My Disney+ membership renewed this week. (I’m still a little taken aback that I was unable to talk my partner into the three-year deal.) This means that the first year of the service ended this week, which is surely as good a time as any to look into how things are going. It was predicted, before the service premiered, that it would mean great changes for this column, providing me with access to things previously locked in the Vault. Or at the very least only for rent or on physical media.
To a certain extent, that’s been true. I don’t think I’ve rented a single Disney title in the last year, even for Year of the Month, where the perfect movie would routinely be unavailable for streaming on a service I already subscribed to. Or sometimes at all. There have been several things I’ve written about because I had discovered historical curiosities in the options now available. In at least one case, it even came with the original commercials included back in the ’70s, which was its own delight. Certainly it was the Disney TV options that I was most curious about.
It is also the place where the service fails the most. Because those TV offerings, if you care about Disney television before late-’90s Disney Channel fare, are pretty scanty. This includes some of the really obvious stuff, in fact. Zorro is nowhere to be seen except a movie pieced together out of the episodes back when they were new. The only variant of The Mickey Mouse Club available is the 1955-1959 version, and only the week of October 3-7 of 1955. I’m pleased to say that there are 25 episodes of Spin and Marty, but not a lick of Daniel Boone.
I cannot fault their choice to go with only one way of viewing Davy Crockett—it’s available as the theatrical-release movie, not the TV episodes. That’s fine; that makes sense, I suppose. However, it does start to feel as though the thing most missing from Disney+ is Walt Disney. Which is a curious choice. There are a few highlights of his many years of TV hosting, such as “Disneyland Around the Seasons” and “The Plausible Impossible,” but much of what I’d hoped for most simply isn’t there.
The movie selection is incomplete as well. And I’m not talking about Song of the South. I’m talking about Make Mine Music. It has always been my favourite of the non-Fantasia package films, and it remains missing from the service. I assume because of the “Martins and the Coys” debate that’s kept it from a good DVD release, but for whatever reason, it’s missing. Some of the studio’s most experimental animation from the era is in that movie, but they’re afraid to show a movie with a feud, I guess.
The live action movies of that era are also missing a few options. There are three Hayley Mills movies, but she made five for Disney at the time, plus innumerable Parent Trap sequels for the Disney Channel. And if the latter aren’t terribly good, well, neither are a lot of the more recent made-for-Disney-Channel offerings the service does have. There are two Jodie Foster options; too bad for you if you want to see her actual debut for Disney in Napoleon and Samantha. (Tom Sawyer was United Artists and Bugsy Malone was Paramount, for the curious.) Fans of Tommy Kirk or Annette Funicello will have to go elsewhere for their Merlin Jones fix.
As for the shorts, the selection has improved over the last year. To my great delight, it even includes some of the more obscure and artistic choices, the highlights of the Silly Symphonies. But only the highlights. There are a lot of shorts still missing. And on the one hand, that’s fine—there are literally hundreds of Disney shorts, after all, and not everyone has the slightest interest in most of them. Including some of the ones that are available. On the other hand, it had struck me since I started this column that Disney took a lax attitude toward collections of the shorts on YouTube, and that no longer seems to be the case; they’re getting taken down for copyright a lot more often, but the missing shorts aren’t up on Disney+.
Also in the category of “maybe I’m the only one who cares,” there’s not a lot of the Disney safety films. I’ve wanted to cover the “I’m No Fool” series for ages but haven’t found a proper release. The only search result for “Jiminy Cricket” is Pinocchio or Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Despite his appearance in Fun and Fancy Free, where he even appears on the poster. The Goofy driving shorts and the Donald Duck accident shorts are similarly missing—I don’t expect “Family Planning,” but no “How to Have an Accident at Work”?
And, yes, there is the search function. I like that it lets you search by character; that’s a handy feature for a Disney service. One of the results I got while looking to make sure Dinosaur (a movie I have not cared about enough to watch) was on the service was for an obscure character in The Ghosts of Buxley Hall. I’m now certain that the search for character does not pull up all results—see Jiminy Cricket—but it’s still an intelligent addition. I also like that they have “collections,” and some of their choices there are interesting. “Through the Decades” is a particularly inspired choice, actually arranging quite a lot of the site’s content in chronological order.
But. (And you knew there’d be a “but.”) What kind of search function lets you select very long names but doesn’t have a “clear” button? All very well to let you search “Count Sergio Luchesi Di Gonzini,” but it then fails to let you just clear it and start searching for something else. And the app, at least as I use it on my Fire Stick, assumes that the last person to use the service is still the one using it now, and unlike Netflix or Hulu it doesn’t start by asking you who you are—which it does on my computer, surely the place more likely to still be me. And the reason I searched for “Jiminy Cricket” was that there’s no punctuation available, and I don’t know if its failure to have results for “im no” is that it would’ve for “i’m no.” I also strongly suspect that count wasn’t in all the results that came back for his name.