The launch of Disney+ this week provided the perfect escape in the era of social distancing
The platform's impressive back catalogue makes staying in that much more enjoyable, says Simon Button
by Simon Button
The launch of Disney+ in the UK couldn’t have been better timed. Coming some four-plus months since it debuted in the States, much to the chagrin of those chomping at the bit to see The Mandalorian through legal means, the new kid on the streaming block arrived on Tuesday this week - just after the UK closed schools to all but the children of essential workers, everyone but those essential workers was instructed to work from home and the country was put on social lockdown.
Suddenly £5.99 for a month or £59.99 for a year sounds very tempting, given that you’re getting more than 1,000 films and TV shows across the Disney, Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar and National Geographic brands. That’s cheaper than getting Netflix in HD and only a pound more than Apple TV+, which only has a few original series so far (from the brilliant Little America to the flawed The Morning Show) and there’s a seven-day free trial so you can suss if it’s worth forking out for.
I download the app to my Apple TV box and iPad and wade in on launch day. Keen to explore the interface (which, unlike the confusing and cluttered Apple TV+ home page, is really easy to navigate) I alight on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. The title is intriguingly meta, the premiere episode - in which students at the high school where the original High School Musical movie was supposedly filmed audition for a High School Musical musical - not so much. I’m hoping for a guilty pleasure, full of spiky Glee-style dialogue, but it’s a bit flat, though it might get better as episodes are rolled out weekly.
The Disney+ roll-outs for its original programming seem a bit random, actually. This week, for example, they’re offering two episodes of The Mandalorian (which we’ll get to shortly), ditto for the final season of The Clone Wars, but all 12 episodes of The World According To Jeff Goldblum are yours to stream or download.
Lucky to live in a block that has a huge roof terrace perfect for social distancing, I load the first instalment called 'Sneakers' onto my iPad and head up there for a lunch break. It turns out to be wryly amusing, with Goldblum trying on a pair of electronic specs that can gauge your reaction to said footwear’s attractiveness through your facial expressions - which is quite hilarious when your face is as flexible as Jeff’s. "This is gonna be a fun diversion from the news each day," I think to myself as I resist the temptation to download episode two until the next day.
My resistance is also surprisingly strong when it comes to The Mandalorian. I wait until the following evening. Chapter one of this much-raved-about-from-overseas Star Wars spin-off, set some five years after Return of the Jedi, turns out to be absolutely brilliant - charting as it does the adventures of bounty hunter Din Djarin on the outer rim of the Star Wars universe. The effects are awesome, the story gripping, the big reveal of ‘Baby Yoda’ at the end thrilling even if you’ve already seen the screen-caps.
With a tip of my metaphorical hat to creator Jon Favreau, I manage to fight the urge to rush on to the second chapter. This lockdown is sure to last for some time yet and I probably wouldn’t gorge on the whole thing even if all eight chapters were instantly available. Best to eke out the good stuff and put the binge-watching on pause for a while, right?
Plus, let’s be honest, there isn’t much must-watch original stuff on Disney+ yet, not unless you’re the target audience for Forky Asks A Question (in which the Toy Story cutlery probes the like of ‘What is cheese?’) or Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made (from the bestselling books about a tween detective and his imaginary polar bear sidekick).
I don’t have kids so it’s not for me to say how much time per day those parents suddenly stuck at home with their offspring should be home-schooling them between Joe Wicks’ webcam workouts, but a look through all the movies on the platform (animated classics, live-action re-imaginings, a few bits and bats from the Fox vaults acquired in last year’s merger) reveal it would make a very useful virtual babysitter.
I add the likes of The Love Bug and That Darn Cat to my watchlist for when I’m feeling nostalgic for my own childhood, alongside Three Men and a Baby and Turner and Hooch (both originally released by Disney offshoot Touchstone) for when I just want a bit of escapism.
I also fully plan to watch every Marvel movie in story order, whilst wishing James Cameron’s Fox-funded The Abyss was on there instead of Avatar. There’s also tons of Touchstone titles missing from the service and nothing from Dimension films - the horror and sci-fi arm of Miramax that Disney purchased when it bought the latter in the early '90s - but that’s hardly surprising since Scream and From Dusk till Dawn aren’t exactly on-brand.
In the States some material considered too risky for Disney+ has ended up on Hulu, with a joint subscription available, but for now there’s no such similar setup for the UK. It’d certainly make it more of a draw for adult viewers, although new shows Ms Marvel, Loki and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are all in the pipeline and having every single episode of The Simpsons back catalogue at your disposal makes the £5.99 monthly option very appealing - especially when you can’t spend it down the pub for the time being.
Get Disney+ with a seven day trial now – or buy a subscription for £59.99 a year, or £5.99 a month