Once upon a time, a man called Walt Disney founded Walt Disney Studios with his brother and became one of the best-known motion-picture animators in the world. Fast forward nearly 100 years, over 400 movies and more than 60 Academy Award wins and, thanks to the Disney Plus video streaming service, nearly every Disney title ever committed to celluloid is now available to stream in one place.
Disney Plus (Disney+) is a natural rival to the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+, available in loads of countries – US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and several European countries. It offers a rich catalogue of films and TV shows from Disney and its subsidiaries – Lucasfilm, Marvel, Pixar and National Geographic, as well as a slate of new Disney+ Originals. As of more recently, Disney Plus subscribers in Europe, Canada, New Zealand and the UK also have access to Star, a channel that offers "grown up" content from ABC and 20th Century Fox back-catalogues, plus originals that already live on US service Hulu (which Disney has a majority stake in).
Many titles are presented in the best video and audio technologies available today – 4K, HDR10, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos (technologies also adopted by its rivals) – and Disney has really gone the distance where device support is concerned.
Less than a year after it launched, Disney has attracted around 95 million subscribers – not far off half of Netflix's headcount at the time of writing. So should Disney Plus be part of your world or should you let it go? Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's off to Disney's service we go...
- Disney Plus: price, films, shows and all the details
- 14 of the best Disney Plus movies and shows to watch right now
Disney Plus launched in the States in November 2019, rolling out to other territories (including Europe and the UK) the following March. The monthly fee was £5.99 ($6.99, AU$8.99, €6.99), making it a very tempting proposition indeed.
But, partly in light of the arrival of Star in several markets, that price has now gone northwards. Since 23rd February 2021, the monthly cost of Disney Plus is £7.99 ($7.99, AU$11.99, €8.99). In the US, the Disney Plus, Hulu, and ESPN Plus bundle will also get a $1 increase to $13.99 per month. Subscribers who signed up to Disney Plus before that February date will pay the original monthly price up until August 2021, when it will change to the pricier one.
Note that an annual subscription works out cheaper – £79.90 ($70, AU$120, €89.90) – if you're willing to pay that upfront sum.
Disney Plus's catalogue comprises over 700 films and more than 400 TV series, from all-time classics to family favourites, including three of the four most profitable films ever made: Avatar, Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
One of the service's biggest selling points is its slate of original shows, such as The Mandalorian, The World According To Jeff Goldblum, Clone Wars, The Imagineering Story and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (yes, that is its real title). Disney seems willing to splash the cash, announcing it plans to spend $8bn to $9bn on Disney Plus content alone in fiscal 2024, by which it hopes to have attracted over 230 million subscribers.
That title-dropping expands to more than 30 films and 50 series from the Marvel universe, including Black Panther, Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, Guardians Of The Galaxy and Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Disney Plus is the only place to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Captain Marvel and all future releases from both Lucasfilm and Marvel, and is the exclusive streaming hub for every Disney theatrical release from 2019 and beyond. And yes, the service also has over 600 episodes (30 seasons) of The Simpsons, too.
The catalogue features plenty of 4K HDR content (some originally mastered, some remastered), which isn't surprising considering Disney has been in the Ultra HD Blu-ray game for three years. When we first reviewed the service upon launch, we counted just over 100 titles in 4K HDR – including Frozen, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Lion King (2019), Aladdin (2019), Toy Story 4, Moana and all five of Disney’s new Original movies. But thanks in part to the Star expansion, that figure has grown considerably.
In Europe, Canada, New Zealand and the UK, Star has matured the service offering, appealing more to adults and sensibly introducing parent controls (which means parents can set limits on access for specific profiles based on content age ratings and introduce PIN locks on profiles with access to mature content). Star arrived in February 2021 as a 270-film, 75-show proposition, including four originals and plans for future premieres. Highlights include – deep breath – Modern Family, The X-Files, Deadpool 2, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Favourite, 24, Lost, Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Prison Break, Scrubs, The Killing, How I Met Your Mother and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
4K support isn’t limited to just new titles, either. Toy Story is in 4K HDR, as are the original Beauty And The Beast and The Lion King. Classics such as Alice In Wonderland, Pinocchio, Cinderella, The Jungle Book and Sleeping Beauty are presented in Full HD with 5.1 audio.
The fact you can download these titles in full 4K onto a compatible tablet or smartphone is arguably one of the best-value features of Disney+, considering the cost of individual 4K movies to rent or buy.
Downloads are unlimited, don't expire, and can be downloaded on up to 10 devices. The same treatment isn't so abundant with TV shows, with 4K HDR material limited to a handful of new Disney Originals series.
The service not only has plenty of content in 5.1 audio, it also supports Dolby Atmos, which was probably to be expected, given Disney's commitment to the format – the very first theatrical Atmos release was Disney's Brave, after all.
