Occasional Feature - Ask Your Pop Culture Concierge

Dear PCC,

Should I subscribe to Disney+?

Dear Readers,

It seems like every six months or so a new streaming service is added to the world. Deciding if they are worthy of your entertainment dollars can feel like a full time job! I subscribe to Disney+ and I like it a lot. I'll share what I think are the best features of the service, and I hope that will help you make your own decision!

The Basics

Disney+ is $6.99/month or $69.99/year. I had a deal through my mobile carrier (Verizon) so I was able to get it free for six months. The main "channels" offered are Disney Animation, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic. But there is also a lot of other stuff, like all 31 seasons of The Simpsons, a vast selection of Disney Channel tween shows, and of course Hamilton. Their original content (developed specifically for Disney+) is still pretty limited but has a few winners already.

Thoughts From Your Pop Culture Concierge

While the combination of "themes" on offer can feel a little random (unless you've been following the various Disney mergers and acquisitions through the years), one unique thing about Disney+ is the comprehensiveness of each collection. In each of their channels you are able to watch basically EVERYTHING that exists, and that is quite different from what the other streaming services can offer. Take Marvel, for instance. Netflix has had, over the years, a good many films available to stream (The Avengers, Black Panther, Captain America: The First Avenger and more). But if you wanted to see all the Iron Man, all the Avengers or all the Captain America movies, you couldn't. On Disney+, the entire library of each is available, so for completists it's pretty hard to beat.

A common challenge across all the streamers is how to organize content. Disney+ taken some novel approaches. In the Marvel collection, you can watch all the films in order of their release, but also in "timeline" order, which is kind of cool. They also have the "Star Wars Through the Years" collection, which is essentially everything in chronological order of release as well, which can help the newbie understand that "Episode Four" is actually the first Star Wars entry. On the general menu, there are categories such as "Nostalgic Movies" which include everything from Hello Dolly and The Princess Bride to the ORIGINAL Freaky Friday (with Jodie Foster and the sublime Barbara Harris). In "Celebrate Black Stories" you'll find Hidden Figures, Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time and Beyonce's visual album Black is King (among other options). With that channel, plus "Out" (a charming Pixar short about a young man who, while worried about coming out to his parents, accidentally switches bodies with his dog), it seems Disney+ is at least attempting to create an inclusive slate of entertainment. There's lots more progress to be made, but it's a start.

Based on my particular combination of tastes, Disney+ is well suited for me. Here are a few of my favorites:

Hamilton

This was the streaming event of the year, and with good reason. I was beyond lucky enough to see Hamilton in New York, with almost all the Original Broadway cast. It was hard to imagine that the electricity of the live performance could be recreated on film, but what you see on Disney+ comes pretty darn close. And you're able to get something is generally not possible in the theater - real visibility of the individual actors and their performances. They worked some true magic with the cameras, because there's an incredible mix of wide, ensemble shots and close-ups. The cast is almost universally great, but Tony winners Leslie Odom, Jr (as Aaron Burr) and Daveed Diggs (as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson) stand out to me as once-in-a-generation transcendant portrayals. Odom, Jr, in particular, runs at a low simmer through much of the play, so when he inevitably boils over the tragedy feels that much more profound. His vocals are complex and powerful, and it seems like every choice he made as an artist helped make Burr a fascinating character and the show even better than it otherwise would have been.

Pixar

Having the entire Pixar collection in one place is an embarrassment of riches. I'm particularly fond of Cars - I find the way they anthropomorphized each vehicle really endearing. They have some A+ car jokes (the big races are announced by "Bob Cutlass" - voiced by Bob Costas). And the movie is a treasure for one giving us one of Paul Newman's very last performances. A real-life racing enthusiast, he voices Doc Hudson with palpable gusto. It's probably my favorite voice performance of all time.

I also love Wall-E. It's one of the most inventive Pixar movies, the story of a garbage-clearing robot alone on an abandoned earth. It's visual storytelling at its best, and the adventures that unfold for lonely Wall-E are full of surprises.

Marvel

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is not for everyone, but it's hard to undersell the magnitude of what they accomplished. Over the course of 38 movies they created an ongoing, episodic movie extravaganza, complete with continuous plot arcs, crossover character appearances, cliffhangers and (finally) resolution. What's amazing to me is that almost every entry in the the canon is entertaining - some wildly so. Granted, most of them don't stand up to close plot examination, but that's not entirely the point. Captain America is my favorite Avenger, and all three of his movies are very good (particular Captain America, The First Avenger, if only for it's introduction of Peggy Carter, the most badass woman in the MCU). Thor: Ragnarok is by far the funniest of all, which is particularly delightful because I didn't expect that from Thor. I enjoy the more obscure installments (Ant-Man and Doctor Strange) on the strength of their lead performances (Paul Rudd and Benedict Cumberbatch, respectively) but even beyond that, all three of their movies were so much better than I would have expected. Finally, I have to mention Black Panther as a truly special superhero movie. Chadwick Boseman as King T'Challa is unique across the entire MCU, and not just because he's one of the only Black Avengers. He's a hero almost free of ego - he listens, he respects and takes counsel from others (including the many powerful women in Wakanda) and is willing to change as he reflects on past mistakes. I cannot stress how rare that is in any action movie, let alone Marvel films. In addition, Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger is a magnetic foil to T'Challa, and has the most interesting and believable motivation of any villain in the series. (Honestly, most of them are best described as EEEEEEEEEEEVIL but not much more.) Out of all the films, Black Panther is probably the best suited to being watched as a standalone, although it's well-connected to the rest of the universe if you enjoy that part.

Originals

reviewed S1 of The Mandalorian in an earlier PCC post. Spoiler alert - I really liked it!!!  They have dropped a few episodes of S2 this month, but I'm waiting until I can binge the whole thing in a weekend, so stay tuned for more on that.

Another original entry in the Star Wars universe is the recent Lego Star Wars Holiday Special. While NOTHING could top the amazing Star Wars special from the 70s and its breakout hit "What do you get for a Wookiee (when he already has a comb)?", this is a pretty fun way to spend 49 minutes. The "holiday" part is pretty vague (they're celebrating "Life Day") so it's nice and non-denominational. Lego Rey (of the most recent Star Wars trilogy) gets hold of a sparkly crystal key, which opens up portals to past Star Wars movies and shows. I'm guessing that if you aren't fairly familiar with the Star Wars oeuvre this special will be too much inside baseball to be really enjoyable. But if you have watched all these movies through the years, there are parts you will find hilarious. Rey peeks in on Yoda's training session with Luke on Dagobah from The Empire Strikes Back, and he adds a modern take to "There is no try." I got a real kick out of Legos making air quotes, and also the sight gag when Lego hair comes off (this happens ALL THE TIME with real life Lego mini-figures so I felt very seen.) And among other delights, there's a brief Mandolorian cameo which means Lego. Baby. Yoda. You're welcome!!!!  Overall I'd say this is more of a contribution to the Lego cinematic universe, rather than an instant holiday classic, but a good time overall.

I hope this gives you enough information to decide if Disney+ is for you. If you want to learn more, or if you have any other questions for your Pop Culture Concierge, hit me up at winpopcultureconcierge at gmail dot com. In the meantime, May the Force Be With You!

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