On Friday afternoon, at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, California, Disney publicly unveiled its plans for the launch of Disney+, its direct-to-consumer streaming platform that legitimately hopes to rival Netflix, Amazon, and the soon-to-launch Apple platform. There had been announcements before and operational tech demos, but this was the grand debut of Disney+ in living color – trailers were shown, stars beamed enthusiastically, and a case was made for why this isn’t just the newest streaming option or the flashiest, but the best and most substantial. And by the end of the two-hour presentation, as “+”-shaped confetti rained down from the ceiling, we were sold … and that was without showing anything from the recently acquired Fox portfolio (of which we already know they have aggressive plans). Disney+, just on the strength of what was shown on Friday, is already our favorite streaming service. And it doesn’t even launch until November 12th.
Part of what made the presentation so strong was that the initial line-up of titles, on both the TV and movie side of things, mix the familiar with the fresh, sometimes within the same project (like the first live action “Star Wars” TV series, “The Mandalorian”). Right out of the gate, Disney+ seems to be committed to projects that will include well-known properties but also some things that are out of left field but at the same time positively essential (“Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made,” a kind of oddball kids detective story, looks fantastic). The fact that, as was revealed elsewhere during D23 Expo, the original series would be released week-by-week allows you to explore other aspects of Disney+ in between episodes and keeps everyone on the same page in terms of discussing the latest revelations and plot reveals. (Nothing like having something ruined on twitter by someone who’s swept through an entire season overnight.)
And Disney+ has a very deep bench of preexisting material that will make its way onto the platform – during the panel they said that all of Pixar’s movies would be available on the service and, very soon, as of the “Star Wars” movies would be too. And while it wasn’t mentioned during the panel, we know from previous reports that every single episode of “The Simpsons” will be on the platform. That’s a lot of stuff to get through!
One of the more surprising moments of the panel came when they briefly highlighted the documentary offerings that will be on Disney+. Sure, there’s “The World According to Jeff Goldblum,” a new National Geographic show that looks delightfully strange. Goldblum was on hand to coo and crow about the show, which has him investigating things that interest him, like tattoos, ice cream and sneakers. But there were also sneak peeks at equally engrossing nonfiction content, including a new Disneynature movie narrated by Natalie Portman called “Dolphin Reef” and a documentary series about seeing eye dogs. And there are announced projects that they didn’t even tease, like a documentary series about Walt Disney Imagineering (the division of the company responsible for all things parks and cruise lines) and another series about the women of the Ink & Paint department (inspired by Mindy Johnson’s terrific book).
If things like “The Mandalorian” and “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” (a kind of meta offshoot of the popular Disney Channel series done in the fashion of a Christopher Guest faux documentary) are the platform’s killer apps, then the library material and the documentary stuff are what will sustain it.
Virtually everything that they previewed during the panel, from the return of beloved “Star Wars” animated series “The Clone Wars” (coming back February 2020!) to a series of Pixar animated shorts called “Forky Asks a Question” (the first episode had Forky questioning money, with some help from Ham), played incredibly well. Virtually everything was a home run, even original films like “Togo,” a period sled dog movie that was shot like a Terrence Malick film, that nobody knew anything about. “Togo” was the type of original project that Disney would have released theatrically, just a few months ago, one of their classy, non-franchise projects that does more for the brand than the box office but have been all but phased out. The fact that these movies can live and flourish on a platform like Disney+ is really, really exciting.
Around the time of Disney+’s big debut this weekend, there was dissent online about how no R-rated content would be on the new streaming platform. Why anyone thought that there would be R-rated content on Disney+ is kind of beyond me, but with the announcements that came out of the panel (including Marvel Studio’s reveal that they are working on three additional television series, “Moon Knight,” “She-Hulk” and “Ms. Marvel”) left us with the sensation that Disney+ doesn’t even need that stuff to be exciting. Disney+ seems to be a platform that will contain everything you love about Disney, Star Wars, Marvel, Disney Animation, National Geographic and Pixar, tidily wrapped up in one package and festooned with all sorts of stuff you’re going to love, just as soon as you see it (seriously, “Timmy Failure” is going to be a smash). It feels fresh and exciting and innovative and yet still classically Disney. As soon as the presentation was over, I went and signed up for three years of the service for a reduced rate. After seeing that material, was there any other option?