After finishing the excellent MODOK series earlier this week, I found myself aimlessly browsing Disney Plus looking for something to watch. After a short while of fruitless searching, I stumbled upon Monsters at Work, the new animated series set in the universe of Pixar’s 2001 classic Monsters, Inc, and suddenly found myself strangely torn.
On the one hand, Monsters, Inc. is one of my favorite childhood films and actually the first film I can remember seeing in theaters. Any expansion of the universe is welcome in my eyes, and the series is set immediately following events of the film so is essentially a direct sequel in television form.
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However, even though Monster’s at Work does appeal to me, I can’t shake the feeling that it's another example of a trend that is starting to define Disney Plus’ original content slate: Nostalgia baiting.
Its biggest hits, such as The Mandalorian and WandaVision, give us familiar worlds and characters, just in new settings and with new stories, and to great success so far. But it all feels derivative, and not exactly inspired.
Disney Plus is one of the best streaming services, but what it really needs right now is some original ideas. Instead, since its launch, it's mostly delivered shows and movies from forgotten franchises being dredged up from the Disney Vault in the hopes of squeezing out whatever brand recognition it has left for a small subscriber bump.
Banking on nostalgia
Almost every time a new Disney Plus original is announced it’s some form of revival, reimagining, or spinoff of an already established Disney IP. While the House of Mouse has used the service to breathe new life into a few underappreciated franchises, fresh ideas would be very welcome at this point.
A perfect example of Disney Plus’ continuing trend of banking on nostalgia is the soon-to-premier new Chip ‘n’ Dale: Park Life series. These anthropomorphic chipmunks debuted in 1943 and are being brought into the modern-day with a new Disney Plus original series comprised of 39 episodes.
Perhaps the series will be good, but overall Chip ‘n’ Dale: Park Life just looks hollow. It doesn’t appear to be a series born out of creative inspiration, just Disney rummaging through its IP barrel and plucking out anything that might still have some faint audience interest.
We’ve seen multiple examples of this since Disney Plus first launched in 2019. From the laughably-titled High School Musical: The Musical: The Series to The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers. It seems like whenever Disney Plus launches a new piece of original content it’s always tied to some over-the-hill franchise — does anyone actually want the upcoming National Treasure or Willow original series?
Can we get some fresh ideas, please?
What’s most frustrating about Disney’s current approach to original streaming content is that the conglomerate is renowned for having some of the finest creative talents around. Why won’t it let these artists create new worlds and characters in the streaming space?
In fairness, earlier this year we got a new original IP from Pixar in the form of Luca, which did launch on Disney Plus, but I’d love to see fresh ideas brought to the streaming platform on a regular basis.
Disney should take the resources used to create the wholly unnecessary Doogie Kameāloha, M.D. (a reboot of 90s medical show Doogie Howser, M.D.) or the remake of cop-canine comedy Turner & Hooch and give it to an up and coming director/producer/writer. Allow them to create something new and potentially special rather than cynical reboots of long-forgotten television shows and movies.
At least with Marvel and Star Wars Disney is using its streaming service to introduce us to new heroes and explore parts of each series respective universe that haven’t been seen before. Though it’s much easier for Disney to take a chance on a Moon Knight television show when you have the option of just tossing in an appearance by Spider-Man to make sure viewership doesn't dip.
Risks can pay off
In the streaming space, taking risks can really pay off. That’s no more evident than with Netflix, currently the most popular streaming service in the world.
Without a stable of previously established IP to its name, Netflix has regularly focused on creating genuinely original content. Much of the streamers library is comprised of shows and movies without an already recognized brand or a host of characters that audiences are already well acquainted with.
This approach has regularly paid off for the streamer. Arguably the biggest Netflix original is Stranger Things a sci-fi adventure series that isn’t a reboot of some forgotten movie from the 1980s nobody remembers but is instead its own wholly original creation. Netflix has also had success with original shows like Ozark, Emily in Paris, and Sex Education.
This isn’t to say that Netflix never creates content based on pre-existing IP. Several of its hits like The Witcher, The Umbrella Academy, and House of Cards are based on books/graphic novels/international TV series but Netflix generally strikes a solid balance between familiar and fresh. And pre-existing IP isn't a guarantee, either, as we saw with the colossal failure of Jupiter's Legacy.
Nostalgia isn’t necessarily bad
Nostalgia is a powerful force, and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. And as much as I harangue Disney to come up with something new, I watched (and really enjoyed) the first two episodes of Monster’s at Work, and look forward to continuing the series as it rolls out weekly. Even my curmudgeonly mind isn't immune to the power of nostalgia.
Ideally what I hope Disney Plus does in the future is find a middle ground between reviving beloved hits from yesteryear and creating new franchises that will ultimately become a source of nostalgia for the generations to come. But for it to truly rival Netflix, Disney Plus needs to appeal to more than just the past, as not everyone is nostalgic for the same things.
I’m totally fine with Disney reaching into its iconic vault and bringing back franchises that haven’t been given the spotlight in a while, but at the same time, I still want to see new worlds, characters, and stories added to the archives as well.