Atmos content on Disney Plus spans over 100 titles – all movies, shorts and the odd Disney Original – including The Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise, The Mandalorian, WALL-E, Thor: Ragnarok, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2, Big Hero 6 and the Captain Americas. Those same titles are also available in Dolby Vision HDR.
Ease of use
Disney Plus's interface is similar to Netflix's – and just as easy to use. It hasn't tried to reinvent the wheel with its layout, and the result is a service most people will feel comfortable navigating.
A banner of featured content heads up the home page, with titles grouped into categories such as 'Recommended for You', 'Originals', ‘Musicals’ and ‘Mickey Mouse Through The Years’. There is also a 'Nostalgic Movies' tab for those who wish to revisit Bedknobs And Broomsticks, Pete’s Dragon and Herbie Goes Bananas.
Above these categories – sandwiched between the featured content banner and title categories – are five blocks for Disney, National Geographic, Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar (or six in those regions that also have Star). These allow subscribers to dive right into the offerings of each of those specific Disney-owned brands.
Disney Plus's 'Collections' group similar content together – for example, films within the Spiderman universe or films featuring princesses. In the ‘Winnie the Pooh Collection’ you'll find everything from The New Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh TV series (1988-1991) to 2001’s The Tigger Movie and the recent Christopher Robin feature.
A pull-out sidebar lets you view only movies, only TV series or Disney Originals, search for specific content using the search bar, and access your watchlist (titles you've pinned for easy access at a later date). Up to seven profiles for each family member can be made on one account too.
A nice touch is that each user can pick a character for their profile, which can be made child-friendly with bolder icons, and a more colourful, less dense interface populated with more kids' content.
The Ultra HD and HDR category on the home page (which was missing from the app at launch in the UK) is a great way to quickly find content in the highest possible quality, and logos for 4K, HDR (HDR10 or Dolby Vision) and Dolby Atmos are neatly flagged within the synopsis, alongside those for age appropriateness, year of release, genre, season count and audio format. But you will only see these badges if your device supports the technology.
Unsurprisingly, Disney Plus has launched with exhaustive hardware support.
The service works across web browsers; iOS (iOS 11.0 and later) and Android (OS 5.0 Lollipop and later) phones and tablets; Google Chromecast, including devices with Chromecast built-in, such as select Sony and Philips Smart TVs; Apple TV (4th gen or later) and Apple TV 4K (running tvOS 11.0 and later) streamers; Xbox One, Series S and Series X consoles; PS4 and PS5; Samsung (2016 and later), LG (2016 and later) and Android-based Sony, Sharp and Philips TVs; a wide range of Roku streaming players; Android TV set-top boxes such as Nvidia Shield TV and Mi Box; all of Amazon's Fire TV streamers, Fire TV Edition smart TVs, and Fire Tablets (Fire OS 5.0 and later); and Sky Q.
Disney Plus’s catalogue can be streamed from an iOS device over AirPlay to Apple TV (including the 3rd- and 4th-generation boxes) as well as any TV compatible with AirPlay 2.
Up to four screens can stream simultaneously on one account, which is on a par with Netflix’s pricier Premium tier and better than Apple TV+’s and Amazon Prime Video’s three-screen limit.
Disney reduced the service's streaming bandwidth by "at least 25 per cent" in order to ease pressure on internet service providers during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, but such limits have since been lifted and the performance is excellent.
We find ourselves drawn to the technically wonderful The Lion King live-action remake (a 4K Dolby Vision title) and are met with appropriately lush landscapes, tangible textures of lion fur, baboon skin and bird feathers, and a clean, crisp picture.
In the much darker opening scene of The Mandalorian (also in 4K and Dolby Vision) that crispness reveals itself again, complete with punch to lights and shine off helmets. There is enough gleam and sharpness to do justice to the series' high production values.
Even older titles that have been remastered in Full HD, such as Pete's Dragon (1977) and The Aristocrats (1970) display a surprising amount of clarity, coherence and richness on our LG CX OLED.
We are very impressed with the Disney Plus streaming service. This is a polished and personal streaming service that fans of Disney's output are bound to enjoy.
With its rich, appealing catalogue, vast picture and audio quality support, intuitive usability and reasonable subscription price, Disney Plus has quickly established itself as a serious rival to the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
Disney Plus is restricted to Disney-family content, of course, although the recent addition of Star goes some way to addressing that. Still, for some this will likely serve as a second subscription alongside a more general streaming service.
Whether you view it as a primary streaming service or more of an add-on, with quality Disney Originals and plenty of theatrical releases, Disney Plus seems to have found its own particular niche and looks set to live happily ever after in the competitive streaming world.
Read our Netflix review
Read our Amazon Prime Video review