By now, you have probably heard that we’re merely hours away from the arrival of yet another streaming service. Disney+ has been years in the making, and within the last couple of weeks, the marketing machine of the House of Mouse has geared up like never before to make sure we’re all aware of the new service. There are a couple new movies, a Star Wars TV show, reality programs featuring recognizable actors as hosts, and, of course, lots and lots and lots of older films and TV shows. From Disney Channel Originals to the Pixar catalog to Disney’s animated classics, Disney+ is going to offer audiences of all ages plenty of options from Day One. But, even now, they don’t have it all. There are still a few titles conspicuously missing that would be awfully nice to have — call it a Disney+ wish list, and this one has 10, from the (now much larger) Disney Vault.
Alice Comedies (1923-1927)
Before there was Mickey Mouse, before there was even Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, there was Alice. Some of the earliest short films that Walt Disney and his brother Roy helped make during a five-year period in the mid-1920s were riffs on Alice in Wonderland, with a live young actor interacting in animated environments and backgrounds. These shorts have been made available on previous DVDs as part of the Walt Disney Treasures collection, and they’re a vital way to look back at how the Disney monolith that now encompasses so much of popular culture had such a modest, humble start. Even nearly 100 years later, the 50-plus Alice Comedies shorts are worth watching for historical completism, if nothing else.
Silly Symphonies (1929-1939)
They’re perhaps not quite as well-known as the Merrie Melodies shorts from Warner Bros. (and yes, those short titles sound familiar on purpose), but the Disney Silly Symphony shorts are well worth watching for anyone with a sense of Disney’s love of the blend of animation and music. The 75 shorts that the Disney Studio made throughout the 1930s aren’t all a miniature version of what the studio would do with the feature film Fantasia (technically, Disney’s take on the Three Little Pigs counts as a Silly Symphony), but they’re all fine examples of where the studio’s animators began their exploration of character design, storytelling, and more.
Mickey Mouse shorts (1928-present)
The old line that a certain subset of fan likes to bring out is from Disney himself: It all started with a mouse. With that in mind, one of the notable and unfortunate omissions from Disney+’s earlier tweet-thread announcement were the short films that started it all for Walt Disney Studios. There were plenty of shorts featuring Mickey Mouse over many decades — they were no longer made regularly after the mid-1950s, with a few stragglers like Mickey’s Christmas Carol coming later on. (A new version of Mickey Mouse shorts airs on Disney XD, and they are absolutely wonderful.) What would be valuable in including these shorts on Disney+ is that they would serve as a bracing reminder to audiences that Mickey didn’t used to be just a symbol. He was once a wild, daring, bold, and funny character. Hopefully, these shorts get added soon.
Make Mine Music (1946)
Almost every film from the Walt Disney Animation Studios feature canon is going to be available on Day One at Disney+. One of the few to miss the cut is Make Mine Music, and you can’t chalk this one up to deals that Disney made in the past with rival streaming units. (That is presumably why Disney’s adaptation of Tarzan won’t be on Disney+ to start.) No, Make Mine Music isn’t the kind of film that you can see in HD, because it’s never been fully released in its uncensored version on home media.
Why? This package film from the 1940s has just one potentially inflammatory sequence, inspired by the Western battle between the Hatfields and the McCoys. In case you’re wondering, yes, that does mean there’s a fair bit of gunplay in the segment, which is of course a no-no. But if I can wish — and this is a wish list — I would love to have the film on Disney+ accompanied by an introduction by a film critic of note (Leonard Maltin, noted critic and historian, would be ideal for such a job) to clarify the material and why it existed as it did. Better that than continuing to pretend Make Mine Music doesn’t exist.
Song of the South (1946)
Speaking of films that Disney continues to pretend doesn’t exist. Now, let’s be clear about a few things. First, it is in no way shocking that Disney+ will not be streaming Song of the South when it goes live. This film has been mired in controversy for decades, and our society is vastly more progressive now than it was in the 1940s, such that its existence is a black eye on the company. Moreover, I’m not going to tell you that Song of the South is a great film. It is not — the core story is treacly and mawkish.
However. I’ve written at length about the subject of Disney animation and race (to the point of having a book published on said topic), and what frustrates me about Song of the South being unavailable isn’t that the film is some perfect gem being hidden. No, it’s that Song of the South being a racist depiction of the Reconstruction South, as a little white boy learns valuable life lessons from a Magical Negro stereotype, is far from the only racist film Disney made in this era. Enjoy Peter Pan on Disney+, or Dumbo with its crows and literally faceless, dark-skinned circus workers. And then wonder why this film gets the short shrift. Here, as with Make Mine Music, some kind of contextual grounding would be required and welcome. Treat this as you would a film on Turner Classic Movies that gets a panel discussion beforehand. Releasing Song of the South in the wild would be a horrible move, but hiding it away forever (except when it’s able to make a profit, such as helping inspire Splash Mountain) isn’t automatically the smartest choice either.
