My Disney Top 5 - Disney+ - Two Years Laterby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. Quick show of hands out there—what significance does the date November 12, 2019 have for us Disney fans? What was it that happened two years ago right around now? If you've read the title to this particular Top 5 then you already know. November 12 two years ago was the launch date for Disney+, the Walt Disney Company's exclusive streaming platform.
It was roughly three years ago in November 2018 that then-CEO Bob Iger made the official announcement that Disney was, in fact, throwing its hat into the world of online streaming content, hoping to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon. Three years later it seems like such an afterthought because the streaming world is now jampacked with competition. It seems like everyone is in the streaming business. After the pandemic shuttered theaters, people turned to their streaming services in droves and, you hate to say it, but Disney+ kind of benefited from people being trapped at home.
Ten million people subscribed on the first day two years ago, and I was certainly one of them. Since then the numbers have climbed to a staggering 100 million paid subscribers, far outdoing the company's own projections of 60 to 90 million by the year 2024. If you're a stats junkie and want to know just how many people watch Disney+, how they watch it and other factoids like just how much of the streaming market they command, just check out Brian Dean's excellent summation on backlinko.com. So, yes Disney+ has been a tremendous success for the company. That can't be denied. But two years in, the question beckons: "Is it really any good?"
As usual, I'm not here just to tout the company's success but to take a closer look and answer the question, "Is Disney+ living up to a fan's expectations?" Let me state right from the start that from the beginning Disney+ had me on board. I knew when I heard rumblings early on in the Disneysphere that I would be subscribing. Two years later, I'm still a subscriber and I have to say that, overall, I've been pretty darn satisfied. At times, Disney+ has been downright essential viewing in this household. That said, this is a column about lists, so with Disney+ about to celebrating its second birthday, let's get to it with my wrap up of the past two years. And let me just add before I get started, this was a terribly hard list to craft. All five of these could be considered my number 1 choice for the past two years. They're all that good.
5 – Pixar SparkShorts
This is just the kind of thing that I was hoping to get out of Disney+. The Walt Disney Company essentially all stems from the animated short. That's the genesis of it all. It all started with a mouse, as Walt himself famously said. But it all started with a mouse starring in an animated short. I'm sure a lot of us have fond memories of being a child at the weekend matinee and seeing an animated short before the movie. I'm not that old, but I do remember that. And one of the things I still love about seeing a Pixar or a Disney movie in the theater is that they typically play an animated short first. My hope was that when Disney+ was launched, that we would get to see the company churn out more and more of what made them famous in the first place. Leave it to Pixar to take that one step further with a series of what they call SparkShorts.
If you aren't aware, SparkShorts is a program within Pixar where employees are given six months and a limited budget to come up with animated shorts. The intent is to mine their company for talent, seek out that "spark" of creativity from an up-and-coming storyteller, and give them the opportunity to bring their vision to life on the screen. First of all, how cool is that? What a great way to explore your staff and inspire them to be the next wave of Pixar animators and storytellers. The results so far have been 10 wonderful animated shorts that are all completely worth watching. My favorites so far have been Kitbull, the unlikely pairing of a tiny alley kitten and an abused pitbull.
...and Wind, which is...well, you should just watch it for yourself because it's a little hard to explain—but definitely well worth viewing.
I was thrilled when these shorts premiered on the SparkShorts YouTube channel, but now they have a perfect home on Disney+. You're literally getting to see the future of the world's greatest animation company unfurl as new talent is discovered and great stories produced. It's a fantastic series and I hope they keep them coming.
4 – Behind the Attraction
One of the things that I never quite understood about the Disney Channel was what I always perceived as a disconnect between the channel and the Disney parks. Sure, every once in a while if a new attraction was premiering the parks, there would be some cross-promotion. "Here's the stars of the latest Disney Channel tween series riding the very latest Disney Parks super headliner attraction!" But any Disney fan will tell you that they want to see more of the Disney parks and resorts when they can't be there in person. That's why this very site exists. That's why we fans will watch other fans live streaming from the parks. That's why we'll literally have "Disney park music loop" videos on YouTube playing in the background as we go about our typical day (I kid you not, I'm listening to a Magic Kingdom loop right now as I write this article). The possibilities are endless and with the advent of a streaming platform like Disney+, would we finally get programs narrowcasted to us obsessive Disney fans who spend most waking moments daydreaming about Walt Disney World or Disneyland? The answer from Disney+ was Behind the Attraction.
A friend of mine who's also a Disney nut, doesn't actually want to know what's going on behind the scenes of the attractions. He prefers to keep it mysterious. Not me. From the moment I stepped foot on Walt Disney World property, I've wanted to know how they do what they do. So this is the perfect Disney+ series for a guy like me. Tell me all the stories behind the development of the iconic Disney attractions. I want it all. My favorite episodes so far have been The Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain and Star Tours, but to be perfectly honest all 10 episodes are fantastic. Please, please, please Disney+, keep them coming.
3 – WandaVision
Growing up, I read a lot of comics, but they were almost exclusively DC comics. I was and still am a huge fan of the Justice League, Green Lantern and The Flash. For some inexplicable reason, I stayed away from the Marvel universe of characters. Later on in life, however, when I started taking my kids to see the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I started reading and paying attention to Stan Lee's remarkable stable of characters and became quite enamored with Marvel's brilliant storytelling history. Two characters that struck me the most in the Avengers films were Wanda Maximoff and Vision. I loved their storyline and was thrilled to hear that Disney+ was kicking off their slate of Marvel streaming series with something called WandaVision.
