A quick guide to some of Disney+’s original content
(Courtesy of Disney+)
Nov. 13, 2019 4:42 p.m.
This post was updated Nov. 13 at 10:37 p.m.
It would take viewers an estimated 3,937 hours to watch all of the content currently on Disney+ – that’s about 164 days of nonstop binge-watching.
Disney’s new streaming platform launched Tuesday and brings together a massive catalog of classic movies and television shows from Marvel, Lucasfilm, National Geographic, Pixar and Disney itself. In addition to opening the vault,
Disney+ also features a handful of highly anticipated original projects.
Keep reading for a few of Daily Bruin’s top picks on Disney+.
4 out of 5 paws
The first scene of “The Mandalorian” is straight out of a Western – but this stylish bar brawl just happens to be in a galaxy far, far away.
Arguably Disney+’s flagship new show, “The Mandalorian” series takes place after the fall of the Empire in “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.” The show follows the nameless, titular bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) as he sets out on a secretive mission to capture an unknown target. Though a twist ending of the first episode suggests “The Mandalorian” may be more connected to the lore of the central Star Wars trilogies, Disney is keeping its sabacc cards close to the chest.
[Related: Movie review: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’]
But what is most captivating about Disney+’s newest production is the world itself. Darker than depicted in previous films, the locales are lawless and gritty, living on the outskirts of the more heroic adventures that have previously been the focus of the Star Wars saga. In one scene, a Kowakian monkey-lizard – one of the more comical-looking creatures from the original trilogy – is roasting on a spit, a clear indicator that this is not the child-friendly Star Wars universe that audiences know.
Bleak, sweeping landscapes paired with dramatic standoffs and gunfights are highlighted by the tense score, truly making the most of blending science fiction with Western. One of Star Wars’ strengths has always been the lived-in sense that life continues beyond the edge of the frame. “The Mandalorian” delivers a seedier, more desolate version of that vivid world-building.
Unfortunately, the promise of the world isn’t yet matched by the characters that inhabit it. Through the course of the episode, the Mandalorian never takes off his mask. At first, it adds to the character’s mystery, but it ultimately feels like the audience is just staring at an emotionless piece of metal. His character works best when he has someone to play off – like his banter with the bounty droid IG-11 (Taika Waititi) or his fraught standoff with his mysterious Client (Werner Herzog). But so much of the episode feels emotionally limited by the mask, and it remains to be seen how long the show will keep its protagonist faceless.
The first episode of “The Mandalorian” fails to fully rise to its own potential, but it’s enough to hook audiences into watching the rest of the adventure unfold.
“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”
3.5 out of 5 paws
“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” could be the start of something new. Only time will tell if it can bop to the top.
The concept of the show is as complex as its multipunctuated title, set at a fictionalized version of the high school where the original High School Musical films were shot. East High’s new ambitious drama teacher (Kate Reinders) kicks off her career by holding auditions for a school production of “High School Musical.” The result is a tongue-in-cheek documentary-style show that blends “Glee” with “The Office.”
While the concept may be complicated, it’s a backdrop for a classic tale of high school drama. Nini (Olivia Rodrigo), perennial chorus member and aspiring lead actress, is fresh off a break up with her longtime boyfriend Ricky (Joshua Bassett) and determined to play Gabriella. What she doesn’t realize is that Ricky is desperate to win her back – so desperate he’s willing to audition for the role of Troy.
These new characters inhabiting East High fall into some of the same archetypes of the original characters, but they are much more flawed and human. Though suave jock-theater enthusiast EJ (Matt Cornett) is certainly built from the Troy Bolton mold, he’s more cocky and self-assured. Meanwhile, Nini’s rival Gina (Sofia Wylie) is as ambitious as the devious Sharpay Evans, but she’s less a caricature and more of a serious performer.
However, while the nuance afforded to this new cast of characters is interesting, it also poses a distinct challenge. Where the original characters were engineered to be simple and lovable, the new characters may take some time to get used to, and one episode is nowhere near enough time for the audience to decide how they feel about these new Wildcats.
With just one episode to lay the groundwork from the show, audiences will have to wait and see if “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” can get its head in the game.
“Lady and the Tramp”
4 out of 5 paws
“Lady and the Tramp” is far from paw-fect, but still more than capable of stealing audiences’ hearts.
However, like many of Disney’s live-action adaptations, the film rarely diverges from the original animation, making it predictable at best and redundant at worst. The film uses computer-generated animation to make Lady (Tessa Thompson) and Tramp (Justin Theroux) talk and emote. Unfortunately, the technology fails at seamless integration and the facial expressions never appear genuine or natural, undercutting the emotions of the dogs’ dialogue.
The film is saved by the real canine actors who play the dogs and sell the story’s authenticity in the non-CGI-enhanced shots. When Lady wanders around a baby shelter with her leash in her mouth, silently begging her owners to take her for her regular walk, her natural puppy dog eyes are more convincing than any amount of computer rendering could accomplish.
Similarly, the voice actors’ chemistry does most of the heavy lifting to make up for their animated counterparts’ shortcomings. Thompson brings an earnest innocence to Lady while Theroux nails the nuance of Tramp’s devil-may-care attitude that covers up his heart of gold.
In the end, the charm of “Lady and the Tramp” is what keeps it afloat, managing to capture the core of what made the original so heartwarming despite the lack of story innovation. The iconic spaghetti scene is even funnier because the film leans into the comedy with genuine affection. Regardless in what medium, watching two humans put together a five-star dining experience for a canine couple is timelessly adorable and relatable.
“Lady and the Tramp” is endearing despite its shortcomings, and makes for a cozy nostalgic film, perfect to watch on any “Bella Notte.”
5 out of 5 paws
“SparkShorts” is Disney+’s hidden gem, making the most of animation’s potential for compassionate, unconventional storytelling.
The “SparkShorts” program is an experimental Pixar program that is specifically designed to help underrepresented storytellers craft short animated films. Given six months and a limited budget, the filmmakers have the chance to tell any story they want, and the result is marvelous.
The first three films in the “SparkShorts” series were released on YouTube earlier this year, but all future shorts will debut on the platform. Pixar’s first “SparkShorts” film to debut on Disney+ is the highly anticipated “Float” – the studio’s first story featuring Filipino American characters.
”Float” centers on a young boy who discovers he is able to float in the air, and his father who is desperate to help his son fit in. The magical whimsy of the premise is beautifully animated, and the story packs a strong emotional punch.
In fact, all of the “SparkShorts” films are visually stunning and deeply moving, from the satirical “Purl” about a ball of yarn starting to work at a “bro-tastic” company, to the heartfelt “Kitbull” about an unlikely pair of animal friends. Featuring a variety of visual and animated styles, the beauty in each film is in the originality of each concept. Taken together, the shorts exemplify the untapped potential for animation in the hands of people who have historically been kept out of the director’s chair.
The quiet charm and innovation of “SparkShorts” get at the heart of what makes Disney so successful and popular – they’re brief, refreshing bursts of magic.