Before there was Disneyland, there was just Disneyland. The former is, of course, the theme park in Anaheim. The latter was an anthology television show that began airing just over 65 years ago, when TV was still in its infancy. Originally, the premise of the Disneyland TV series was simply to build awareness for the upcoming theme park. Once Disneyland Park opened in the summer of 1955, Disneyland quickly morphed into a televisual embodiment of the areas within that park. Frontierland fans? Check out the Davy Crockett episodes released on the show. Or maybe you like Tomorrowland instead — you could have watched installments dedicated to space travel in the years before walking on the Moon was even an apple in John F. Kennedy’s eye.
Over time, Disneyland changed names, now existing as what we call the Wonderful World of Disney. A handful of the movies released under that banner are going on Disney+, but lots of the 50s- and 60s-era episodes, hosted by Disney himself, are still in the fabled, and totally not-real, vault. Over time, this show has aired for 53 seasons with more than 1,000 episodes. Some of them, granted, are condensed versions of theatrical films, but many of the episodes feature original live-action and animated content. The audience may not be massive for these, but dedicated superfans would be quite grateful.
Any true wish list related to Disney+ now needs to include the vast library of films from 20th Century Fox. There are, of course, only so many titles from Fox that count as family-friendly fare, as opposed to something that could wind up on Hulu instead. This isn’t even to acknowledge the troubling implications of stories like this one, suggesting that Disney is barring older Fox films from being screened. With the hope that Disney will change their tune (since it’s not as if people wouldn’t see films in theaters automatically), there are a couple Fox films that could easily find a home on Disney+. Take, for instance, Sounder. This Best Picture nominee is a period drama based on the novel of the same name, about the rough-and-tumble life of a family of black sharecroppers in the Great Depression and their dog Sounder. This is definitely a darker, sadder story than what you might think of when you think of Disney — but it’s the kind of film that would be at home with Bambi and Old Yeller, each of which you can stream on Disney+ tomorrow.
On the surface, this one should be more palatable to Disney+. First, it’s a Fox film; second, it’s a very memorable movie that helped Tom Hanks become more than just a wacky comedic star. And the movie does have a family-friendly-ish angle, with the premise being that a pre-teen inexplicably turns into his adult self overnight after making a wish at a mysterious carnival fortune-teller machine. The fish-out-of-water scenario is heightened thanks both to Hanks’ indelible performance as well as to the script by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg. It’s no wonder that both the performance and script got Oscar nominations in 1988. Granted, Big is a bit…adult in spite of its PG rating. (There’s the whole Hanks/Elizabeth Perkins storyline.) But it’s arguably no more adult than Three Men and a Baby, the Touchstone comedy hit that will be available to stream on Disney+ that also features a subplot involving heroin smuggling. So, just as Josh Baskin wished to be big, let’s wish for Big to be here.
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Let’s keep the Fox train going with a PG-13 film that could easily be on Disney+ (like the others mentioned, there may be rights issues holding films like this up). Mrs. Doubtfire is one of the biggest hits of Robin Williams’ career, wherein he plays a slacker voiceover artist in San Francisco whose life is turned upside down when his wife divorces him, and to stay close to his kids, he dresses up as a woman to be their nanny. Arguably, this is not the kind of film that a studio could green light today, and some of the humor in the film has aged…poorly. (Remember the part where Williams pretends to be bad candidates for the job, including one who says, “I don’t work with the boys, because I used to be one”? …Yeah.) Though the humor in this film is, if we can be charitable, of its time, Mrs. Doubtfire is still the kind of family-driven high-concept movie that Disney would do well to mine for all it’s worth.
It is perhaps fitting that the two final films from director and animator Don Bluth were released by Fox, and that Disney now owns Fox. Bluth is a filmmaker you might know because he was seen as a rival to the Disney Animation legacy for many years, after having walked out of Disney’s animation studio to create an upstart competitor in the early 1980s. Films like The Land Before Time and An American Tail are seen as some of his best, but they were made outside of either Disney or Fox. The same isn’t true of the 1997 film Anastasia, which Bluth made at Fox. (His final feature was the 2000 film Titan A.E.) This revisionist history of the Russian Revolution posits that the daughter of the Russian czar didn’t get killed by the Bolsheviks, but lost her memory and eventually attempts to reclaim her place in history. It’s not a perfect film, but a case of Disney-style storytelling — Bluth may not have worked at Disney for long, but his style feels in line with Disney’s own of the 1950s — coming from outside the studio. Now, of course, Anastasia would be in keeping with characters like Ariel and Belle, so might as well bring her on board.
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