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Disney Plus Review: Not Just for Kids

From Christmas classics to princesses to Star Wars to Marvel, Disney Plus is well worth its monthly fee.

Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck aren't the only stars on Disney Plus. It's home to rebels and mystical Jedi knights, and headquarters for Marvel heroes and villains with the power to change timelines. It's a classroom to learn about nature or the cosmos. For Disney princesses who don't have to conform to any mold, it's a welcoming safe space. And it's the only place to stream the latest Pixar films like Lightyear.

Like so many other Disney properties, from Rise of Skywalker to Encanto to WandaVision, its streaming service is a phenomenon. Disney Plus launched in the fall of 2019, and as of November 2022, the platform claims more than 160 million global subscribers. 

Its marquee original series, The Mandalorian, immortalized Baby Yoda. Its first Marvel Cinematic Universe-set series WandaVision quickly became one of the most popular shows worldwide. Its back catalog brims with classics. All this success has Netflix and other big names taking notice. And at $8 a month, Disney Plus is still one of the best values in streaming.

8.8

Disney Plus

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Like

  • Wide catalog of popular TV and movies from Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and National Geographic
  • Low monthly price without ads
  • Easy-to-navigate interface, with 4K HDR available for some titles
  • Ability to choose content ratings

Don't Like

  • Little customization of kids' profiles
  • Long/unpredictable wait times for new, original TV series

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. It's the best streaming service for kids, and as the home of Star Wars and Marvel titles, it appeals to older viewers too.

Whether it allows you to ditch NetflixHulu or Amazon Prime Video depends on your budget and priorities. Disney Plus lacks the steady firehose of new, original TV found on Netflix, for example, but it still belongs in the top tier of streaming services. It has 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.

What you can watch on Disney Plus

Disney-plus-simpsons-dumbo

The Simpsons is one of the high-profile series you'll find on Disney Plus, though fans aren't happy with the aspect ratio.

Fox

In contrast to the meager selection of shows offered by Apple TV Plus at launch, Disney hit the ground running with 500 movies and 7,500 TV shows on its first day. The catalog continues to grow with additions such as Encanto, Willow, AndorAgatha: House of Harkness and more. There's a ton of Marvel, a bucketful of Star Wars, a boatload of Pixar and a healthy sprinkle of National Geographic (which is owned by Disney). 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 already online, 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, princess movies, originals and superhero action.

Now playing: Watch this: Disney Plus streaming app is fun and full of rich content
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Some of Disney's pre-1990s and beyond content may be forgotten in the annals of your mind, but the streamer's interface will reacquaint you with movies from its past, such as Flight of the Navigator. While not everything is there -- missing episodes of Andi Mack and Recess may disappoint young fans -- the search interface works in a similar way to Netflix by suggesting similar content instead. There's no lack of things to watch.

The 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.

disney-plus-home-page
Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Underneath this, 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.

On the branded pages as well as the home page, the rows of icons are titled 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. In comparison, kids' profiles work to surface content suitable to younger viewers and has a brighter, blue background. 

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Ty Pendlebury/CNET

The biggest problem I 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. 

Read more: Disney Plus vs. Netflix vs. Apple TV Plus vs. HBO Max: Which Streaming Service is Right for You?

We tested Disney Plus on Roku, Apple TVFire TV, iOS, smart TV (LG and Samsung), Android TV and the web and they all worked in the expected fashion. Voice commands worked well on Apple TV, Fire TV and Roku in directing us to the show title or the Disney service in general. If your streamer supports 4K HDR then there is a healthy selection of titles like the recent Marvel movies and shows and newer Star Wars content like Andor, but others like the recent Muppets titles are only in HD. 

It is also worth noting that some of the content on Disney Plus may have changed since you last watched it elsewhere. For instance, The Simpsons is currently only available in widescreen, with no 4:3 option for older seasons that were not HD native. The Han-shot-first scene in the original Star Wars movie, A New Hope, has apparently been edited yet again. So as you can see in the video below, it's not perfect.

The Disney Plus price bump makes it competitive

Though the December price hike has changed all subscription rates for Disney Plus, it's still one of the more affordable streaming services on the market. As a stand-alone option, Disney Plus Basic is $8 a month if you don't mind commercials, and the premium version is $11 a month if you do. But there are multiple ways to bundle it with Hulu and ESPN Plus to save even more money. 

The Disney Bundle has four price tiers, starting at $10 for Disney Bundle Duo Basic, which includes the ad-supported versions of Disney Plus and Hulu but excludes ESPN Plus. Currently, Disney Plus subscribers are not eligible for this bundle, however. The Disney Bundle Trio Basic costs $13 per month and gets you Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus -- all with ads. The $20-a-month Trio Premium bundle comes with downloads, ad-free Disney Plus and Hulu and ESPN Plus with ads. Those who already have the Disney Bundle that includes Disney Plus (no ads), Hulu (with ads) and ESPN Plus can be grandfathered into the Legacy Bundle for $15 per month. 

Hulu Plus Live TV customers receive Disney Plus and ESPN at no extra charge, as long as you're being billed by Hulu. New and existing Hulu subscribers who don't have the live TV package can sign up for the Disney Bundle.

Compared to its competitors, Disney Plus is on the lower end of the price pole, even without ads for $11. You get four streams on all subscriptions. With Netflix shooting up to $15.50 per month for its two-screen streaming plan and HBO Max charging $15, it comes down to your wallet and viewing palate.

Disney Plus vs. HBO Max, Netflix, Prime and Hulu


Disney Plus HBO Max Netflix Amazon Prime Video Hulu
Monthly price $8 with ads, $11 for ad-free $10 for basic with ads, $15 for ad-free Starts at $7 $9 (or included with $120/year Prime membership) Basic $8 with ads, ad-free Premium for $15 Live TV for $70
Ads Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Top titles Obi-Wan Kenobi, Loki, Encanto, The Simpsons House of the Dragon, South Park, Euphoria, DC Comics series, Sesame Street Stranger Things, Squid Game, Bridgerton, Money Heist Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Reacher, The Boys, Rings of Power Handmaid's Tale, Prey, The Bachelor, Bob's Burgers
Mobile downloads Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
4K HDR available Yes No Yes (on Premium plan) Yes Yes
Number of streams: 4 3 1 (2 for Standard, 4 on Premium) 2 2 (Unlimited with Live TV $9.99 add-on)

Should you get it?

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 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 or Cassian Andor. 

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 Plus and stand-alone Hulu and you have kids? Get this. If we were to rank the services by order of importance ours would be: 1. Netflix, 2. Disney Plus, 3. HBO Max. Your priorities may be different. 

Original programs like The Mandalorian, Loki and Baymax! are fun, but it's the programming spanning almost 100 years that will likely encourage users to renew their subscriptions each month. Disney Plus is fun, easy to use and relatively affordable.