I can still remember watching the very first episode and wondering, "What the heck is going on here?" As a television guy my whole life, I was pretty blown away with that first episode. I knew something amazing was happening when the Marvel logo transformed into black and white and the theme music sort of went ...mono? And then I see what seems to be an impeccable re-creation of a classic TV sitcom come to life. But for some reason it was starring the Scarlet Witch and Vision. It looked exactly like The Dick Van Dyke Show. As a matter of fact Dick Van Dyke was hired as a consultant for the series. And they didn't let up. They kept at it episode after episode playing out classic TV sitcom plot lines like going to the bosses house for dinner, yet ever so slightly leaking in details that something else is going on. I thought it was brilliant television and still feel it's one of the most unique things I've ever watched.
2 – The Mandalorian
So, I remember when I first heard that there was going to be several Star Wars series on Disney+. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. And the first one will be about a bounty hunter that kind of looks like Boba Fett? If I didn't already sign up for Disney+, the possibility of anything new from the world of Star Wars would have been enough to make me subscribe. One of the greatest TV moments of my life was the reveal of what was being called Baby Yoda. I watched in utter shock and was counting the hours until the next episode. That's a rare thing, and it was handled so perfectly. These days, it's hard to keep any secrets from the public. All sorts of television and film details leak out on the internet. Baby Yoda never leaked, at least not to me. He was a true Holy Crap moment for a true Star Wars fan like me. "Is this Yoda? It can't be." there were so many questions. And it didn't stop there. Boba Fett returned. Ahsoka Tano returned.
The whole series delivered just what any Star Wars fan was searching for, consistent visits to the galaxy far, far away produced with respect and admiration for the originals we all fell in love with. The Madalorian felt like Star Wars because it completely was Star Wars. Kudos go to the entire team behind this fantastic series for keeping us entrenched in the Star Wars universe so adeptly. I imagine most of you out there who care enough about the Star Wars universe have seen the entire series, but just in case there's some reader who inexplicably hasn't, be prepared, the final moments of season 2 are life altering.
1 – Prop Culture – The Muppet Movie
For longer than I can remember I've been a collector. For many years, I wrote a column called "Disney Stuff" here on MousePlanet exploring all sorts of pieces of Disney collectibles and paraphernalia that I've accumulated over my time as a fan. Each of those articles tended to deal with the emotional side to collecting. The stuff that I collect actually means something to me. Each piece of stuff brings back specific memories and moments in time that are significant. That's why we treasure all of this stuff so much. The Prop Culture series on Disney+ is much more than a show about Disney film props. It's about tracking down film artifacts and reuniting them with someone who either used them, designed them or physically created them. My favorite episode, and it's no surprise, has to be the one covering The Muppet Movie.
My first job out of college was working for Jim Henson Productions. It was a brief but remarkable time in my life. While I was there, I spent a lot of time working side by side with the prop team and the art director. There was a tremendous amount of creative thought that went into what each Muppet wore or handled as props. That care is personified in the episode when host Dan Lanigan is presented with the very banjo that Kermit "played" in the opening scene of The Muppet Movie. It's one of the most iconic moments in film history—a frog sitting in a swamp playing a banjo and singing "The Rainbow Connection." Paul Williams, who wrote "The Rainbow Connection," hands the tiny banjo to Lanigan and says, " You know, there's a spirit in some inanimate objects when they have been held by people with a deep wisdom and a spiritual life.." He's talking about Jim Henson, of course, and I couldn't agree with him more. I worked and spoke with Jim briefly, but he absolutely imprinted a little bit of his magic on me and it's something indescribable that's still with me to this day.
Prop Culture is a wonderful series that really reveals the emotional impact that these objects brought to the silver screen and the deeply personal memories that they rekindle in the people that helped deliver those magical moments. The Muppet Movie episode of Prop Culture is my single favorite moment of anything that's been on Disney+ because I'm proud to say that, for a brief clip of time, I was one of those people personally affected by some inanimate pieces of cloth and foam and all the little pieces of stuff they wore and handled. This episode spoke right to me and it's just the kind of thing I was hoping that Disney+ would deliver.
So, it's safe to say that Disney+ has been ridiculously successful financially. When COVID shut the world down, Disney+ might just have been the thing that saved the Walt Disney Company from being far worse off. It's my understanding that the top brass were a little concerned if their platform was going to be able to hold its own against the beast that is Netflix. My guess is that the over 100 million subscribers have answered that question. Netflix is still ahead, but the subscription base for Disney+ continues to grow—and obviously, the execs' worries were assuaded.
Has it appealed to the fans? This fan, as if you couldn't tell from this Top 5 list, has been more than happy with the offerings of the last two years. Consider the awesome choices that I left off of this list. I can't believe that I had to boot off The Imagineering Story, Loki, Howard, One Day at Disney, and countless others. And what about the future? You can only imagine how much this Star Wars fan is looking forward to the Obi Wan series as well as The Book of Boba Fett. There sems to be so much more to come from every corner of the Disney universe on Disney+. I've been a happy subscriber since day one and I don't see that changing anytime in the near future. I still watch traditional television, but I've fully embraced the multiple streaming services out there, none more so than Disney+.
That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below to share your thoughts on the first two years of Disney+. Stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.