Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Celluloid Ramblings: First Thoughts on Disney+

by JB
The plus is pudding.

Through some magical twist of fate, I learned last week that my Verizon Wireless Totally Legal Indentured Servitude Contract entitled me to a free year of Disney’s new streaming service. Gosh, that was nice of them! What possible benefit could Verizon and Disney derive from providing this service to a large group of people who have proved that they pay their bills? Certainly this is a reward to Me, the Valued Customer – not merely a mouse-eared carrot that Verizon is dangling to poach other carriers’ clientele!

I wonder if Verizon and Disney talk about me when I’m not in the room?
If it were not for this free trial, I am not sure if I would have jumped in on Day One. Lately, the Ghost of my Frugal Father has been visiting in the night to harangue me about my entertainment expenses. His one luxury in life was taking my mother out to dinner once a week. In the 28 years that he was alive while I was on the planet, he saw exactly two (2) movies in a theater: The Love Bug in 1968 and The Sting in 1973. That’s two movies in 28 years. I average between 100 and 150 movies a year in a theater. This apple fell far from the tree. (I am shaped like an apple.)

“Why are you wasting your money on all this television nonsense?” He whispered in my ear in the dead of night. “For Chrissakes, television is free. Did your antenna fall off the roof? Your uncle has a guy who can fix that. Cash only.”

“This is new, Dad. This is different. This didn’t exist in 1988. You know I love movies! Now I can watch a lot of stuff, and I don’t have to go to Blockbuster anymore. We have streaming services now – they’re like bonus channels you can buy.”

“Chump channels, more like. How many do you buy?”

“Let’s see… There’s Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Criterion Channel, and Shudder. Disney+ would make it six, but I’m not paying for that because…”

“I know. You’re getting a free trial of Disney+. I’m in heaven; we hear things. When that free trial runs out though, you’ll be paying, what? About $600 a year for all of these, right? Didn’t I teach you anything about money? Do you have any idea how long it took me to earn $600 when I was driving a newspaper truck? You remember I drove a newspaper truck? What the hell is wrong with you?”

That’s when I woke up.

I find it odd that Disney+ offers a package deal that adds Hulu and ESPN to their basic service because Hulu is the streaming service that I had been thinking about giving the axe. Have the fine people at Disney and Verizon been listening to me rant about Hulu in my family room via my Apple Homepod, which the fine people at Apple repeatedly assured me was NOT listening to my every conversation?

I wonder if Verizon or Disney or Hulu ever rant about ME?

I have now been clickety-clicking around on the Disney+ machine for a few days, and here are my thoughts:
1) Is it a PR nightmare or a PR bonanza for Disney that the three biggest social media takeaways from the streaming service’s launch day were 1) Early episodes of The Simpsons appear in a cropped aspect ratio that occasionally obscures gags; 2) That cute cute cute cute cute thing in The Mandalorian, which I will not spoil; and 3) McClunky. All three of these cultural phenomena certainly got people’s metaphorical jaws a-flapping on the Twitter machine! I actually wound up explaining the McClunky imbroglio to a few people on social media and played a little game with myself where I tried to explain it in as few words as possible. Final score: an admirably concise 30 words. McClunkey!

2) I very much like the classic animated shorts on the new service. I only wish that there were more of them. You get Steamboat Willie and a handful of classic Mickeys—what if Disney+ offered every animated short the studio ever made? Where is Flowers and Trees? Where is The Skeleton Dance? Perhaps Disney plans to rotate these on a monthly basis?
3) I am an unabashed fan of The Mandalorian and look forward to future episodes. It’s really well done. I like how much of the storytelling is purely visual; this sometimes seems like a lost art in the modern world of filmed entertainment. I like the characters. I like the whole look of the show. I love how indebted it is to classic Westerns. Every time I watch a new episode I thank Verizon Wireless.

4) I realize that many people want their WHOLE BIG SCREENS FILLED WITH PICTURE, but Disney needs to fix that Simpsons aspect ratio snafu. I don’t hear anyone complaining that Steamboat Willie is presented pillar-boxed; would casual Simpsons fans really think something was wrong if Disney presented the early seasons this way? I think not. C’mon, Disney! You’re all about great animation! Edumacate people!
5) I have just begun the six-part docu-series The Imagineering Story, written and directed by Leslie Iwerks, granddaughter of pioneer Disney animator and co-creator of Mickey Mouse, Ub Iwerks. It’s a terrific overview of all of the innovations that Walt Disney’s studio staff brought to the world of the theme parks. Every wonder why it’s really hard to get lost in the park? This series explains that. The second episode even spends a good ten or twelve minutes on The Haunted Mansion, the single greatest theme park attraction in the history of civilization.

6) Disney has a proven ability to mint money. I hope that means that Disney will keep finding new ways to mine its vast archives for re-releases, new documentaries, obscure gems, true rarities, and niche-interest content. How about a documentary about Song of the South? How about all the cartoons that Disney Studios produced for the military in WWII? How about introducing today’s youngsters to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit? It would literally cost them nothing!

So I guess you could say I am getting my money’s worth from Disney+, even though I haven’t had to pay for it yet—and I’m looking forward to what may lie ahead. The true test will come in one year’s time, when I am asked to…

(A sudden chill pervades the room.) “Hey, Johnny?”

“Yeah, Dad?”

“The Disney+ thing… You think they got The Love Bug on that? Lemme use your password. I may be a ghost, but I ain’t made of money.”


  1. The Ghost of your Frugal Father has spoken to me as well!

    I laughed out loud at work reading that second paragraph.

    Great piece! Patrick can vouch for this - I was saying many, many years ago that eventually, every individual company would make its own streaming service, and eventually we, the lovers of stories and entertainment that often fill our brains AND our hearts, would be the ones paying more than we did "back in the day" when we got a bunch of it on cable for less! And I think these companies know it... they take full advantage of our love and addiction!

  2. bte, it's not just the Simpsons that's cropped, from what i hear, everything that 4x3 is cropped to 16x9.

    1. I've heard they Disney will be fixing this issue in 2020.

    2. fixing for the simpsons of everything?

      what i read is that they'll ofer both version. and i'm sure the default option will be 16x9

      i hate the entertainment environment we live in now

  3. Was thinking about signing up, but realized that it doesn't work on Linux. Which means it won't work on my setup at home...

    1. After doing a bit of reading on it, it looks like a problem with DRM. They're worried about stuff being pirated, so they're making the standards more strict about which operating systems/browsers can stream the media.

      It's fucking ironic because, now I'm left in the unfortunate position where I have cash in my hand, saying let me pay you for this content, but my only option they're leaving me to see it is by pirating.

      This is reminiscent of the Netflix situation, where you can only get 1080p by using the microsoft Edge browser. If you're using Google Chrome to watch Netflix, you're limited to 720 (and I would gamble that a large majority of users don't know that. Press ctrl-alt-shift-D to see exactly what you're getting). My TV is only 720p, so this works for me.

  4. Even in an Australian household there's been a conversation on which streaming services can we live without. It was a fantastic piece!

  5. You Must Remember This is doing a great series on Song of the South - highly recommended!

  6. Great article JB. Myself and members of my family share Prime and Netflix, so it's not too bad costwise. There's 4 of us sharing the Netflix account, and everyone else uses it sparingly, so there's never a problem with too many people watching.

    As as child, we only had whatever we could pick up on the antenna, which meant I watched a ton of Simpsons and The Next Generation reruns. I'm firmly in the camp that the benefits of being able to watch anything you want at anytime, greatly outweigh the cost of doing so. We might not live in a "golden age" of movie making, but we certainly do live in a golden age of movie watching.