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The day is almost upon us. On 24 March, Disney+ will finally launch in the UK — four months after it arrived in the United States. The service is launching with more than 500 movies and countless hours of television, with the near-bottomless Disney archive available for the perusal of binge-hungry Brits.
But alongside the bountiful archive content, there’s also a selection of original material which is exclusive to the Disney+ streaming platform. There’s new stuff from the world of Star Wars, the Pixar universe and a remake of one of the Mouse House’s most beloved animated classics.
With so much stuff to watch, though, it’s often difficult to sift through the garbage to get to the gold. So with that in mind, here’s the pick of the Disney+ Originals available on day one...
For many people, this is the main event of the Disney+ slate. Set in the years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, the series sketches out a very different corner of the galaxy far, far away. It focuses on the murky world of bounty hunters, with Pedro Pascal leading the show as the titular gun for hire. Created by The Lion King director Jon Favreau, this is already a series that has launched countless memes and inspired arguably more positive online buzz than The Rise of Skywalker managed.
Two episodes of The Mandalorian are available on launch day, with the rest set to arrive weekly in a mirror of the strategy deployed in the USA. Both of those episodes feature ample action and, of course, the debut of the internet’s favourite character.
It may not seem like it today, but the theme park business was a huge risk for Walt Disney in the 1950s. Documentary series The Imagineering Story follows the history of this part of the Disney company with particular focus on the “imagineers” — a portmanteau of imagination and engineer — responsible for bringing the boss’s vision to life and creating Disneyland. In the director’s chair is Disney stalwart Leslie Iwerks, who also helmed Mouse House doc The Pixar Story in 2007 and has a family connection to the company.
The documentary is a fascinating delve into the archive, with an enviable supply of talking heads and several never before seen looks behind the curtain of how Disneyland operated in the past and runs today. It occasionally has the whiff of a corporate-approved hagiography about it, but there’s enough focus on what could — and often did — go wrong to make this a very enjoyable look at Disney’s history.
For younger millennials and the older members of Generation Z, the High School Musical franchise was a key cultural artefact — a sleepover staple. If nothing else, it launched the career of charismatic leading man Zac Efron. Almost 15 years later, Disney+ is taking a meta swipe at the trilogy with the very enjoyable high school romcom High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.
Set in a fictionalised version of East High School — shooting location for the original movie — it follows the work of an ambitious new drama teacher who decides to stage the musical at the school where the film was shot. It’s essentially Glee with meta edges and, as a result, is deliciously enjoyable, provided you have a high tolerance for slightly twee teen drama and over-earnest musical numbers.
It has already been renewed for a second season, set to focus on a different production.
As part of a spate of canine-focused movies arriving on Disney+ — more on another one later — Willem Dafoe wears a big coat and traverses the Alaskan wilderness in Togo. The movie tells the story of the titular sled dog’s efforts in the historic 1925 Serum Run, for which another pooch has historically been given credit. The film feels like an old-fashioned adventure story in the best way and is not shy of tugging on the heartstrings of audiences.
Togo is tailor-made for a rainy Sunday afternoon in front of the TV. It’s a proper family movie that benefits from a selection of adorable canine protagonists, achieved by the use of real dogs when possible, rather than the CGI animal depicted in the otherwise enjoyable recent Disney/Fox adventure The Call of the Wild, starring Harrison Ford.
Voiced by comedian Tony Hale, Forky was the breakout star of Toy Story 4. The sentient spork is now the star of his own show on Disney+, with each short episode focusing on a different question — including “What Is Money?” and “What Is a Friend?” — as Forky begins to learn about life. Many of Forky’s friends also show up, with cameos from John Ratzenberger as Hamm and Wallace Shawn as Rex, among others.
Read more: Tony Hale has some questions about the UK
The series is one of many excellent kiddie-focused offerings debuting on Disney+, with Hale clearly relishing the opportunity to improvise and add more silliness to the Forky character. Given there are going to be a lot of parents schooling their children at home in the coming weeks, these three-minute bursts of fun could serve as a great reward for good work.
The 1955 puppy love romance Lady and the Tramp is one of Disney’s most beloved animated classics. It has now become the latest gem of the Disney cartoon catalogue to get the live-action treatment, from director Charlie Bean — whose own background is in animation. Tessa Thompson voices the pampered pooch Lady, who crosses paths with Justin Theroux’s street mutt. They bond, eat meatballs and learn more about each other’s very different ways of life.
Many assumed that Lady and the Tramp debuting on Disney+ rather than a cinema release was a black mark on its quality, but that is far from the case. Bean’s movie is charming, witty and warm, with the star-studded voice cast — Janelle Monáe, Sam Elliott and Benedict Wong are also on board — giving real personality to their canine characters. It’s a sweet-natured treat.
Slushy YA dramas might be a common thing, but Stargirl does a better job of the formula than most. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Jerry Spinelli, the film tells the story of the titular free spirit — played by teenage pop star Grace VanderWaal — who arrives at high school and immediately catches the eye of Graham Verchere’s Leo. Their path to romance, naturally, is far from smooth.
If you’ve ever seen a YA romance before, you’ll be able to trace the beats of Stargirl well before you press the play button, but the film is a rewarding slice of schmaltz. VanderWaal, particularly, has bona fide star quality and there are at least half a dozen thoroughly entertaining musical numbers.
We’re living in an era of peak fandom for quirky, ageing movie stars. Suddenly, Keanu Reeves and Jeff Goldblum are two of the most beloved actors on the planet. In that landscape, it’s little surprise that Goldblum has been given his own star vehicle on Disney+ in the shape of offbeat documentary series The World According to Jeff Goldblum. It features the Jurassic Park actor exploring various topics, including trainers, ice cream and tattoos.
Obviously, your mileage for this show depends on how much you enjoy the company of Goldblum, who spends much of the programme making awestruck noises and taking conversations down bizarrely entertaining garden paths. There are moments of proper brilliance — a big-money footwear transaction allows Goldblum to quote the Godfather films — but there’s also plenty of dead space and well-trodden documentary ground.
The children’s book world is currently packed with stories about cynical, precocious characters delivering an askance look at reality. One of those protagonists is Timmy Failure, who is now the star of a movie via Disney+. Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made — directed, bizarrely, by Spotlight filmmaker Tom McCarthy — casts Winslow Fegley as a preteen who believes he’s a detective, solving local area crimes with the help of his polar bear sidekick and supportive, but stressed mother (Ophelia Lovibond).
Timmy Failure is the very definition of a mixed bag. Fegley’s performance is terrific and there’s a strangely offbeat sense of humour running through the whole thing. However, the more emotional elements of the story don’t quite push through. With that said, it’s designed squarely to hit its target audience — and it will comfortably do so.
As well as the fully original Disney+ movies and TV shows coming to UK streaming, there’s some other never-before-seen material on offer. The Star Wars movies are available to stream in 4K for the first time ever — albeit in the already infamous form of what will probably come to be known as the ‘Maclunkey Cut’ of A New Hope.
Read more: All of the Star Wars on Disney+ in the UK
There’s also at least one unseen deleted scene from Avengers: Endgame available on the service, as well as almost every movie in the MCU. The scene features Katherine Langford as the grown-up version of Morgan — Tony Stark’s daughter — and will prove to be a tear-jerker for MCU fans given one more chance to say goodbye to Robert Downey Jr.
Disney+ will land in the UK on 24 March. There’s a monthly subscription fee of £5.99 a month, or an annual charge of £59.99. If you pre-order before 23 March, Disney is offering a year’s subscription for £49.99.
Disney+ is set to debut in the UK on 24 March.