Disney Plus review: The streaming service for the young and young at heart

Victoria D. Doty

Disney/Screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET Just like seemingly everything else Disney does, from Rise of Skywalker to Avengers: Endgame to Galaxy’s Edge, its streaming service is a phenomenon. Disney Plus launched in November 2019, and as of this March had amassed more than 100 million subscribers — no small feat for a new streaming service. Its marquee original series, The […]

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Disney/Screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Just like seemingly everything else Disney does, from Rise of Skywalker to Avengers: Endgame to Galaxy’s Edge, its streaming service is a phenomenon. Disney Plus launched in November 2019, and as of this March had amassed more than 100 million subscribers — no small feat for a new streaming service. Its marquee original seriesThe Mandalorian, gave fans Baby Yoda theoriesmerchandise and memes. And its first Marvel Cinematic Universe-set series WandaVision quickly became one of the most popular shows in America after its January premiere. All this success has Netflix and other big names in streaming taking notes. Not bad for $7 a month, even though the price will rise to $8 a month on March 26.

Like

  • Wide catalog of popular TV and movies from Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and National Geographic
  • Low monthly price without ads
  • New theatrical releases available during pandemic
  • Easy-to-navigate interface, with 4K HDR available for some titles

Don’t Like

  • No big original hits beyond The Mandalorian and WandaVision
  • Little customization of kids’ profiles
  • Unlike HBO Max, the biggest theatrical movies cost extra at first

The big question: Is it worth the money to you? If you’re a cord-cutter, especially one with children, then Disney Plus is likely a must-have. With only a few notable exceptions, Netflix is losing a host of Disney content to the new service, meaning if you or the little ones want to watch Moana, for example, you’ll need a Disney Plus subscription. 

Whether it allows you to ditch NetflixHulu or Amazon Prime Video depends on your budget and priorities. But one thing is clear: Disney Plus already belongs in the top tier of streaming services, with a massive catalog of popular TV shows and movies you can’t find anywhere else, a well-designed app and an affordable price without making you watch any ads. For those reasons it deserves CNET’s Editors’ Choice award.

Streaming compared

Disney Plus Netflix Hulu HBO Max
Monthly price $7 (going up to $8) Starts at $9 Basic $6 with ads, Ad-free for $12, Live TV for $55 $15
Ads No No Yes, with basic tier No
Availability Now Now Now Now
Top titles The Mandalorian, WandaVision, Avengers Endgame, Toy Story, The Simpsons Stranger Things, The Crown, Breaking Bad, The Queen’s Gambit Handmaid’s Tale, Catch-22, Lost, Bob’s Burgers Entire HBO catalog, Studio Ghibli films, DC films
Mobile downloads Yes Yes Yes (on Ad-free plan only) Yes
4K available Yes Yes (on Premium plan) Yes No
HDR available Yes Yes (on Premium plan) No No
Number of streams 4 1 (2 for Standard, 4 on Premium) 2 (Unlimited with Live TV and a $10 add-on) 3

A catalog of major hits and forgotten favorites

In contrast to the meager selection of nine shows offered by Apple TV Plus when it launched around the same time in November 2019, Disney hit the ground running with 500 movies and 7,500 TV shows on its first day. There’s a ton of Marvel, a shipton of Star Wars, a boatload of Pixar and a healthy sprinkle of National Geographic (which is owned by Disney). You’ll also find 30 seasons of The Simpsons, and other programming from Disney’s takeover of Fox. Depending on the content and device there is support for both 4K HDR video and Dolby Atmos surround sound.

With so many movies and TV shows available, it’s likely that if you can think of a Disney movie or TV show, it’s there. Even before you try searching, the interface serves up plenty of suggestions, including a great mix of nostalgia (Turner and Hooch) and princess movies (Frozen 2). And more besides.

23-disney-plus

It’s no surprise that Disney Plus is packed with kid-friendly shows and movies.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Disney’s ’70s period may be denigrated these days, but the service helped resurface some classics that appeared during that period, including the Herbie series and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The interface will reacquaint you with movies that you may have forgotten were Disney, such as Flight of the Navigator. And if your formative years took place in the late ’90s and early aughts, you’ll find all of the Disney Channel Original Movies from that era on the platform too, like Halloweentown and Smart House. 

The content isn’t all perfect. At launch, The Simpsons was only available in widescreen, with no 4:3 option for older seasons that were not HD native — cutting out some great visual gags. However, the platform has since changed all 30 seasons of the show back to its original form. And the Han-shot-first scene in the original Star Wars movie, A New Hope, has apparently been edited yet again. 

For a while, The Mandalorian was the only must-watch original series. But now WandaVision’s success gives us hope for more of the upcoming Marvel shows as well, like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (coming March 19) and Loki (June 11).

Read more: HBO Max vs. Peacock vs. Quibi vs. Disney Plus vs. Apple TV Plus vs. Netflix: How streaming stacks up

New theatrical releases early (some with a $30 catch)

Though vaccines are being distributed nationwide, in most areas access to movie theaters is still restricted. During the pandemic, Disney Plus has become a platform not only for old favorites and new originals but for big-screen releases too. At first, it started streaming already-released movies months earlier than planned, including Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Frozen 2 and Pixar’s Onward. Then it began speeding up releases of smaller films. 

