It’s hard to believe that Disney+ launched a year ago in the United States on November 12, 2019. That seems like the blink of an eye and an eternity all at once. The world is a completely different place than it was on the streaming platform’s launch day. For the animation fan steeped in Disney lore, Disney+ changed the game. Here’s how it’s influenced animation one year later.
Binge-Watch Your Faves
Streaming services like Netflix changed the culture of television viewing by normalizing the art of the binge-watch, consuming hours of content in single sittings. Whether it’s actually in one day or spread out over time, Disney+ has a huge library of content from the many different studios and franchises under the company’s umbrella. The platform made it easier than ever to sequentially watch your way through long series like the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Star Wars in a way that just wasn’t as accessible before. For animation fans, this lends itself well to a lazy afternoon enjoying Disney classics like Snow White, reminiscing on a favorite childhood TV show like Kim Possible, or even attempting the iconic rite of passage of completing the Disney animated canon. With everything all in one place, there’s no shortage of things to choose from.
One of the most exciting aspects of Disney+ was the promise of exclusive original content, and it delivered. In addition to live-action stand-outs like The Mandalorian, the first year of Disney+ brought us quite a bit of animation-focused originals too. It’s interesting to note that almost all of its original animated projects build upon an existing legacy franchise. Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe debuted as the service’s first animated film in August, reviving the favorite Disney Channel show that went off the air in 2015. A seventh season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars premiered in the spring, having picked up six years after its sixth season was added to Netflix in 2014 (the show’s previous seasons aired on Cartoon Network prior to that). Something like Disney+ offers a low-stakes canvas to continue the stories of niche-audience favorites without the pressure of box-office receipts or Nielsen ratings. This first year has just scratched the surface for the potential of franchise-driven content that we’ll likely see.
Beyond those, the live-action adaptation of the 1955 animated classic Lady and the Tramp debuted on Disney+ for the platform’s launch day. A new program called Zenimation was introduced over the summer with repurposed scenes from Disney animated films packaged into zen-like moments of relaxation, like “Nature” or “Nighttime.” The docuseries Into the Unknown captured the entire production process for Frozen 2 with a thoroughness into the nuances of Disney’s creative process the likes of which we’ve never seen before, especially for a newer film not yet established as a multi-generational classic. Don Hahn’s highly anticipated documentary Howard celebrated the life of Oscar-winning lyricist and Disney Legend Howard Ashman.
Where Disney+ has really shined for animated original content, though, is through the short-film format. It’s experimented all over the spectrum with new short films: one-off spin-offs of animated favorites like Olaf starring in Once Upon A Snowman or Bo Peep starring in Lamp Life, short-film series like (Emmy-nominated!) Forky Asks A Question, and original showcases for artists’ work like Pixar’s SparkShorts series and Disney Animation’s Short Circuit series. These last two items are vastly underrated for Disney+ content, providing original stories and amazing animation. If you haven’t checked them out, stop reading this and go watch them right away.
All in all, it’s been a strong first year of original content for Disney+, and there’s definitely the feeling that this is just the beginning.
Discover Something New
Sure, there are a few random omissions here. This isn’t everything Disney has ever produced, but it’s pretty darn close, and even the most hardcore Disney fan who thinks they’ve seen it all is likely to find an unexplored avenue among the vast labyrinth of content. This might be something you’ve always wanted to watch but just never got around to it (like for example, the reboot of DuckTales for me) or something that you never even knew existed (like a documentary about Frank and Ollie, two of Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men).
Behind the Scenes
For fans, one of the strongest arguments for continuing to purchase physical media and not embrace the streaming model is the abundance of behind-the-scenes bonus features that are typically created for individual movie releases. Rest assured, a lot of that bonus material migrated over to Disney+ in an “Extras” tab for many of the service’s titles, something that competitors like Netflix don’t have. In particular, much of the content developed for the previously released Diamond and Signature Edition animated releases can be found, like a spectacular Beauty and the Beast documentary and a superb deep dive into the legacy of The Lion King. Since these aren’t categorized as their own programs, it might take a bit of digging to find them, but they’re there. Additionally, it seems that in lieu of newly produced content for physical releases, much of that same energy is channeled in excellent original documentary content, like the aforementioned Frozen 2 series clocking in at six hours, much more than we would’ve seen on a typical Blu-ray BTS.
What No One Could Have Predicted
When Disney+ launched in November 2019, no one could have predicted that in just a few months, the planet would be in a global lockdown. Over the course of the past few months, studios and theater chains have had to aggressively adapt their business models and shape new normals for consumers, meeting them where they’re at in the short term while also considering the ramifications toward the long term, all the while without really being able to know a concrete timeframe for how long the world will continue to be the way that it is. With an in-house streaming platform already in motion, Disney has been able to shift its titles previously slated for theatrical release onto Disney+ instead. As a surprise and delight for families at the beginning of quarantine, Disney rapidly bumped up the Disney+ debuts for both Onward (which had just barely been in theaters for a week or so) and Frozen 2. The live-action Mulan shifted its premiere completely to digital, as will the next Pixar film, Soul, debuting on the platform on Christmas Day. Looking ahead, who knows what the future of Disney’s release calendar will look like, but with both new content and childhood comfort content, Disney+ has been a dedicated place to find it all in the middle of what has been a difficult year.
What a first year of content! What’s been your favorite thing to watch on Disney+ so far?
Edited by: Kelly Conley