Disney Plus UK first impressions: good value, especially if you have kids at home
The Disney Plus launch in the UK was greeted with a cavalcade of parents tweeting 'Thank God, I can stick my kid in front of this.' After a long wait since the US launch in November, Disney Plus is finally here. And what a time to arrive, as the country goes behind locked doors for the foreseeable future. Disney Plus is another welcome distraction from the horror.
If you didn't take advantage of the pre-order offer that cut £10 off the price for a year's subscription before launch, it means you're probably on the fence about the service. And that's fair enough. While the UK mercifully hasn't been hit by the same onrush of streaming services as the US – which has yielded great new originals across the board, but is starting to rival the cost of a cable bill in total price – you do now have to spend well over £20 per month here to get everything.
- Try a free 7-day Disney Plus trial here
It's best to see Disney Plus as an optional add-on to your streaming life, which is how it's being positioned price-wise. It's a particularly easy sell if you have children, who can enjoy a near-complete archive of Pixar movies (minus The Incredibles 2), or animated classics, or newer live-action versions of animated classics.
Disney Plus is a very reasonable £5.99 per month, which includes 4K streams as standard. It's £59.99 for a year, too, slightly north of the price of a new game. In that time, assuming coronavirus doesn't knock TV and movie production out until deep into next year, that should get you originals like the MCU TV shows The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and WandaVision, and maybe Loki, too. The Mandalorian season 2 has finished production, so you should be guaranteed both seasons of that in year one.
Here's what we think of Disney Plus UK so far.
- The Mandalorian season 2: what we know
- How to watch the Star Wars movies in order
- The best Disney Plus movies
The selection of content is arguably better than the US
Check out the full Disney Plus launch line-up if you haven't already, to see what's on offer. It's likely that this list will help make your decision about whether or not to subscribe now.
The service definitely lives up to its promise of having a deep archive of everything Disney owns on day one. Whether you're always in the mood to watch something from these broad content catalogues (Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, Disney and National Geographic) is another question, of course, but the selection of archive content here is strong.
You'll also find loads of movies on Disney Plus UK that aren't on the US version of the service yet, like four X-Men movies and two Wolverine movies (minus Logan, of course), and a long list of Disney movies past and present. Tarzan, Tomorrowland, Christopher Robin, The Jungle Book (2016), Beauty and the Beast (2017), Maleficent, John Carter and Ralph Breaks the Internet are all here in the UK, while US customers have to wait for them. That's pretty cool. On the flipside, the US does have Frozen 2, and we're not getting that until July, according to the app.
Likewise, you've got a more comprehensive selection of Marvel movies to watch, with films like Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp that aren't available to stream until later this year in the States (the Spider-Man movies and The Incredible Hulk are the only MCU absentees). You've also got every Star Wars film here, including Solo, which the US doesn't have yet.
Originals: worth the wait?
What about original programming, and what of Disney's decision to only roll out The Mandalorian episodes weekly, even though season one finished in the US back in December? You might say that's a cynical attempt to stop people watching all the service's most valuable content with a free trial. Still, if people wait a couple of months, they'll be able to do that anyway.
The rollout of The Mandalorian was imperfectly handled, especially as the internet became awash with Baby Yoda memes. It was a bind for Disney: presumably the wait had something to do with the preparations needed to make the service as good as it could be for UK users, especially with The Simpsons only being confirmed within weeks of launch.
But it also meant a major piece of Star Wars content was out in the wild for some fans but not others, waiting to be spoiled. Some other method of watching The Mandalorian early would've been welcome, but at least it's here now. You can watch two episodes at launch, with the third (which is amazing, by the way) coming at 8am on Friday.
Your mileage may vary on the other originals, but Star Wars fans may also want to check out The Clone Wars animated series, the final season of which is releasing weekly in two-episode chunks. Disney diehards will get a kick out of The Imagineering Story miniseries, too, which explores the behind-the-scenes of Disney's theme parks. Pixar fans should check out Sparkshorts, like Float, which are short films made by the animation studio, three of which debuted on Disney Plus as originals.
Is Disney Plus worth it for adults?
