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  • William Prevor

What to watch on Disney+ to expand your Disney fandom and knowledge: Part I

Disney+, which launched in the United States on November 12th, 2019 came at what turned out to be an almost perfect time for a streaming service. Just about four months after launch not only the entire United States, but essentially the entire world went into lockdown. While this is having very adverse affects on Disney generally with all the theme parks, cruise ships, and movie theatres closed along with many other hurt areas, Disney+ was perfectly positioned to thrive. We all lead busy lives and even though we may be Disney fans we often just don’t have the time necessary to fully immerse ourselves in all the content on Disney+. Now just as Walt Disney World was described by Walt himself as having, “the blessing of size” we all now have “the blessing of time!” – exceptions, and special thanks, of course, to the medical and other essential workers who are working around the clock to help us all in this difficult moment. With this in mind, we here at 360 Degrees of Disney have come up with a list of recommended titles based on many criteria. This gives Disney fans important historical points in Disney’s film and television history, films that will expand your Disney historical knowledge, and help Disney fans get better acquainted with some of Disney’s purchased properties. Let us begin!

Walt Disney Features:

Walt Disney is the namesake of the company and the inspiration behind almost everything. I thought it would be appropriate to highlight programs that feature Walt himself.

These two episodes of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color provide great insights into the Disney film making process as well as the original days of Disneyland. Given that most of the episodes of Walt Disney Anthology television series are not publicly available, this is a rare chance to experience the magic of a Walt Disney hosted production.

This film serves a dual purpose as it features Walt himself and it gives a rare insight into the animation process at the Walt Disney Studios. The story follows a man who, at the insistence of his wife, goes to try and pitch a cartoon to Walt Disney. He then ends up on a tour of Disney studio before ultimately meeting Walt himself!

Disney History:

These films highlight important historical events that have shaped the Walt Disney Company.

While this film technically has Walt Disney in it, he is portrayed by Tom Hanks and so is in this category rather than Walt Disney Features. This riveting film is based on the story of Walt trying to get the film rights to Mary Poppins, one of the most beloved films in the Disney catalog. This story shows the struggles of creative compromise and the dedication of creators to their work.

This documentary takes us a little ahead in the Disney timeline to the Michael Eisner era and shows the behind the scenes of the Disney animated renaissance led by Jeffrey Katzenberg featuring cameos from future important Disney personalities such as John Lasseter and Tim Burton! This film will help you understand the complications of creative leadership and following a legacy.

This documentary series takes you through the history of the Disney Parks through the eyes of the people who design them. This series will help give you a deeper understanding of the historical context and reasoning behind each Disney park as well as contextualize major Disney historical events outside of the theme parks and how everything really works together.

Learning about the Purchased Disney Universe:

Disney has purchased a lot over the last decade or so including Lucasfilm, Marvel, the Muppets, Pixar, and 20th Century Fox. This list is to help you both understand the deeper history of some of Disney's Acquired brands but also immerse you in their most important characters and universes.

These three animated series are quite an investment of time, so they may not be for everyone. If not there is something lower on this list to help you further understand the Star Wars story. These series however will help you understand more clearly the “lore” of Star Wars, introducing you to and explaining concepts like the Jedi vs Sith, Rebellion vs Resistance, and many more.

This special is a little dated, it ends with a sneak preview of the Agent Carter TV show that was cancelled in 2016, but it outlines the history of Marvel from Timely Comics to television cartoons to the ever popular Marvel Cinematic Universe. This will help you as a Disney fan gain an appreciation for the rich history of Marvel and understand where their ideologies line up with Disney and how the relationship is beneficial to both parties.

Now that you understand Marvel’s history, it might be worthwhile to check out one of their most popular animated series! Especially since these characters aren’t yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this might be a good way to meet some of the most successful Marvel characters in a fairly comic book accurate way. This series is long, 5 seasons, so just as with the Star Wars series, it may not be for everyone. In this case though, just watching the first season or first few episodes will at least introduce you to the characters and their central struggles.

The Simpsons is being used as a major draw for Disney+ and so knowing a little about them can’t hurt. The Simpsons series is 30 seasons and counting so as a Disney fan trying to learn a little about The Simpsons, this movie seemed like an easier access point. This film will give you the basic information you need about the show and the characters for most of their future use as well as being a story ultimately about family, which is a bit more Disney than you would think. While the movie definitely features very un-Disney humor, at its heart it is about a father realizing the importance of his family.

This classic film is a very Disney-esq entry for Disney fans into the 20th Century Pictures catalog. Featuring Disney favorite Julie Andrews, this musical will feel right at home in the Disney family.

This action-packed adventure is the first major success and franchise for Blue Sky Studios, which was included in the Disney-Fox deal. While Disney certainly has enough animation to go around at this point, getting to see some of the most popular work of this studio is important for understanding where they will ultimately fall in the Disney pantheon of stories.

You may recognize Luxo Jr. from the opening sequence of every Pixar movie. Considering how quintessentially Pixar Luxo Jr. has become, it seems appropriate to see the story from which it originates. This also will show you the classic shorts format that Pixar first used for its stories.

The Muppets are one of the less discussed Disney purchases, as they were purchased in 2004 before Bob Iger’s tenure and his major purchases. They also are not as frequently used as the other purchases and really did not serve much of a strategic purpose unlike the others. They are still important to understand and so given that the original Muppet Show is not on Disney+, this is a condensed and fun introduction to all the Muppets and their primary shenanigans.

This serves a similar purpose for Lucasfilm as the Marvel 75th anniversary special. This is an inside look at the creation of the original Star Wars trilogy and gives an insight into George Lucas and his creative process that led to one of the most successful film franchises of all time.

I wish I could provide more insight here, however just like all of you I am still attempting to learn about all of the new properties Disney has acquired in the Fox deal. I have attached an article of another site that offers you some recommendations on how to best tackle the National Geographic catalogue.

This concludes Part I of our recommendation list. Keep an eye out for Part II in the coming days when we will highlight films that were the first of their kind or very historically impactful as well as our recommendations for expanding your general Disney knowledge. If you have any ideas or suggestions for us, I encourage you to go to our Contact tab and let us know! Remember to stay safe and thank those who are putting their lives on the line in this difficult time.


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