When Disney+ launches on Tuesday, November 12, it will deliver a vast library of intellectual property owned by the world’s largest entertainment corporation directly to consumer’s homes. The service features classic animated stories, Marvel Cinematic Universe films, the Star Wars saga, dozens of Disney Channel shows like Lizzie McGuire and That’s So Raven, and much more — all more easily accessible than ever before.
Going forward, Midwest Film Journal will do its best to cover the Disney+ original films released exclusively to the platform, starting with a live-action remake of Lady and the Tramp. We may also cover movie-adjacent properties on a case-by-case basis. However, given the significance of the Disney+ launch, we have been provided with samples of some day-one content, including documentaries, reality shows, and scripted stories.
Here are our thoughts on the new content you’ll find when you boot up for the very first time:
One part therapeutic reunion and one part typical stunt-reality TV fare, Encore! brings together casts from high-school musical productions as adults to reenact their teenage performances with Broadway professionals in five short days. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but come on, it’s Disney. While things get emotional right around the middle of each episode, everyone learns something important about themselves and the musical comes together in the end. Encore! is the perfect reality show for theater people. (Who else loves Annie, the pilot musical, like they do? The answer is nobody.) But it also brings a surprising amount of pathos as various cast members must reconcile who they were as teenagers versus who they are now as adults. The first two episodes feature guest appearances from Kristen Bell (a producer of the show) and Susan Egan, Broadway’s first Belle. If the first episode doesn’t land for you, stay tuned for the second, especially if you love Beauty and the Beast. (ALY CAVINESS)
Forky Asks a Question
A hilarious selection of silly shorts starring the existentially challenged spork-turned-toy from Toy Story 4. The two episodes available for preview, “What is Money?” and “What is a Friend?,” display a very Pixar-esque mixture of absurdist humor for parents and simple, sweet educational ideas for kid viewers. Forky was the highlight of Toy Story 4 and remains hilarious here, although classic characters from the franchise return to answer a few of his questions and some of the jokes are surprisingly dark. Each episode is about 3 minutes long, with a total of 10 episodes planned. (EVAN DOSSEY)
Marvel’s Hero Project
This docuseries features the stories of kids trying to make a difference. One episode follows a young differently-limbed woman who creates a type of prosthetic for other kids. Another is about a young boy who helps plan a march against domestic violence. In addition to highlighting their stories, a group from Marvel Comics’ editorial team designs a superhero based on the subjects to feature in a special Hero Project comic book. Frankly, the stuff at Marvel feels extraneous to the kids’ projects and a little hokey. But I guess that goes along with the territory of having one of the largest cultural loudspeakers given to kids performing local acts of activism. (EVAN DOSSEY)
The Imagineering Story
With regard to Disney+ projects made available to press, The Imagineering Story is by far the cream of the crop. Directed by Leslie Iwerks (a documentary shorts finalist at the Heartland Film Festival with her film Selling Lies), this six-hour series goes deep into the history of Walt Disney’s famous theme-park attractions. (The first two hours were made available for preview.) Imagineering opens with some hagiography about Walt Disney himself before getting to the goods — interviews and behind-the-scenes looks at the technology developed to run the world’s premier theme-park attractions. A lot of this information has been available in other docuseries across the past half-century, but never quite as comprehensively presented as it is here. I particularly enjoyed a look behind the scenes at the history of the Matterhorn Bobsleds in Disneyland, as well as the information about the Haunted Mansion. The series will launch its first episode on Tuesday, Nov. 12, with the remaining five installments debuting on a weekly basis. If the remaining four are as strong as the two presented to press, Imagineering is shaping up to be a definitive chronicle of the Disney parks. (EVAN DOSSEY)
The World According to Jeff Goldblum
A standard NatGeo-ish half-hour educational program with a celebrity twist, The World According to Jeff Goldblum follows the titular star as he learns superficial bits of information about a variety of topics. Each episode focuses on a different product; “Sneakers,” “Ice Cream” and “Tattoos” were made available for critics to screen. Each episode follows Goldblum as he introduces the topic and then proceeds to visit various private manufacturers and perform distribution stunts. Goldblum’s consistently entertaining playing his sort-of standard “self” but never seems to learn anything insightful about the topics he’s exploring. This is supposed to be him looking into topics of his own interest rather than educating us about them, but the structure and emphasis on visiting manufacturers and coming to conclusions no deeper than a Reddit TIL post makes it all feel kind of forgettable. More than anything, this show feels like an advertisement for the featured businesses. Hard not to wonder how they were selected. “Sneakers” will be available on Nov. 12, with subsequent episodes available weekly. (EVAN DOSSEY)
Lady and the Tramp
My full review is available here. (EVAN DOSSEY)