A common complaint around Disney Plus since it launched in the US is the lack of things to watch if you're an adult. To be fair to Disney, it set its stall out on this subject pretty well. This was never going to be the place to stream Fox-owned adult content like Aliens or Kingsman, for example, and we always knew it.
It's hard to figure out exactly what is considered adult by the service, and whether that's holding back the potential selection. Why The Simpsons and not Futurama, for example? Would Joss Whedon's Firefly really be so out of place next to Star Wars and The Black Hole?
Captain America: Civil War is rated 12+, but it does feature a climax where its lead villain tries to shoot himself in the head, until he's choked out. In X-Men: Days of Future Past on Disney Plus UK, Professor X still tells Wolverine to "fuck off" (we checked!). What is too adult for Disney?
It makes you wonder if the remit of what's considered appropriate for Disney Plus could be expanded, and maybe it will be over time. As it stands, though, there's more for adults to enjoy on here than you might expect. Live-action Marvel shows like Runaways, Agent Carter and Agents of SHIELD are basically aimed at older audiences, and are worth checking out, even if their canonical status in the MCU is questionable.
Adults subscribing to Disney Plus might find that their tolerance for watching shows they liked when they were younger (say, Ducktales or Recess) is a little lower than expected. It's cool to have them on a streaming service, absolutely, but are you ever going to put these on instead of The Office? Maybe if you're a total Disney diehard. Again, though, it's nice to have an archive of this classic '90s animation.
It's also cool that newer Marvel fans can discover the Spider-Man and X-Men animated series, which remain essential interpretations of those characters. Neither are as high-end or artsy as the exquisite Batman animated series of the '90s, but they're well worth a watch.
And The Simpsons, of course, is perfect for a marathon if you're an adult. 30 seasons is a generous offering indeed, when you consider that at the dawn of the DVD age, one individual season boxset cost £30 or more. Annoyingly, the picture on earlier episodes is still cropped in at 16:9, and Disney hasn't yet restored the 4:3 aspect ratio as it said it would back in 2019.
Sure, it's possible only Simpsons purists will notice or care about that. But aren't we all Simpsons purists at heart in the UK, where it's been shown at teatime every day for as long as we can remember? Hopefully that'll be fixed soon, because holy cow, 30 seasons of The Simpsons is a treat, especially if you grabbed the £49.99 pre-order offer. The best seasons are largely considered to be 2-10.
The app offers a comfortable experience
The menus on the app are beautiful, with grouped collections that make the service feel nice and curated. The individual listing pages for content look fantastic, too, and underline the idea that this is a streaming service with a more particular content remit than others. You can easily add content to your watch list.
Considering the UK-only service DisneyLife never launched on PS4, it's a relief to have all this Disney content on games consoles, too. The fast-forward and rewind features aren't as good as Netflix, since you don't get that slideshow of images to show you where you are in a given film or TV show, but shows and movies load nice and quickly.
If you've got children, too, you can set up kid-specific profiles, which give the app a different interface and stop them from watching anything rated 12+, like The Simpsons. You can have up to seven profiles, and set the service up across up to 10 devices.
We've managed to get a 4K resolution working with Nvidia Shield, but not with Sky Q so far, which shows Disney Plus in 1080p in the app. Whether this is related to the current precautions around internet usage in the EU over coronavirus, we're not sure, but we've learned Sky Q will be showing Disney Plus content in 4K UHD later this year.
There's a healthy chunk of 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision-supported content in here, too, including every Star Wars movie and MCU film. If you get a free trial, you can poke around at what's in 4K by selecting content in the app and going to 'details', where it'll list whether 4K or HDR are supported.
Should you buy Disney Plus in the UK right now?
If you have children and the cost isn't an issue, Disney Plus is a no-brainer. Discerning adults should either double-check the launch list or give the free trial a go before committing to the service, because ultimately it is more family-friendly than other streaming services in its remit. That will seem like a limitation for some.
But Disney Plus is absolutely doing its job at launch in the UK. It's a big, mostly comprehensive archive of Disney, Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar content, and we're curious to see how it develops over time. While waiting a little longer for The Mandalorian isn't ideal, it'll feel like a real event when UK viewers start getting big-budget Marvel and Star Wars shows at the same time as everyone else.