Disney+ review: It's a lot like Netflix, but with a few twists
I've been using Disney products my entire life. I go to Disney World nearly every year — a tradition that started when I was three years old.
I am even a member of the resorts' time share program, Disney Vacation Club. Needless to say, I've watched countless hours of Disney movies in theaters and on VHS tapes. So when CEO Bob Iger announced plans to launch a streaming service for Disney's prolific content vault, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it.
I was already sold on the price point and what Disney+ has to offer when the company unveiled its big plans at an investor day event earlier this year. The only thing left was to actually use the platform to see what it's like to have access to nearly 500 films and 7,500 episodes of Disney content.
What I learned is that the platform isn't revolutionary (it's basically Netflix, but stuffed with Disney films and TV shows). Yet, how the company has repackaged its trove of beloved content for the service makes it a worthy companion to the other services in the marketplace.
I was able to preview the service recently when Disney invited the press to try it out, and here are my biggest takeaways:
Disney+ looks familiar
Disney+'s homepage is not all that different than Netflix's, and that's a good thing.
At the top of the Disney+ homepage is a section that hosts a carousel of content, which includes a new Star Wars series, "The Mandalorian," its live-action remake of "Lady and the Tramp" or "The World According to Jeff Goldblum."
Below that are tiles for five major brands: Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic.
The platform's shows and films are arranged in a seemingly endless scroll of categories. Once a selection is made, the service offers a button that lets users bypass the introduction credits. Again, just like Netflix.
Disney isn't trying to reinvent the wheel with its user interface and it doesn't need to. One of Netflix's biggest benefits is its ease of use, and Disney understands that if it's not broken, don't fix it.
Premium video at an affordable price
A lot has been written about the library of content. In year one, the service will have 30 original series, 7,500 past episodes and 500 movie titles. That includes Marvel films such as "Avengers: Endgame," documentaries from National Geographic and 30 seasons of "The Simpsons."
But what's notable is how Disney has chosen to present some of that content.
For example, the original Star Wars films, which will be available at launch, will be streamed in 4K, a video resolution also known as "Ultra HD." That means you'll be able to see in sharp detail the grime on R2-D2 and Darth Vader's cape will be a richer black.
"The only place it's going to be that way is on Disney+," Kevin Mayer, Disney's chairman of direct-to-consumer, said at the media event last week.
Not every film and series on the service will get the 4K treatment, but classics like 1995's "Toy Story" and 1988's "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" have been cleaned up. I was surprised that Disney decided to remaster "The Black Cauldron," an obscure 1985 Disney animated film, in 4K.
If you don't have a 4K TV, this will probably not matter much to you. But if you do, then Disney+'s premium HD offerings are a great deal for $6.99 — especially considering that Netflix's ultra HD plan costs $15.99 a month.
"Disney Collections" help with the paradox of choice
The amount of content may be overwhelming, but the service's search functionality and curation really helps cut through the clutter.
When you use Disney+'s search option, the service will offer "Disney Collections," curated libraries that sort programming into different categories.
Fans of The Muppets can click on the Muppets collection in search and find a list of films and TV shows starring Kermit and Miss Piggy.
There is a collection for Disney Nature, one for the the Skywalker Saga from Star Wars and my personal favorite, Disney Through the Decades, which organizes Disney's content by decade starting with the 1920's.
"What we're doing is we're actually taking the best of our judgment on these titles, and what consumers want, and the machine learning algorithms and putting them together to create a really, really great personalized experience," Michael Paull, president of Disney's streaming services, said at the event last week.