DISNEY+ Review: 'The Imagineering Story' stands out, 'The Mandalorian' shrouded in secrecy
I was among the lucky press members that got to get a sneak-peek at some of the new shows coming to Disney's new streaming service, Disney+, starting on November 12th, 2019. Read on for my thoughts and reactions!
Disney+ is almost here! The highly-anticipated streaming service looks to take over the lion's share of the streaming market when it is made available on Tuesday, November 12th, 2019. While there will be TONS of content for consumers to dig into at launch (see a full list here), some of the new shows were made available to critics (like me) BEFORE the general public.
Sadly, easily the most popular and exciting new series coming to Disney+ is Jon Favreau's "The Mandalorian," the first-ever live-action Star Wars TV series that has been the flagship title of Disney's new service. Unfortunately, this show was NOT shown to critics, as I'm sure that A) it's critic-proof and B) the premiere episode apparently contains a MASSIVE spoiler regarding not just this series, but the entire Star Wars Universe. Woah baby. That being said, check back here for a full review of The Mandalorian after November 12th.
So here then are the shows - and Disney+'s first original movie - that WERE made available, with my initial thoughts.
The Imagineering Story
Clearly the best of the new programs that were previewed, "The Imagineering Story" is a six-part docu-series that chronicles the origins of Walt Disney Imagineering, "a place best described as equal parts artist studio, design center, think tank and innovation laboratory."
The first two episodes (the only two supplied to critics in advance) tells the origins of DisneyLand in California, and Walt's tireless involvement to bring something new to the landscape of family entertainment. It's interesting enough, but by the end of the first episode, we reach Walt's death in 1966, and how the Disney company as a whole was in shambles without him. The second-episode shows how the Imagineers picked up the pieces, finishing Walt Disney World and Walt's last dream, EPCOT Center, in the middle of a Florida swamp.
This series is a MUST-SEE for every Disney fan, and especially fans of the theme parks, as there are countless nuggets and interesting tidbits included on how most every ride came to be.
Lady and the Tramp (2019 movie)
It's not essential viewing, nor is it ground-breaking, but this new live-action "Lady and the Tramp" is probably the best symbolism of what we can expect on a whole from Disney+: Unfettered, digestible family entertainment. Gone also are even the faintest point of objections from the original 1955 classic (you won't for example, find the stereotype-laden "The Siamese Cat Song"), making sure that this is a family story for Disney's entire global audience.
It features voice talents from Tessa Thompson, Justin Theroux, Sam Elliott, Ashley Jensen, Janelle Monae, Kiersey Clemons and Thomas Mann. It's as harmless as they come, and it may not be much of a surprise that the first Disney remake on the new streaming service isn't quite a dog, but it definitely lacks bite.
The World According To Jeff Goldblum
Perhaps the most intriguing new entry in Disney+'s array of original content is this curious show...that lands with a bit of controversy around it. You see, Jeff Goldblum was recently in the news defending the likes of Woody Allen, a PR-nightmare that I'm sure the folks at Disney would have rather not had attached to their new launch.
But controversies aside, "The World According to Jeff Goldblum" was actually an intriguing, pleasant surprise. Watching the trailer, Goldblum's eccentric brand and style may be an acquired taste and not for everybody, but the episodes made available for critics (the first four) were actually incredibly entertaining and dare I say, educational. The quirkiness that Goldblum displays in the trailer is muted quite a bit, and it allows us to focus on the section of culture that he highlights each episode. We see Jeff jump right in to the worlds of sneakers, ice cream, tattoos and denim, and each time you'll come away with something new.
Jeff Goldblum proves to be a fun companion helping us to explore these worlds, and of all the shows that I viewed, this is the one that I would probably have been least likely to watch on my own. Now that I have though, I'm oddly anticipating more adventures with Mr. Goldblum, and feel comfortable following him anywhere.
It's definitely a strange premise: "Encore!" comes from host and executive producer Kristen Bell, who reunites actual high school musical casts years later, as they try to re-create their original performances. For example, the first episode centers on classmates from Santana High School in California, who come together 23 years after their original production of "Annie."
As this is a reality-docu-series, there is lots of real-life drama that spills in, and the show ends up not being all that much about the production after all. That's good when it leads us into some unexpected emotional territory, but it's bad in that - at an hour long per episode - there doesn't seem like enough time exists to properly explore each group. Usually with a series like this, we get to know the "characters" over several hours as the show unfolds, but with "Encore!" each episode jumps to a new set of people dealing with new sorts of drama. The format seems like a good idea, but it isn't executed properly...it's almost like you want a couple of"encore" episodes from each group of real-life people that "Encore!" brings to our attention.
Marvel's Hero Project
It's hard not to be a fan of a series that focuses on real-life "superheroes," ones that don't wear capes or fight crime. In "Marvel's Hero Project," inspiration is the true star and it takes on several roles, in the forms of kids across the country who are doing amazing things in their communities and for the world at large.
The shows begin with Marvel Comics executives defining and pin-pointing which real-life hero we will be spending time with over the course of the half-hour-long episode. We then learn about each hero and what they are doing that is so extraordinary. The episodes end with Marvel rewarding the hero with some sweet Marvel swag, some major congratulations and even a unique, personalized comic book featuring them as the star. What's not to love?
Forky Asks A Question
Pixar's newest popular animated character (voiced by Tony Hale) had to make some sort of an appearance on Disney+, and he does so in the form of "Forky Asks a Question," incredibly short (like 3-minutes long) animated vignettes where Forky learns about life. "What is Money?" and "What is a Friend?" Forky asks in the two "episodes" provided to critics.
At best, these are cute but forgettable spots. At worst, this is the most pointless Disney+ exercise at launch. Are these for adults? Then I get the lofty, tongue-in-cheek themes. Are these for kids? Then why just 3-minutes long? I'm not quite sure who is going to go out of their way for this series, who is going to remember any of these, or who would demand to see more. But I guess the good news is that it will take you just about 30 minutes to get through the 10 "episodes" that will be made available at launch.
The only other original Disney+ film provided to critics in advance (besides "Lady and the Tramp"), "Noelle" is perhaps the most "woke" Christmas comedy of all-time. Santa's kids, Noelle (Anna Kendrick) and Nick (Bill Hader) must take the torch when the job of Santa Claus is to be passed down to them, as it has for generations in their family.
There has rarely been a more sanitized film, even for a Christmas movie..."Oh my garland!" and other various Christmas puns pass as jokes, and in the first scene of the movie, Santa steps on a "hidden Mickey"...as if it wasn't already obvious enough what sort of crowd this is geared towards. Hader and Kendrick are naturally hilarious, but here, they join an otherwise impressive cast (Shirley MacLaine and Billy Eichner appear as well) that seem to be happy enough just throwing another lump of coal down into the Disney+ stocking...a stocking that is stuffed with enough other presents to make this a forgivable misfire.
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series
Of all of the new content provided to us in advance, this is the only series that I didn't get to...I didn't think I'd be the best judge of the show, seeing that I've never seen any incarnation of High School Musical whatsoever. But according to RottenTomatoes.com, this show holds a 71% "Fresh" rating, with a mix of love and hate from critics across the board.
Disney+ Details: According to the official Marvel site and Star Wars site countdown timers, Disney Plus launches in the United States at the following times on November 12:
Now is the time to subscribe to DISNEY+ HERE!
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