When Disney Plus launched in late 2019, the general pros and cons around the new TV streaming service were pretty clear. On the one hand, you had a cheap $5.99 monthly subscription and an entire catalogue of classic Disney films, Marvel movies, and Star Wars flicks. One the other hand, once you watched the films you’d missed over the years, there wasn’t a whole lot else for you to sit in front of.
That question of quality vs quantity is as timely as ever, though, what with the arrival of Peacock and ongoing attempts by Netflix and Amazon to strengthen their place in the world of online streaming. And the first year of Disney Plus has shown that, while the platform is still getting a lot of things right, it’s also made some mistakes and missteps along the way.
Disney Plus isn’t the only one – you only need to look at the user interface pains over at Amazon Prime Video to see that – but its weaknesses are unique to the platform. Here's everything wrong with Disney Plus right now.
If you’ve ever watched Doctor Who, you’ll be familiar with the idea of something being bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. In the case of Disney Plus, the opposite is true.
Disney Plus’ main appeal is its flagship blockbuster franchises: Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars. It’s not a secret, though, that there isn’t a huge amount of interest outside of this. The platform is quite good at hiding that, however, making sure to list suggested titles beneath whatever you’re watching, and plenty of ‘shorts’ that fill out space and give the appearance of abundance around Disney and Pixar flicks.
That’s not to say these shorts aren’t worth watching – Pixar especially has some incredible, award-winning short films to its name (check out Bao or Paperman, to start). But they also only offer so many minutes all together, and once you’ve spent a single Sunday combing through them, where else do you turn?
The truth is, the best is yet to come on Disney Plus – and there is a lot to look forward to, when you think about Marvel shows like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on the horizon. Disney, like everyone else, just got unlucky with the pandemic, and that has slowed down the pace of its most exciting originals.
While the closure of cinemas during lockdown hasn’t been great for the finances of the industry, Disney seems determined to still make every cent it can. The live-action adaptation of Mulan, originally due to release in theaters in March, was delayed due to the Covid pandemic until Disney decided to just bring it to Disney Plus instead alongside a theatrical release – for a $29.99 surcharge. That's a purchase, rather than a rental, but access will be dependent on maintaining your subscription.
While Mulan’s $200 million budget shows it was expensive to make, this is also a big expense to drop on individual subscribers already spending money on Disney’s service. You’re paying six months worth of a subscription for access to a single movie, which blows all arguments for Disney Plus’ affordability out of the water.
That’s more than you’d pay in theaters individually, and while it may be value for a family of five crowding around a 65-inch television, for singletons on their laptops it can’t help but feel a bit harsh. It sets a bad precedent that we hope Disney will not continue.
While the platform itself is largely a delight to use, there are a couple of odd sticking points. One is that the browser version won’t pause/play in response to the space bar, which feels so ingrained to me as a laptop user that I still try it every time I sign in (to watch Hamilton again).
Anyone following the Simpsons furore will know that even old seasons of the hit cartoon were originally shown in a cropped 16:9 format, essentially ruining a whole load of visual gags. While this was eventually amended – and we have a guide for how to fix the Simpsons aspect ratio issue – it’s quite damning that Disney allowed it to happen in the first place.
You won’t get Disney Plus on Panasonic TVs, either. There’s no reason given, no date for its arrival, and no way to watch Disney Plus on a Panasonic set without buying an additional streaming stick or similar to upload a new interface with more extensive app support. What gives?
The purpose here isn’t to throw unnecessary shade at Disney, which has created (or bought) a lot of beloved franchises, and generally offers a decent platform experience with some brilliant titles, whether that’s The Incredibles, The Mandalorian TV show, Frozen II, the filmed recording of Hamilton, or Beyonce’s visual album Black is King.
But there are some missteps here, and their common theme is a compromised experience for subscribers, viewers, and fans.
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Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.