As if the streaming wars weren’t combative enough, a new player is entering the fray this week as the Walt Disney Company throws open the curtains for the debut of Disney+ on Tuesday, November 12. For many fans, the primary attraction will be the contents of the proverbial “vault,” which include hundreds of classic Disney films and television shows, many of which haven’t been seen in decades. But others will be curious to discover whether or not Disney’s new wave of original content will be up to par with the likes of Netflix, Amazon and others.
To answer that question, we’ve sampled some of the original shows that will be available on launch day, with the notable exception of The Mandalorian. As the first live-action series set in the Star Wars universe, hype for the Jon Favreau-produced series is at a fever pitch, but the studio did not make episodes of The Mandalorian available for review prior to launch. We’ll be checking it out tomorrow along with the rest of the world, and will try to have our thoughts compiled as soon as possible, so stay tuned — and keep reading for short reviews of the other new shows.
UPDATE: Our review of The Mandalorian is now available here.
Hosted by Kristen Bell, each episode of this unscripted series seeks to reunite adults who performed together in a high school musical production, and tasks them with reprising their roles and staging the same musical as grown-ups. The debut episode finds the 1996 class of Santee High School stepping back onto the stage to perform Annie, with a little help from Broadway choreographers and Tony-nominated director Marcia Milgrom Dodge, while the second episode brings the 2007 class of Saginaw High School back together for another run at Beauty and the Beast.
The series is wonderfully sweet, frequently juxtaposing current-day rehearsal footage with grainy video of the original performances, and there’s a surprising amount of emotion to be mined from watching these school teachers, sheriffs and warehouse managers cast off the pressures of adulthood to recapture the glory days of youth. It’s a must-watch for any fan of musical theater, but there’s more than enough to enjoy for non-enthusiasts, too.
The World According to Jeff Goldblum
Produced by National Geographic, this unscripted series follows the quirky and charismatic Goldblum around the world as he endeavors to learn about new (to him) areas of pop culture. The first episode centers around sneaker culture, and finds the star visiting Adidas headquarters and wandering the aisles at SneakerCon, interviewing buyers and sellers as massive quantities of cash change hands all around him.
Your enjoyment of this series will hinge largely on your affinity for Goldblum’s personality and all its eccentricities, like his ever-present sense of wonder and amazement or the odd (and instantly identifiable) cadence of his speech. If you’re already buying what Goldblum has been selling over the past few years, then this series is right up your alley — but if you find the shtick wearing thin, you’re probably better off avoiding this one.
The Imagineering Story
For us, this was the highlight of the launch day offerings on Disney+. This six-episode limited series explores the history of the creative forces behind the Disney parks, lovingly referred to as “The Imagineers.” The first episode centers mostly on the conception and construction of Disneyland, and is packed to the brim with photos, audio recordings, archive footage — much of which has been remastered in HD — and interviews with surviving Imagineers.
Whether or not any of the information feels revelatory will depend heavily on how much Disney history you already know (we’re fairly well-versed, but there were still nuggets of info that surprised us), and average viewers will almost certainly be enthralled as they learn the history of beloved attractions like The Matterhorn and It’s a Small World. The behind-the-scenes footage is particularly interesting, as director Leslie Iwerks takes viewers inside areas the general public has never seen.
The Imagineering Story is fully engrossing and endlessly fascinating, and our sole complaint is that it almost feels too sparse — we would’ve been delighted to spend even more time delving into the history of the original park, but by the end of the first episode the series is already preparing to move on to “the Florida project.” Hopefully other subscribers will be as enraptured as we were, and we’ll get additional episodes of the series somewhere in the future.
In addition to the titles above, Disney+ will also launch with Marvel’s Hero Project, an unscripted series about talented youths from around the country who face a variety of challenges as they inspire children and adults alike, and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, a mockumentary-style series about a group of students at East High School in Salt Lake City, Utah (where the original High School Musical was filmed) as they mount their own stage production of High School Musical.
Disney’s slate of original offerings seems fairly solid, if a bit light, but the sheer size of their catalog will likely be the main attraction for the foreseeable future. We’ll continue to review original programming from Disney+ in the coming weeks, including The Mandalorian, so keep checking back for more coverage.