The resume and continue watching functionality we were waiting for has been added to Disney Plus, details below.
Disney's always been a huge name in entertainment, and Disney Plus looks to make the Mouse House a titan of streaming media. While this service doesn't match Netflix for breadth or variety (don't expect any R-rated films), Disney Plus is becoming the exclusive home of all things Pixar, Marvel and Disney — franchises that are inescapable in pop culture.
After some early hiccups, Disney Plus has proven excellent. Its interface is both elegant and animated. The included 4K Ultra HD resolution and family sharing (up to four devices) is so good we hope Netflix rethinks its pricing tiers. And at $6.99, Disney Plus is cheap enough to not worry about. Ideal for families and fans of comic book movies, Disney Plus is definitely one of the best streaming services yet.
Disney Plus pricing and availability: Here today, UK long after tomorrow
Disney Plus costs $6.99 per month, with a seven-day free trial for people to kick the tires. A $69.99-per-year offer gives you a $13.89 discount, which amounts to almost two free months.
Disney Plus' $6.99 price looks even better when you see that the service includes 4K HDR image quality at that price. This is in stark contrast with Netflix, which reserves Ultra HD image resolution for its $15.99 premium plan.
Disney Plus launched in the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands on Tuesday (Nov. 12), while our friends in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Spain need to wait all the way until March 2020. How do you say "oof" in French?
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Disney Plus interface: Clean home screen and menus
The Disney Plus home page looks and feels a lot like my favorite interface: Apple TV's tvOS home screen, but it isn't exactly as great. Let's start with the delightful: For the main content sections of the app, logos animate when your cursor selects them. That means fireworks fly at the Magic Kingdom behind the Disney logo, stars speed behind Star Wars, the Marvel logo turns into the little page-turning graphic at the start of a MCU movie and clouds of Toy Story's wallpaper float behind the Pixar logo.
Disney Plus' home screen is built on the system that most streaming apps run on, with rows of curated content. Those start with Originals (which include The World According to Jeff Goldblum, Noelle and Forky Asks a Question), Recommended for You (why this includes the live-action Dumbo remake is beyond me), Hit Movies (some people want to rewatch Avatar, and I won't ask why), Trending (Simpsons, at the time of my reviewing, to see how badly the formatting cuts work) and Out of the Vault (classics that Disney wasn't streaming on other platforms or selling either).
That all sits below a giant slideshow reel promoting the big content of the moment — such as The Mandalorian, Encore! and Captain Marvel — and I wish this were more under your control or built around what you've watched or set as your preferences. How do I know it's not? There has been zero reason for the cards for the live-action Lady and the Tramp remake or High School Musical: The Musical: The Series to show up there, but there they are anyway. At $6.99 per month for the service, though, this is a quibble.
To sort through Disney Plus differently, navigate to the menu on the left, which is where you'll find the option to search, open your Watchlist — tap the plus (+) in a show or movie page to add it — and sections marked Movies, Series (Disney for TV shows), Originals and Settings. It's all fairly self-explanatory, and I like how the Movies and Series sections have subsections, so you can drill down to animated TV shows or Ultra HD movies, for example.
Watching shows and movies on Disney Plus
Watching shows on Disney Plus feels pretty normal. Once I finished Episode 1 of The Mandalorian, I got an elegantly designed screen suggesting I watch The Empire Strikes Back next, though I would have preferred a note about when Episode 2 of that show debuts, since it wasn't available at that time. (Disney releases new episodes on a weekly basis instead of unleashing everything at once, so Episode 2 of The Mandalorian arrives Nov. 15, with subsequent installments coming every week after that.) Apple TV Plus has a similar aversion to telling you when future episodes are coming.
At launch, I found that Disney hadn't nailed the basics when it came to continuing a program you paused or didn't finish. While a Continue Watching row appeared on the home screen early on, it disappeared hours later. Thankfully, Disney got it fixed in the two weeks following launch.
On Nov. 21, I noticed a "resume" button on movie pages, such as on Avengers: Endgame. On Nov. 26, the home screen finally felt complete, as the Continue Watching row came arrived on the home screen.
Currently, the one thing I'd like Disney to add is a Restart button next to the Resume button, in case you'd rather start over. For those of us who can't remember where we left off (late night binge-watching can lead to sleepy eyes) it would be a helpful addition.
