Disney Plus is my favorite streaming service. It lets me indulge my Broadway passions (Hamilton, West Side Story), revisit my childhood (Bambi, Snow White), and catch up on the complicated worlds of Star Wars and MCU. It’s also the easiest way for my son to indulge his Jessie and Liv & Maddie habits, thanks to its endless catalog of Disney Channel shows.
But the main reason you’ll have to pry my Disney Plus subscription (which I get free through Verizon) from my cold, dead hands (at least until my kids go to college) is that it’s Disney. It’s the one family-friendly streaming service that actually has anything decent to watch. From the latest Pixar to the newest take on MCU to shorts (so many great shorts) to (another) action-packed Star Wars take, there’s not too much that it’s hard to choose, and what there is will (mostly) be good.
This year saw Disney Plus come into its own with a whole host of original series and movies, the welcome addition of a bonanza of nature documentaries from National Geographic, and the foray into live TV courtesy of Dancing With The Stars.
All this only solidifies my belief that Disney Plus is the best family-friendly streaming service around and well worth the (new) price of $10.99 a month. Having spent a small fortune on the Disney Movie Club mail subscription over the years — I can assure you that when it comes to finding great movies and TV shows for the family, we’ve never had it so good.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law
I love a show with a strong lead female character, and they don’t get much stronger than this. In She-Hulk, The Hulk’s cousin — the disarmingly charming Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) — brings a refreshing spin to the cluttered MCU universe.
Combining procedural law show with a healthy dose of superhero, the series rolls along at a decent pace with some fun crossovers and frankly wild case-of-the-week fun (Ally McBeal, eat your heart out).
The fourth wall is left in tatters, which is mostly fun and only occasionally irksome. But in keeping with other small screen MCU stars — see Ms. Marvel — She-Hulk is more about the ordinary becoming extraordinary and then trying really hard to be ordinary again. Jen’s direct appeals to the audience help carry that momentum just enough to make you feel she’s really just like you… only greener.
The big Pixar splash of 2022 caught quite a few parents (my husband included) by surprise, despite Common Sense Media’s very explanatory tagline (“Pixar coming-of-age tale explores puberty and parent issues.”). As the parent of an 11-year-old girl, Turning Red was the perfect movie for helping move along some parental conversations while also just being plain fun to watch.
Of course, this is what Pixar movies have always been about (See Inside Out, Soul, etc.). The onion-like layers are what makes them so much fun to watch over and over again for a range of ages — so it can also be enthralling for a five-year-old and fascinating for a 10-year-old.
Turning Red follows 13-year-old Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang) as she deals with life as a teenager in the early aughts (cue some great boy band / beatboxing nostalgia) and tackles life’s big changes while she slowly unfurls herself from her parents’ loving grip. One of these changes happens to be that she turns into a giant Red Panda when her emotions are stirred. The metaphor is clear, but the movie makes it about so much more.
Ms. Marvel offers up another healthy dose of teen angst mixed with super strength (a line to make all parents wince). Featuring Marvel’s first live-action Muslim hero and based on a popular comic book series, Ms. Marvel is set post-Avengers: Endgame and follows Kamala Khan’s (Iman Vellani) life in Jersey City with her family and friends and her discovery that she has gained superpowers through the inheritance of a magic bangle.
What starts out as a fun, Disney Channel-esque show quickly escalates into full MCU fodder, with cameos, clues, and a spectacular FX-laden finale. But it never loses its charm, its feel of place, and its obvious affection for its characters. And Vellani is fabulous portraying an intelligent and energetic young woman dealing with both superpowers and adolescence.
Ron Howard and George Lucas’ fantasy epic Willow gets a very belated sequel. This follow-up version is an eight-episode series that follows the now-adult Willow as he helps the child of the child he once saved.
Don’t worry if the original isn’t fresh in your memory banks (although you can stream it on Disney Plus): the series requires “zero knowledge of the world it brings to life — just a willingness to enjoy something earnest, kind, and fun,” wrote The Verge’s Alex Cranz in her review of the first two episodes.
If you love fantasy, sorcery, and adventure with a liberal sprinkling of comedy, Willow will be an excellent way to spend some family movie nights this holiday season.
A prequel to the Star Wars movies, Andor is from Rogue One writer Tony Gilroy and brings us the backstory of Cassian Andor, the battle-hardened revolutionary we first met in Rogue One movie.
A practiced thief who in inadvertently becomes a member of the growing rebellion, Cassian’s journey gets a surprisingly subtle treatment in this 12-part series that deals with the birth of the nascent Rebel Alliance, the seeds of the Death Star, and the relentless march toward war.
“Rather than merely building to bigger, flashier moments in Star Wars history, Andor’s far more interested in exploring the context in which those events happened and unpacking how they affected the people living through them,” wrote The Verge’s Charles Pulliam-Moore in his review. This makes it one of the more compelling Star Wars spinoffs to date, and we’re eagerly anticipating season 2 in 2023.
If you like your Star Wars more flashy and less gritty, Obi-Wan Kenobi will get your lightsabers glowing. Lots of cool, swooshy battles, menacing villains, and poignant tensions (you know what’s coming) make this a fun addition to the ever-expanding Star Wars universe.
Obi-Wan Kenobi sits between the end of the prequel trilogy and the beginning of A New Hope and comes packed with all the characters you want to see — Obi-Wan, Leia, Luke, and, of course, Darth Vader.
The six-episode series manages to keep you engaged even though we know the outcome. After all, as The Verge’s Andrew Webster points out in his review, we were long past due a deeper dive into Kenobi’s background: “But for Obi-Wan, a character who’s integral to this universe and yet so often plays a supporting role, it makes a lot of sense to dig into this key part of his story, one that also helped shape the motivations of characters like Leia and Vader.”
Zootopia Plus is a series of six Disney Pixar shorts that fill in some side stories from the 2016 Zootopia movie, which told the tale of a mammal metropolis where all species of animals co-exist in relative harmony. The movie plot follows a young bunny trying to make it as a cop, but what made Zootopia such a great movie is the rich world it created.
Zootopia Plus builds on that world with deeper insight into both major plot points of the movie (such as how Fru Fru came to be almost crushed by a giant donut) and into the world itself. We see sloths frustrating their server at a diner, are treated to a big musical number about the lowlifes of the city, and enjoy some Godfather and Real Housewives spoofs. Good, short fun.