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Disney+ has officially launched and it already contains a massive amount of content, right out of the gate. Everything from the majority of the Star Wars library to nearly every Pixar movie will be there for people to enjoy. However, Disney's library goes all the way back to the 1920s, and in the nearly 100 years the studio has been around, Disney has produced a lot more than theatrical blockbusters.
Like most streaming libraries, the bulk of the content will be less well-known material. There will be a lot of Disney Channel original movies and TV movies originally broadcast as part of the various Disney anthology series, like The Wonderful World of Disney. However, buried among the well-known and the obscure are some even more unusual items. There are a handful of movies that are, in their own way, quite unique and even a little bizarre. Here are some of the strangest movies you'll be able to watch on Disney+ on day one, and the interesting stories behind them. If you'd like to see the full list of available content for yourself, you can check it out a 7-day free trial of Disney+ by using this link.
Swiss Family Robinson (1940)
You don't have to be a Disney historian to know that Walt Disney made a film version of Swiss Family Robinson. However, that movie was made in 1960. While that will also be available on day one of Disney+, this is not that movie. This is the 1940 version of the film. And no, this isn't an early example of Disney remaking its own material. Disney had absolutely nothing to do with the production of the 1940 version of the story. Although, it is said this version of the film inspired Disney to remake it in the first place.
So if this isn't a Disney movie, why is it on Disney+? Well, prior to the advent of the VCR, it was much more common practice for movies to see regular theatrical re-releases. It was the only way audiences could see a movie after it had left theaters, and the only way studios could continue making money off old properties. The story goes that when Disney decided to remake Swiss Family Robinson, the studio wanted to be sure it didn't find itself competing in theaters with the old version, so the studio bought the rights to the 1940 version in order to essentially bury the film so the Disney version would be the only version people could see. Now you can see both on day one of Disney+.
Richie Rich's Christmas Wish
The direct-to-video sequel to a popular, or occasionally not so popular, theatrical movie isn't all that common today, but it was a pretty regular occurrence in the 1990s and early 2000s. Disney made a lot of sequels to its animated hits, and other studios did the same. This is why, four years after the release of Macaulay Culkin's Richie Rich movie in 1994, we got Richie Rich's Christmas Wish, only this lacked the Home Alone actor. These things were made on a budget, after all.
Except Richie Rich wasn't a Disney movie. It wasn't even one of the movies Disney just accidentally bought when it took over Fox. Richie Rich was made by Warner Bros, so that's why the original movie isn't on Disney+. The direct-to-video sequel, however, while still being distributed by WB, was produced by Saban Entertainment. Saban, the studio behind the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, was also a major shareholder in the Fox Family Channel, which Disney purchased in 2001 and turned into ABC Family (it's now known as Freeform). Along with the purchase of the channel, Disney bought the rights to Saban's library. Disney actually owned the Power Rangers for a while, though Saban eventually bought the rights to those characters back. Nobody else wanted this random Richie Rich movie, however, so it ends up on Disney+.
The Secret of the Magic Gourd
If you're a serious Disney fan, then there's a good chance that over the years, you've already seen a lot of the content that will be hitting Disney+. But one of the more obscure items available has to be The Secret of the Magic Gourd. It's been available on DVD before, so it hasn't been impossible to find, but it's unlikely most even knew to look for it.
The Secret of the Magic Gourd was a co-production between Disney and the Hong Kong-based Centro Digital Pictures. The movie was produced exclusively for the Chinese market and wasn't really meant for the western audience. The DVD released in the west was dubbed into English, and one assumes that's what you'll get from Disney+ as well. It uses a combination of live-action and CGI animation, and it's an interesting experiment in that it uses the traditional Disney formula of adapting a well known fairy tale, just not one you probably know well.
While I'm more than a little disappointed that original episodes of Disneyland, the original anthology series hosted by Walt Disney himself, aren't going to be on Disney+ on day one, a lot of the movies broadcast on the various iterations of the The Wonderful World of Disney will be included in the service. As you might expect, not all of these made-for-TV movies are winners, but, when you look back you realize that some of these movies are unique for entirely different reasons.
1986's Casebusters, about a pair of kid detectives working for their grandfather's security company, for example, was directed by, of all people, A Nightmare on Elm's Street's Wes Craven. That same year, horror icon Mick Garris would direct Fuzzbucket, a film he also wrote, about a young boy and his imaginary friend. While this isn't the only Disney project from Garris, it's still more than a little bizarre to associate these horror masters with not simply Disney, but made-for-television Disney movies from the 1980s.
Walt Disney Studios is, of course, the gold standard when it comes to animation, but there have always been attempts to take the Mouse down from his pedestal. One of those attempts actually came from one of the studio's own animators. Don Bluth worked for Disney as far back as Sleeping Beauty, and he directed The Rescuers, but in the 1980s, he became dissatisfied with the direction of the studio and struck out on his own.
Don Bluth would go on to create some memorable animated features in his own right, like The Secret of NIMH and The Land Before Time, which Bluth opened in theaters the same day as Disney's Oliver and Company, just to show how much he was willing to take on his former employers. Thumbelina was a movie Bluth actually made for Warner Bros, but in the early 2000s, Fox, which had hired Bluth to make animated features for it like Anastasia and Titan A.E., bought the rights to it and a couple other older Bluth movies. Now, several of the movies from the man who wanted to take on Disney, belong to Disney, including Thumbelina.
If you're looking for something a bit outside the beaten path to enjoy on Disney+, these are just a few options. Assuming, of course, you can find time for them after watching The Manadalorian and The Imagineering Story, and marathoning the entire Pixar library.
Disney is so well known as a maker of blockbuster films today that it's easy to forget that's a fairly recent change to the status quo. For a long time, it was just a studio like any other, trying different things to see what would connect with the audience. This has resulted in a lot of unique material, much of which is now available on the new Disney+ streaming platform.
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