The preservation of our history is important. This includes the history of art and of our pop culture, a large amount of which has been provided or bought by the Walt Disney Company since 1923. My feelings on the House of Mouse are complicated, given that while I grew up with their movies, they are a multi-billion dollar corporation focused on everything that exists. This has really come to a head with the release of their subscription service Disney+ which I was adamant should not be allowed to succeed. As was perhaps inevitable, my family have signed up, and so I can reap the benefits without paying a single penny, which is ideal. So the question remains- being one of its biggest naysayers, what do I make of it?
Without question, the biggest advantage of Disney+ is the access to an extensive catalogue of Disney properties. There are classic shows like Ducktales, and Recess, classic films like Hercules, and The Love Bug, as well as newer hits like Moana and Frozen. There really is something for everyone. There is also a vast amount of cartoon shorts dating back to before 1928’s Steamboat Willie but, ironically, this same catalogue may be one of the service’s greatest flaws. Other subscription services like Netflix and NowTV have a massive selection of ever rotating shows and films from a variety of different companies. Not only do both these of mediums go back decades, but they are coming out with new content at a rapid pace, meaning there is no shortage of things to stream. Disney does not have this advantage. While it is true that The Mouse has an extensive vault, it is not infinite. This is most likely why there are still properties that haven’t yet been uploaded, and I suspect that we may never see a day when 100% of their creations are available. Even with the rate that Disney is swallowing up companies, they will not be able to produce content at the rate it is being consumed.
With the release of Disney+ comes the death of the Disney Vault. This was how the company invented scarcity for their films in the home media market. Once released, a film would be held “in the vault” and re-released on video every 10 years, which was your only opportunity to purchase it. As time progressed, “The Vault” became a generic term for the hypothetical place where Disney stored their past projects, both in film and television. Executive Chairman and former CEO Bob Iger has said [in THIS Variety article] that “at some point fairly soon after launch, it will have the entire Disney motion picture library” which completely eradicates the concept of The Vault, although I couldn’t find a specific statement on their television shows. If we take this statement about Disney+ having everything at face value, then the service for all intents and purposes, will become The New Disney Vault. However I don’t foresee us being given access to 100% of Disney’s content, and even if we do I doubt it will be in its original form. It’s no secret that several films have already been altered, with the most notable being 1984’s Splash! A brief moment of posterior nudity is replaced by some really poor CGI hair extension. Supposedly this was done to make it more child-friendly, so I expect we will see more of these alterations in the months to come.
The true embodiment of Disney+ not being full to the brim with films is the overwhelming lack of Song of the South. This film, released in 1946, focuses on the stories of Brere Rabbit as told by a character called Uncle Remus. It’s one of the earliest instances of a film blending live-action with hand-drawn animation and, as a result, is a semi-important piece of cinematic history. It also features the Academy Award winning song Zip-a-dee-doo-dah which remains part of the societal lexicon to this day. While it has seen cinematic re-releases for various anniversaries in subsequent years, with the last being in 1986, and has screened on television as recently as as 2006, there is still no DVD release. Non-American countries can experience the film on VHS, should you be able to find a copy, but America has never seen any kind of Home Video release. When questioned about the possibility of a release over the years, former CEOs Micheal Eisner and Bob Iger have stated that we may still see Song of the South on DVD, with Iger clarifying [in THIS Deadline article] that we would never see it on Disney+ due to “out-dated cultural depictions” that are “inappropriate in today’s world”. I firmly believe that not releasing Song of the South is a mistake, and that hiding from the mistakes of the past in no substitute to learning from them. This is especially true when you consider that 1941’s Dumbo is still available on the service…Jim Crow and all.
The secondary selling point of Disney+ is its original content which includes The World According to Jeff Goldblum and The Mandalorian. In my opinion, The Mandalorian is one of the best pieces of Star Wars media we have received in recent years, and making it the flagship series of the subscription service is one of the best decisions Disney has ever made. Releasing episodes on a weekly basis means that if people want to keep up to date with the adventures of Baby Yoda, it can’t just be done via the 7-day free trial. That 7-days, by the way, is well below the 30-day free trial of other subscription sites and whilst I understand why they would do this, it seems a bit rude. The Mandalorian has now finished airing its first series, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they continue to keep this weekly routine for the rest of their shows. Long story short, unless you’re willing to pirate this new content, you will be required to have a Disney+ subscription in order to prevent falling behind. This is particularly true in regards to their Marvel shows which will not only tie into the larger MCU, but will be essential in understanding its future films. I hate this. It sickens me. The MCU has always been largely accessible, and much of the surrounding community finds a real sense of belonging in this fictional universe, as well as fellow fans. Hiding pivotal plot points behind a continual paywall is some pure capitalist garbage which will end up alienating a lot of people. I’m all for cross media story-telling, Star Wars has been doing it for years, but that media has to be easily accessible. If you need to buy a Star Wars book, comic or audio-story it’s a one-off payment and adds to the lore of the universe instead of defining the main franchise plotline. Disney has made some good decisions with their subscription service but this decision is their worst.
At the end of the day, Disney+ is fine, but it really lacks in some areas. There is a good enough range of media available for the time being but it isn’t nearly self-sustainable enough and certainly isn’t anywhere near the level we were told to expect [To see just how incomplete their library is, check out THIS comprehensive list from What’s on Disney+]. A perfect version of this service is not just one that contains 100% of Disney’s un-edited content, but also one that is free. Art should be able to be viewed by anyone and it is this simple belief that would appear to be why many art galleries are free. If this is true of paintings and sculptures then surely it should also be true of film? Unfortunately, it isn’t quite this simple, owing to a number of things like copyright and trademark laws. Had Disney chosen only to Copyright their material it would have eventually entered the public domain but because they trademark everything, this will never happen. Regardless of this, Disney has enough money that they can afford to make the service free. Between ticket sales for their movies and parks as well as profits from merchandising, the House of Mouse could take some time off and still make a substantial income. An ideal system might be one where they release a movie to theatres, sell the DVD and then wait 5 years before uploading it to The New Vault. I can’t say that I recommend Disney+, but if if it’s to be shared by your family then it may be worth it.
Until Next Time…