When people think of Disney Plus originals, they tend to think of the big tentpole franchises. Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, the classic ‘Disney movies’ and so on. But there’s a lot more Disney Plus has to offer, and I recently discovered some of the streaming service’s hidden gems: Disney-centric docuseries.
Disney Plus isn’t really a stranger to documentaries. In fact, buying Fox meant Disney also obtained National Geographic, a brand featured very prominently on the Disney Plus homepage. And while there is some crossover, I’m talking about very Disney-specific documentary series.
Specifically, I'm referring to docuseries about the company, its history, and the various cogs and gears that make it run. Histories of its theme parks and movie studios, behind-the-scenes looks at day to day operations, and all the other things that give us a glimpse into what Disney is about.
While it all seems fairly sanitized, and rarely paints the company in a bad light, I’m finding these docuseries absolutely fascinating.
Disney docuseries offer a fascinating glimpse into the company
I’m no hardcore Disney obsessive, the kind of person who lives and breathes all things Disney. The company owns two of my favorite franchises, Marvel and Star Wars, and I have an active Disney Plus account. But that’s about as far as it goes for me.
Still, these docuseries have really resonated with me over the past several weeks.
There are a few things to know about me. The first is that I am always running out of stuff to watch, so finding any new series is a win. Particularly if there are a lot of episodes I can dig into. The second is I’m always eager to learn new things, especially about how things work. Finally, I’m heading to Disney World later this year, for the first time since I was about six or seven years old.
That upcoming trip has made me feel like a little kid again, and has involved a lot of meticulous planning already. To the point where my girlfriend is sick of hearing me talk about it, even though she’s coming with me.
So imagine my excitement when I’m flicking through Disney Plus and come across something called ‘Behind the Attraction’. As the name suggests, it’s a series that goes behind the scenes of various Disney Park rides — detailing how they came to be and what’s changed in the decades since opening.
I was pretty engrossed by the early episodes, which more than made up for the fact the later episodes were not to my taste. Algorithms being what they are, this prompted Disney Plus to start recommending even more documentary series — and I was more than happy to play along. From there I discovered a smorgasbord of other docuseries that I either watched or added to my watch list.
Disney has done a lot over the years
Stuff I’ve already watched includes Light & Magic, a history of Lucasfilm's Industrial Light & Magic special effects studio, Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom from National Geographic, and Prop Culture, which offers a glimpse into the physical artifacts of Disney movies.
I’m currently mid-way through The Imagineering Story which delves into the history of Disney’s imagineering department and how they put together the various parks and attractions across the world. Naturally, it’s not tempering my excitement for my trip in any way, though it is helping me work out which attractions to avoid.
Sorry, Disney, no amount of documentaries and propaganda will make me step foot in It’s A Small World.
Having watched what I have, it’s amazing to realize that a lot of things people take for granted now were beyond cutting-edge when Disney got involved. Like motion simulator rides, which can be found at almost every museum and attraction I’ve been to, were pretty much non-existent when Star Tours was in development back in the ‘80s.
Some of it might just be propaganda, and I wouldn’t recommend taking Disney’s word at face value, but I’ve found it is still an incredible glimpse into the past.
It’s not just about Disney either
Of course there’s an overwhelming number of docuseries on Disney Plus, and not all of them are about the Walt Disney Company and its production houses. Various other series have caught my eye, including Airport Security, Marvel 616 and a bunch of stuff about the Apollo space program.
Then again, as much as space documentaries might seem appealing in the wake of For All Mankind’s third season finale, it may have to wait until I’ve been to Florida. If I’m paying to go to Kennedy Space Center, I’d rather learn on-site and get my money’s worth.
Though there is plenty of stuff on there I’d rather avoid. Disney Plus might not have a lot of true crime, but I’m really not all that interested in it. Similarly I couldn’t care less about people who choose to get married at Disneyland, much less watch two whole seasons of it.
There’s some poorly-disguised Disney advertising that I will not abide by. And considering how much a stay in a Disney-owned hotel costs, I’d rather not find out how much you have to pay to get married there.
It’s easy to get bogged down with all the franchises available on Disney Plus, because there are a heck of a lot of them. But while the likes of She-Hulk or Andor might be the perfect way to get people to sign up, having other stuff is what keeps people subscribed and engaged.
The Disney docuseries may only have half a dozen or so episodes, and rarely seem to get a second season, but they are interesting to watch. More to the point, they aren’t just background noise; you actively have to pay attention to get what’s going on.
If you’re ever struggling to figure out what to watch, it’s well worth checking out the Disney Plus docuseries section to see if anything grabs your attention.