November 12 marks the one year anniversary of Disney+. The streaming service was highly anticipated from the moment it was announced, and Disney has some of the most recognizable and well-regarded movies and TV shows in all of entertainment. It was guaranteed to be a big player in the streaming game from day one, and it was, but just how successful has Disney+ been in its first year?
From a financial standpoint, Disney+ has been remarkable. Disney has admitted that the service has already surpassed every expectation the company had at launch, and during a year where theatrical films and theme parks have been all but nonexistent, Disney+ was the one big success that Disney had. But beyond the money, how well does Disney+ really work as a streaming service? Let's take a look at it all and see what Disney+ has delivered in the last year.
When Disney+ launched a year ago, it did so with a pair of big selling points. The first was the incomparable library of content, including Walt Disney Animation, Star Wars, Marvel and so much more. The second was The Mandalorian, the first live-action Star Wars TV series, becoming the first piece of original content for the service. The Mandalorian certainly lived up to expectations. The show was all everybody was talking about for the eight weeks the first season ran, and people have been just as excited for the second season that recently kicked off.
Since then, we've seen a steady stream of original content hit the service. Certainly nothing quite on the scale of The Mandalorian, but plenty of good stuff. The Willem Dafoe-led Togo is a fantastic movie, and the Lady and the Tramp live-action remake was solid, even if it feels like we've already forgotten it existed. The Imagineering Story may be the true crown jewel of Disney+'s original content, telling an engaging story about the history of Disney itself.
And while Disney+ may have felt a little limited to start, with basically everything on the service falling into a few simple categories, as time has gone on, we've seen things expand. Even recent Disney+ movies like Clouds and the forthcoming Black Beauty were movies that didn't start out as Disney properties. Disney simply bought them because they fit well. The more Disney does this, the more Disney+ can expand into a streaming service that feels more complete, even while not being any less Disney.
One of the big hurdles that Disney has had to deal with in the last year is the company having deals with other streaming services and cable channels that gave others the rights to some high profile Disney content. In some cases, Disney clearly spent some money to get out of those deals. In other cases, it meant that a lot of movies fans might want haven't been available on Disney+. If you wanted to marathon the entire Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, for example, you can't do that, as only four of five films can currently be found on Disney+.
On the flip side, however, that has meant that as these preexisting deals expire, Disney has been able to drip feed more content into the service, making it feel like something of value was always on the way. Many might feel that many of these items should have been on Disney+ a long time ago, but better late than never, I suppose. Having said that, a combination of what was probably an intentional front loading of content, and the expediting of material due to the pandemic, has resulted in the last few months being a bit lackluster when it comes to new material. Movies like Frozen 2 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which we would have expected to see arriving in the summer, hit much earlier. This allowed Disney+ to grab some big headlines and probably add to the subscription numbers when those announcements were made, but it meant that when we got to the summer and early fall, there was very little of note hitting the service.
The pandemic certainly changed the equation when it came to Disney+, and in at least one case, that was a boon to the service. While Hamilton was originally planned as a 2021 theatrical release, the filmed stage production became the biggest streaming hit of the year and certainly made Disney+ a must-have service, even if only for one month.
On the flip side, the second biggest Disney+ release of the year was probably the Premium VOD release of Mulan. It became a unique piece of content not just for Disney+, but across the streaming landscape, as it required both a Disney+ subscription and an additional $29.99 cost. It's been unclear up until now just how successful (or not) Mulan was, but the fact that Disney has never publicly touted its success would seem to indicate it came up short. But the fact that it happened at all shows just how powerful and important to Disney's future the streaming platform really is.
There's a lot of great stuff on Disney+ right now; more than any Disney fan could conceivably watch. Having said that, there is without question one area of Disney content where Disney+ is coming up a little short: there's a significant lack of Walt Disney. The man for whom the company is named hosted hundreds of episodes of television in the 1950s and '60s, and the vast majority episodes of Disneyland, Walt Disney Presents and Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color are nowhere to be found. Many of these episodes did simply replay content that's available elsewhere on Disney+, but a lot of it is completely original, and unless you've been a Disney fans for 70 years, you've probably never seen it.
There's also a lot of older films from the same area still missing in action. Movies like So Dear to My Heart and Victory Through Air Power are pieces of real Disney history, and any service meant to give us a complete picture of the studio has a hole in it without them.
Some of the other things missing from Disney+ are no fault of the company. We were supposed to have had our first looks at Marvel series like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier by now, and we're still waiting.
As said at the outset, there's no argument that from Disney's perspective, Disney+ is a raging success. With an excess of 73 million subscribers worldwide, the streaming service is in great shape on its birthday. But the real question is, where things will go from here? While most subscribers may be happy paying a few dollars a month to have easy access to so many great Disney movies and series, other people will only pay as long as compelling new material comes available. And that monthly subscription fee is almost certainly going to start increasing, just as it does with every other streaming service, making the need to keep adding more and more that much more important.
As a subscriber myself, I'm still mostly happy with what Disney+ is, but like every time I stand in a Disney theme park, I not only see what it is, but I wonder what it will be. Hopefully year two will bring us more original content as well as continue to fill that library.
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CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.