The film adaptation of young adult novel Artemis Fowl was scheduled to hit theaters in May 2020, but instead premiered on Disney Plus instead in June. And the company’s live-action film version of the mega hit musical Hamilton went straight to Disney Plus on July 3, coinciding with the Independence Day holiday weekend in the US — more than a year earlier than its planned theatrical debut. Pixar’s award-winning film Soul also premiered on Disney Plus in December. All were included as part of the subscription cost.

Bigger films are another story, however. Last year’s live-action Mulan remake arrived on Disney Plus for a $30 fee, on top of your monthly subscription. Two months later, it became available on the streaming service for no added fee. The new animated film Raya and the Last Dragon follows the same pattern. It debuted on Friday March 5, but subscribers again need to pay an extra $30 to watch. The added fee for Raya will go away June 4.

This “$30 extra for big movies early” treatment, which Disney calls Premier Access, is a stark contrast to HBO Max, which committed to releasing numerous Warner Bros. movies — including big-budget titles such as Godzilla vs. Kong, Dune and Matrix 4 — on the same day as they hit theaters without charging any extra fees. 

Premier Access won’t necessarily apply to every new Disney film. We still haven’t heard if any of the upcoming Marvel movies, like Black Widow, will arrive on the streaming service in some form before theaters. 

An easy-to-navigate interface

If you’ve used any streaming service at all, bar Disney’s own Hulu, then the interface of Disney Plus will be instantly familiar. The very top of the home screen is a web-like carousel with a selection of Disney’s biggest hits.

Underneath the brand’s most popular properties appear across the page as static icons: Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic. Hover over each and the icon will animate, and if you click on it a short animation will appear before the branded page appears. While the interface is designed to scale to low-powered devices like USB sticks we saw little difference between any of the dozen or so devices we tried. The design is tile-heavy, unlike the newer HBO Max service, which gives your eye more of a break between titles, but it is easy to search through. 

Disney Plus

Disney Plus puts its big four brands (and National Geographic) front and center.


Sarah Tew/CNET

On the branded pages as well as the home page, the rows of icons are arranged according to genre and help to hone the content to your requirements. Disney told us that, like the Netflix engine, the Disney Plus interface will adapt to the types of content that you watch over time. 

At the left of the screen is a Netflix-like sidebar that lets you search for content or choose from your preselected profiles. 

The only real way to configure Disney Plus is through user profiles, and by default your Primary profile offers access to all of the content. It can’t be set to a kids profile, but you can turn autoplay off or on or alter the main language. You can set up a profile for your child by toggling the Kids Profile setting to On, which prevents PG and PG-13 content from appearing on the profile. But it’s not perfect for every age group — for example, you can’t enable PG content and disable PG-13 content. Plus, a child could technically just switch over to another profile to watch those shows. 

Outside of some launch day issues due to demand that have since been resolved, the biggest problem we found with the interface is that some popular things might be hidden — you may not know The Muppets is there, for example. But this is an issue that larger services such as Netflix also suffer from. 

Which devices can you watch Disney Plus on?

Pretty much everything. Disney Plus has one of the widest distributions of any streaming app, and is available on just about any phone, tablet, computer, connected TV or streaming media box, including those from Apple, Google, Microsoft, Roku, Sony, Amazon, Samsung and LG. 

Disney Plus

Download Disney Plus shows on almost any mobile device.


Sarah Tew/CNET

With a Disney Plus subscription you can watch up to four different shows on four different devices at once — whether they are on the go (with offline downloads supported) or on TV at home. 

We tested Disney Plus on Roku, Apple TV ($180 at Best Buy), Fire TV ($34 at Amazon), iOS, smart TV (LG and Samsung), Android TV and the web, and apart from some weirdness on launch day back in November, they all worked in the expected fashion. If your streamer supports 4K HDR then there is a healthy selection of titles like the recent Marvel movies and The Mandalorian, but others like the recent Muppets titles are only in HD.  

Voice commands worked well on Apple TV, Fire TV and Roku in directing us to the show title or the Disney service in general. Apart from crashing Fire TV when the app wasn’t yet installed, voice searches worked every other time.

Should you get Disney Plus?

For Disney’s legions of Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar fans who want to enjoy those movies, and their extra features, the service is easily worth the relatively low monthly fee. The same goes for parents who want their kids to enjoy Disney’s myriad family movies and TV shows. And ditto for anybody who wants to follow the latest adventures of Baby Yoda

Are people going to quit other services in order to afford this one? Possibly. If it’s a choice between this or Apple TV Plus, then get this. If it’s a choice between Disney and Hulu and you have kids? Get this. HBO Max has a strong slate of kids’ content as well, but is double the cost at $15 a month. For us, Disney Plus comes toward the top of our streaming service review rankings, below Netflix and a notch above Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. Your priorities may push one of those above Disney — especially if you don’t have kids.

Original programs like The Mandalorian and WandaVision are great, and the combination of those with programming spanning almost 100 years will likely encourage users to renew their subscriptions each month. Disney Plus is fun, easy to use and relatively affordable. 

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