Driven to maintain a lead in family entertainment, Disney has ambitious plans for this holiday season and beyond — so driven, in fact, the company has brought back much-celebrated CEO Bob Iger to right the ship.
While Iger seems to value Disney staff and love what the company produces, he was complicit in an ideological shift that led to some families bailing on the Mouse.
It’s complicated, because Iger also backed such faith-affirming films as Clouds and two Narnia features during his earlier stint as CEO. And he returns at the same time Disney+ is “flooding the zone” with new titles.
They’re rolling out (take a breath) Tim Allen comedy series The Santa Clauses, a new National Treasure spin-off, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, a series revival of Willow, and new music specials featuring a capella group Pentatonix, Idina Menzel, Elton John, and Encanto Live.
Whether these titles sneak in objectionable agendas remains to be seen.
Whether you’re a longtime Disney+ subscriber, or your kids are clamoring to get it with the hype around upcoming titles, it’s not a simple decision for many households.
Parents have seen how every major streamer is pushing content boundaries and themes they’d rather not invite Hollywood in to teach.
There’s also rising costs and some hassle in setting up parental controls.
With the caveat that Netflix, Prime Video, and others present similar challenges — and small competitors haven’t reached critical mass — here are six positive and negative dimensions of how families are dealing with top family-focused streamer Disney Plus.
Positive: Disenchanted and The Mysterious Benedict Society Are Holiday Highlights
Fifteen years after fairy tale musical Enchanted hit the big screen, an all-star cast led by Amy Adams has reunited for a sequel titled Disenchanted.
Filmed mostly in Ireland and featuring 10 new songs, it takes the characters from urban New York City to the suburbs. The struggles of a blended family and motherhood lead Giselle (Adams) to wish for a utopian life, but it only creates more problems.
It’s a surprisingly clean and fun musical that celebrates family bonds.
Adapted from Trenton Lee Stewart’s beloved novels, The Mysterious Benedict Society introduces four orphans whose differing personalities and clever abilities complement each other.
In season one, they solved a mind-control plot involving radio waves. Now in season two, this charming show provides another kids’-level window into discerning truth from deception.
This Twitter thread does a great job of explaining the series' appeal.
Negative: Parental Controls Are Necessary as Mature Titles Added
Disney has for nearly a century defined itself as family-friendly (note how Disney-owned labels like Touchstone produced mature films under sub-brands).
This year, Disney decided to accelerate the evolution of its brand in the U.S., starting with bringing six popular and explicit Marvel shows from Netflix, including Catholic-themed Daredevil, over to Disney+.
Disney+ is also coming out in spring 2024 with a new Daredevil series, again based (just how faithfully, we'll see) on the comics. Not much is known at this time beyond the title, which is Daredevil: Born Again.
This move prompted my wife and I to begin to use parental controls on Disney+ for the first time, even though our two toddlers can’t use a remote. (It’s simple to set up.)
Since then, R-rated films Logan and Deadpool have been added to Disney+ and likely others will follow. Parental controls are an absolute must-use feature for households with young kids at home.
Positive: Classic Shows Like Bear in the Big Blue House Are Back
As Disney marks 100 years since its founding in 1923, many fans expect classic films and series to emerge from the fabled vault.
In October, the celebration kicked off with two past favorites arriving on Disney+: preschool learning series Bear in the Big Blue House, and classic Western adventure show Zorro in glorious black-and-white.
If Sesame Street is too frenzied for your toddler, Bear moves at a gentler pace more akin to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Meanwhile, all 78 episodes of Zorro are thankfully unedited.
Just before Thanksgiving, Disney+ also added both versions (1947 and 1994) of inspirational holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street. With #Disney100, other past titles are likely to come.
Negative: Many Recent Kids Shows Push Ideological Agendas
After parents set Disney+ controls for their kids to watch only G or PG-rated titles, you might expect a six- or eight-year-old could safely navigate the streamer without concern. You’d be wrong.
As revealed in surreptitiously recorded comments by Disney executives, they said for years they’ve worked at “queering children’s entertainment” which can be seen in several titles.
Toy Story spin-off Lightyear, driven by a plotline involving a same-sex couple, bombed at the box office. So did Strange World featuring a gay-identified teen character.
Popular robot character Baymax returned for a series of shorts, which include scenes of a same-sex dating relationships and a transgender person shopping for feminine hygiene products.
Animated kids shows The Owl House and Vampirina introduce witchcraft and gender-bending characters.
Regardless of parents’ convictions on these charged topics, having Hollywood frame them for impressionable young ones presents concerns for many families.
Positive: Andor Revived Star Wars With a Story-First Approach
In the galaxy of Disney+ franchises, the brightest star has been space-opera saga Star Wars.
Global hit The Mandalorian — about a hardened bounty hunter protecting an alien child — returns for a third season in February. The series and its spin-offs, including Ahsoka coming next year, invariably focus on themes of heroism, justice and self-sacrifice.
Veering a few parsecs from the standard Star Wars formula, serialized political drama Andor presents a long-form exploration of how authoritarian regimes rise and what it takes for them to fall.
This TV-14 ensemble drama has more violence and coarse language than action-oriented lightsaber battles that 10-year-olds love. For teens and up, Andor is a rich discussion starter.
Negative: Subscription Fees Are About to Rise Significantly
Disney+ launched at $7 per month, to introduce the maximum number of families to their streamer. In a few weeks, the price goes up to $11 per month.
With rising inflation and predictions of further recession, some families will likely feel priced out, especially if Disney+ doesn’t improve its value by rolling out more wide-appeal legacy films and series.
Similar to Netflix, Disney is also launching an ad-supported version ($8 per month), announcing days ago they’ve lined up over 100 advertisers. They say titles for young kids will not include ads “at launch.”
But families who’ve dealt with kids videos on YouTube know that the platform has often been a cesspool of crass marketing, with age-inappropriate ads regularly cropping up.
On one hand, the streaming revolution has benefited parents — with easy access to quality all-ages shows and overall lower costs, as many families ditch pricey cable bills.
Yet the tradeoff has been a need for guardians to have increased vigilance regarding what their charges are watching, with one finger on the remote’s off button.
Perhaps those flashpoints to discuss entertainment boundaries with kids can be a net positive.
Image: Amy Adams as Giselle in Disney's live-action DISENCHANTED, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith and public-policy issues for various media outlets. He and his wife are raising two children in Northern Virginia.