Disney Plus performance
My first day of Disney Plus started off well enough, streaming The Mandalorian on my Roku Ultra and enjoying myself. But by the time I took a train into work and hopped onboard an elevator, a colleague was already asking about the bugs. When I got into our video studio, I saw this for myself as both a Fire TV Stick and an Apple TV HD showed the same "Unable to connect" error.
Over the next hours, those errors slowly smoothed themselves out, and by 5 p.m. EST, I had Disney Plus running smoothly on multiple devices.
Disney Plus supported devices and simultaneous streams
Disney shot for the moon, aiming for Netflix's level of ubiquity for Disney Plus. My makeshift test lab at home shows off the wide array of supported platforms that Disney Plus launched with, as it's running on a PS4, an Xbox One, a Roku Ultra, an Amazon Fire TV Cube, an LG Smart TV, a MateBook X Pro, a MacBook Pro, an Apple TV HD (3rd Gen), an iPhone 11 Pro Max and an Amazon Fire HD 10.
Of course, other iOS, iPadOS, tvOS and Android devices support Disney Plus, as do Samsung and Sony Smart TVs, Rokus, and Amazon Fire TVs and Tablets.
You can stream Disney Plus content on up to four devices at the same time, which I tested by opening Star Wars Episodes I, II, III and IV (I'm not a masochist, just a lazy counter) at the same time. When I tried to open Empire Strikes Back on another device, I got the error screen saying that I'd reached the service's more-than-adequate limit. Netflix starts with 1 device at a time at its $8.99 per month Basic package, bumps you to 2 devices for the $12.99 Standard plan and then gives you 4 devices at the $15.99 Premium tier.
Content library: Vast but not Netflix vast
Rome wasn't built in a day, but it's kind of amazing how many movies and shows Disney Plus launched with on Day 1. By our count, the service started with a 652 movies, TV shows, shorts and other pieces of content.
Of course, since this is Disney, none of those carry a rating above PG-13 or TV-MA. So it won't replace Netflix for those who value adult-oriented programming anytime soon.
That library is so big that Disney made a 3-hour-plus YouTube video to tease the lineup, and that was before the company doubled the number of Marvel movies appearing at launch. And at $6.99, it's a solid value.
But let's look over at the maybe-still-reigning champ of the streaming world: Netflix. According to independent research site Finder, Netflix streams 3,931 movies and 1,818 television shows to the United States. That total of 5,749 movies and shows means that Disney Plus' library has very roughly 11% as much content as what you get on Netflix. Maybe that extra content is enough to make up for Netflix's higher price, especially when that service has more original programming and R-rated content.
Disney Plus originals: A strong (but small) batch
I'm not even a huge Star Wars fan, but my The Mandalorian review shows how appealing that show is. I expected to leave it talking about spinoff fatigue — does everything need a sequel or prequel or expanded universe? — but I was impressed with how the show mixes the Star Wars world with solid Western tropes.
Forky Asks a Question may not be a full series, more a batch of animated shorts, but I still found myself smiling at the sentient spork from Toy Story 4 voiced by Tony Hale (Arrested Development, Veep) as he asked Ham about how money works.
There's even a longer-form Disney Plus original with a similar concept: The World According to Jeff Goldblum. Watching the first episode, I marveled at Mr. Goldblum marveling at the price of the resale value of the Back to the Future-based Nike Mag sneakers. Wearing chunky, black eyeglasses and a contemplative stare, or pleased smile, Goldblum is utterly entertaining.
In another case of "it's either right for you or it's not," one of Disney's other big show brings High School Musical to the screens around the house. I'm too old to make hide or hair of it, but our High School Musical: The Musical: The Series review will explain why our critic enjoyed the series.
There's even a Kristen Bell show — meet Encore! — because that seems to be a prerequisite in media these days. (The Good Place is on Netflix, and Veronica Mars is on Hulu.) This one's a bit different, as it's not a chance for the actress to star, but to put the spotlight on former high school musical students, reuniting for one more show. The popularity of musicals and reality TV probably means that Encore! will find an audience. Just don't expect a lot of Bell, as I didn't see much of her when I skimmed through an episode. (I tried, I really did, to watch — it's very much not for me.)
Pixar's also adding to the original content reservoir, with a couple of shows and a small set of its short features (the type that run before a feature film). Float, which involves a single parent of a superpowered young child practically worked that signature Pixar magic on me in a few scenes, making my heart swell with emotion and everything. The Pixar shorts section also includes three other newish titles (they've shown at film festivals) — Purl, Kitbull and Smash and Grab — as well as already-known and beloved titles like Bao, Lava and For the Birds.
