Disney Plus Premier Access is a confusing disaster — and I hate it

Disney Plus Premier Access
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

While scrolling through Disney Plus last weekend, trying to decide which classic Spider-Man animated series to watch next, I stumbled upon a tile for Disney’s upcoming live-action Cruella movie

The film stars Emma Stone as the titular villain first seen in the animated classic 101 Dalmatians, now getting her own chance to be seen as the protagonist (much like Maleficent did for the Sleeping Beauty villain). Stone is going to have to work pretty hard to convince audiences that a woman who wants to turn adorable puppies into a fur coat is anything but dastardly, but the trailer makes the film look good.

In fact, Cruella looks like an enjoyable enough way to kill a couple of hours, and I was just about to add the film to my watchlist. But then I noticed it's going to be a Disney Plus Premier Access movie, and my interest quickly fizzled out.

As far as a video on demand offering goes, Disney Plus’ Premier Access service has to be among the least enticing around, with a small, confusing selection of films and horribly mixed messaging. 

For a streaming service that has seemingly leaped from strength to strength in its roughly 18 months on the market, I’m continually surprised that the House of Mouse has fumbled this aspect of its service so badly. 

Designed for families 

Before I get into my passionate triad about why Premier Access is so mystifying, I do want to acknowledge that I clearly don’t fall within the target demographic of the service. As a childless twenty-something, I don't have as much to save on streaming with Disney Plus Premier Access.

For the unaware, Premier Access is a service that allows you to digitally buy select new Disney releases for a one-time payment of $30, although you do need an active Disney Plus subscription to have access to your purchase (so it's more like $38, all in total). 

Disney Plus Premier Access gave us Mulan

(Image credit: Disney)

Films like Mulan and Raya and the Last Dragon have been released this way, before later coming to Disney Plus proper and being viewable by anyone with a subscription. The service is very clearly aimed at families looking to watch a new release without having to cough up crazy theatre prices. 

So while that $30 price is high for me, I'm not the be-all, end-all. With a single cinema ticket in the U.S. ranging from $15 on the low end to as much as $25, not to mention the cost of snacks, a trip out to the theatre for even a small family can easily run into the range of $100 and up. 

Disney Plus Premier Access is designed to appeal to families who would rather spend $30 for at-home access to a film and then buy snacks at a local supermarket. It makes, at least some, sense on paper.

But the way that Disney has implemented the service is just baffling. 

Disney Plus Premier Access has the wrong selection  

The biggest head-scratcher when it comes to Premier Access is the films that Disney has chosen to debut on the service compared to the ones it has just thrown straight onto Disney Plus proper.  

Mulan, Raya and the Last Dragon, Cruella and Black Widow have been chosen to launch on Premier Access, while Pixar’s animated masterpiece Soul, and the studio’s upcoming film Luca, are going to be instantly tossed straight into the streaming service’s catalog at no extra cost. Who's making that call? 

Pixar's Soul

(Image credit: Pixar)

You might suggest that Soul’s straight-to-streaming release was designed to drive core subscriptions to Disney Plus. However, I’d argue that the likes of Mulan and Cruella are also potential subscription drivers, while the heavy hitters should be given the premium price tag. 

Mulan and Raya and the Last Dragon are exactly the types of films I’d never cough up theatre prices to see, but they add value to a streaming service that only costs a few dollars a month. They’re the very definition of films I’d only watch if I had access to them as part of a service I already pay for. 

Soul is the opposite. It’s a film I would have happily stumped up $30 to see. I don’t understand why Disney just gave it away for nothing. It’s worked out well for me, though, as ultimately I’ve been able to see the film I wanted without having to pay an extra though.   

After Cruella, the next film being added to Premier Access is Marvel Studios’ Black Widow which does seem a solid selection. That said, I hope that (by its July release) I can enjoy it from a theatre chair, rather than my sofa. 

Disney Plus Premier Access encourages waiting

Here’s the biggest head-scratcher when it comes to Premier Access. Disney doesn’t just make you aware that these films will eventually come to regular Disney Plus, it actively promotes that fact.

Disney Plus Premier Access: Raya

(Image credit: Disney)

When Raya and the Last Dragon (and Mulan before it) was made available via Disney Plus Premier Access, all I had to do was read the text on the screen to see that it will be added to the service’s regular catalog on June 4. Even if I was interested in the film enough to spend $30 to watch, telling me straight off the bat that I only have to wait a few months to get access — for no additional cost — instantly killed any chance of an impulse purchase. 

Of course, some families would be annoyed if they paid for a Disney Plus Premier Access movie the day before the movie hit Disney Plus. I'm just curious why Disney Plus is so up front about the date the movie will arrive. Giving the date away up front means you could even cancel your Disney Plus account until then, and just wait it out.

Is Disney Plus Premier Access long for this world?

Yes, we're all aware that any movie we pay to see theaters or rent on VOD will at some point in the future be available on some service I may already pay for. But, usually, we're not given a hard date. Once you have a day to circle in your calendar, it becomes an awful lot easier to just wait it out.

Some industry whispers have suggested that the Premier Access program hasn’t done great numbers for Disney Plus (Black Widow could change that) so it wouldn’t surprise me if the initiative is quietly dropped once theaters return to some form of normalcy over the summer. I for one, won’t miss it at all. 

Rory Mellon
Entertainment Editor (UK)

Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team.