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 Disney Plus, 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+, and is now available in loads of countries (US, Canada, 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 - all for £5.99 ($6.99, AU$8.99) per month.
Many 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.
By the end of the year, Disney hopes to attract 90 million subscribers – more than half of Netflix's and Amazon'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's catalogue comprises over 500 films and 350 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, claiming an investment of at least $1bn into original content in the first year alone.
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 will be the exclusive streaming hub for every Disney theatrical release from 2019 and beyond. And yes, the service will also have 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. We counted just over 100 titles – 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.
4K support isn’t limited to just new titles, though. 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.
Atmos content on Disney Plus spans 99 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 99 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. 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.
We previewed a Netherlands version of Disney Plus (launched in November 2019) prior to the European launch, and noted how useful the 'Ultra HD and HDR' category was for finding and accessing such content. Sadly, that category appears to be missing in the UK version.
A search for ‘4K’ doesn't bring up any results, so it appears impossible to see what is available in 4K without going into the description for each individual title.
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 Vizio Smart TVs; Apple TV (4th gen or later) and Apple TV 4K (running tvOS 11.0 and later) streamers; Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles; Samsung (2016 and later), LG (2016 and later) and Android-based Sony and Sharp 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.
A note on Sky Q support, though: while you might reasonably expect Sky Q to support 4K streaming on Disney Plus, as it does on Netflix, sadly the service’s 4K titles appear only playable in HD and 5.1 audio. We hope Sky rights this in the near future.
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 has reduced the service's streaming bandwidth by "at least 25 per cent" in order to ease pressure on internet service providers during the current coronavirus pandemic. Disney said: "We have instituted measures to lower bandwidth utilization, and in some circumstances streaming content in HD and UHD formats, including Dolby Atmos audio, will be limited or unavailable."
With this in mind, our final judgment of Disney Plus's picture quality compared to that of its rivals, which have also committed to lowering bandwidth, will be better reached at a later date. But we're happy to report, for those considering subscribing to the service straight away, that the material is perfectly watchable right now.
We find ourselves drawn to the technically wonderful The Lion King live-action remake (a 4K, HDR10 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 (a 4K, HDR10 title) 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 55in Samsung QLED TV.
Despite the understandable restrictions around streaming quality, we are very impressed with the Disney Plus streaming service.
As you'd expect from one that's already been up and running for several months in some countries, 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 is hoping to establish itself as a serious rival to the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+.
It isn't perfect, though – the UK service currently overlooks the importance of 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos content discovery – and it is restricted to Disney content, of course, meaning that, for many, it is likely to be a second subscription alongside a more general streaming service.
But with quality Disney Originals and plenty of theatrical releases, Disney Plus is hoping to find its own particular niche and live happily ever after in the competitive streaming world.
Read our Netflix review
Read our Amazon Prime Video review