All of the Star Wars, better than ever
The Force is certainly strong with Disney Plus. One of the first big surprises I found when cracking open the Disney Plus service was a new 4K with Dolby Vision HDR remaster of the original Star Wars films.
As I watched Luke Skywalker ride a tauntaun around Hoth at the start of Empire Strikes back, I noticed that the snowflakes sticking to his gear seemed especially detailed. I saw similar fine resolution in the hairs and pores on Han's and Leia's heads and faces, as they awkwardly failed to properly flirt in the Rebel base. There's been even yet another change to the Han and Greedo scene from A New Hope, though Disney's blaming George Lucas for that.
In addition to the original trilogy (Chapters 4, 5 and 6), Disney Plus includes the prequels, The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. And that might be enough Star Wars content for casual fans like me, but scrolling down that page, you will find The Clone Wars Saga show, Star Wars Rebels, Star Wars Resistance and multiple Lego Star Wars shows, including Droid Tales and All-Stars.
There's even a 2-hour documentary (from 2004), Empire of Dreams: The Story of The Star Wars Trilogy. That's probably old hat to some, but it was a welcome discovery for me. We're still waiting for Netflix's contract for The Last Jedi to run out, something that Disney Plus alludes to if you search for that film in the app, when it presents the message "Coming to Disney+ December 26, 2019."
Mucho Marvel as well
Much like how the MCU blossomed out of Iron Man (which is on Disney Plus), the list of Marvel movies coming to Disney Plus at launch just doubled in size, from eight to 16. While there are some omissions (Netflix has rented out Wakanda, so Black Panther will have to wait), this launch list has some of the very best, including the original Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Endgame.
Disney Plus also packs the Captain America trilogy. So that means you get all the Cap you could ask for, including the giant airport clash of Civil War, the inarguable excellence of The Winter Soldier and the uplifting origin story of The First Avenger.
Of course, because corporations fight like children, you don't get any of Tobey Maguire's or Tom Holland's Spider-Man movies (Andrew Garfield's run is not mentioned around here). Those are stuck with Sony, which has spread them across FXNow, Netflix and fuboTV (I swear I didn't make that last one up). And while the Spider-Man animated series from the 1990s is on Disney, there's only one season, a fifth of that show's overall run.
Disney Plus parental controls: Kid sections without a lock
Typical parental controls for a streaming service try and force a kid into a section of content based on their age and then make them key in a code to escape to the wonderful land of profiles from their parent(s), where all content flows freely. And what does Disney Plus, ostensibly the streaming service most meant for families, have to offer?
Well, all of the above, just without the PIN code needed to access Mom's or Dad's account. When you open the Disney Plus app after setting up an account, you simply get to pick whichever profile you want to get into, and there's never any challenge to unlocking the parent accounts. Maybe Disney thinks its lack of edgy, R-rated material means it doesn't need a serious lock. Time will tell if it makes one.
Disney Plus' Simpsons snafu
The first 30 seasons of The Simpsons appear on Disney Plus as a part of Disney's acquisition of Twentieth Century Fox. It sounds great — or at least it did until Disney Plus decided to release the first 19 of those seasons in the forced-letterbox format. (The Simpsons switched to a 16:9 aspect ratio in Season 20.) This blunder cuts out the jokes and side-of-screen gags, of which The Simpsons has many.
FXNow gave audiences the option to see the show in its original and unedited format, but Disney Plus has yet to offer such an option.
Thankfully Disney will start streaming The Simpsons correctly... in 2020. In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, a Disney Plus spokesperson said "We presented 'The Simpsons' in 16:9 aspect ratio at launch in order to guarantee visual quality and consistency across all 30 seasons," but that next year, the first 19 seasons (and some of the 20th season) will be added in a "4:3 aspect ratio, giving subscribers a choice of how they prefer to view the popular series."
In the meantime, I can tell you that I'm pretty happy to have the option to save Bart the Genius, one of my favorite episodes of any TV show ever, onto my phone.
Is Disney Plus worth it? If you've been curious about the service, the answer is probably yes. Disney Plus is already ironing out initial bugs, and the service feels pretty complete given the hallmark franchises all under one umbrella.
At $6.99, Disney Plus is practically priced. Sure, Netflix will give you more content, and the R-rated movies and TV-MA shows that we don't expect on Disney Plus anytime soon. But for now, Disney Plus has met the hype and possibly exceeded it.