cult following – director Jordan Peele is a fan and has even expressed interest in directing a live-action version.
Boy Meets World (1993)
It’s a true throwback to the era when cute boys with curtained hair ruled the world. Fans watched Cory Matthews navigate the perils of high school and make it all the way to college, thanks to the help of his best friend Rider, love interest Topanga, and neighbour and teacher (later principal) Mr Feeny.
In a way, it was the starting point for Disney’s empire of teen sitcoms. Without Cory and Topanga, there surely wouldn’t have been a Lizzie, Hannah, or Raven. But, more importantly, it’s one of the first teen shows that feels genuinely relatable to its audience. Cory is just a normal kid doing his best to get by. He isn’t particularly smart or popular, nor is he hiding some kind of secret – he isn’t a spy or a vampire behind closed doors. The world around him isn’t always perfect: there are serious discussions of child abuse, poverty, sexual harassment, and alcoholism. And that honesty can mean a lot to a teen looking for a little guidance.
Lizzie McGuire (2001)
A direct spiritual descendant of Boy Meets World, Lizzie McGuire similarly deals with an average girl who wants more than anything to become popular. The difference here is that we occasionally get to climb inside her head thanks to an animated alter ego, who’s there to rhapsodise about all the highs and lows of tween life. Lizzie McGuire is making a big splash on Disney Plus thanks to a new revival, so expect to hear a whole lot more from her and the tiny person living inside her head. Hilary Duff will reprise her role as Lizzie, now a millennial fashion designer in New York.
The animated Lizzie is less of a gimmick than it seems. It helps deepen the character by making her immediately vulnerable – we know that her miniature self is always just seconds away from spilling the beans when it comes to Lizzie’s true emotions. But Lizzie also appeals because of her inherent niceness. It's probably the purest of all the Disney shows, so let's hope the 2019 version follows suit.
Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers (1989)
What if Indiana Jones and Magnum PI teamed up, but were also chipmunks? It’s a question that no one in history has ever asked except for the creators of Rescue Rangers, who nabbed Mickey’s pals Chip ‘n Dale and made them the owners of a detective agency that specialises in miniature crimes. It made about as much sense as TaleSpin, with the heroes here also going on weekly adventures that seemed to draw from the old adventure serials of the '30s and '40s.
It has the second catchiest theme tune of all the Disney cartoons. But, more than that, the Indy-Magnum PI mashup actually works surprisingly well as an odd couple situation. Chip, with his fedora, is the more serious of the two, while Dale is goofier and sports a Hawaiian shirt. Plus, it was really boosted by the supporting characters, including the extremely Australian Monty and quick-thinking Gadget.
Star Wars Rebels (2014)
The series is set five years before A New Hope, at a time when the Empire is ruthlessly hunting down Jedi after the execution of Order 66, all while the first sparks of rebellion start to take form. Ezra, a street urchin with force abilities, comes under the guidance of Kanan. Together they form the crew of the rebel ship Ghost alongside Hera, its crack pilot, and Sabine, a Mandalorian and a former bounty hunter.
The most recent Star Wars animated shows have been a massive success thanks to the immense talent and intense geekery of one Dave Filoni – the creator behind Rebels, Clone Wars, Resistance, and the web series Forces of Destiny. He also happens to be directing two episodes of The Mandalorian. In short, he’s a kind of Yoda figure in the fandom. It’s his dedication that makes Rebels feel like such an authentic part of the Star Wars universe. It’s just so rich, from its characters to its storylines.