Hi, so, can we talk about the rise of nostalgia-driven streaming entertainment and the genius that is DisneyPlus?
See, in a very real sense, my eyes rolled at the announcement of DisneyPlus. I looked to my brother in exacerbation. My mind had instinctually arrived at the conclusion that taking all of their movies and shows from other streaming services and putting it behind, yet another paywall was entertainment suicide. If not from pure frustration of, surely people would be limited in their consumption, or maybe they would simply turn to those alternative pirating avenues.
But then something interesting happened: they boosted their launch with the announcement of original shows. At that moment I sat intrigued because, sure, they would still battle the pirates, but in all honestly, that didn’t really matter. They had something better, the balls and good sense to appeal to the parts of us that can’t help but hang on to the fuzzy memory stores of our brains.
The first show I heard about was The Mandalorian. I was excited, but not surprised. Disney’s success now exists in the hands of Star Wars. It was smart to immediately pull in fans of the biggest franchise, because more likely than not, even if people hate the new saga, curiosity is hard to fight. Then the news broke about High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and let me be the first to say that my inner teen-self was reignited #WhatTeam #Wildcats.
For both of these shows, my initial excitement was slightly marred by a sinking feeling in my heart. What if they tarnish the idealised version of those movies I hadn’t watched for years? The prospect of another Star Wars story moving in a direction I didn’t like. But still, I put my faith in Disney as did many others.
I’m glad I did.
I’ll be honest, when I started watching HSM:TM:TS, my hopes were low, because who could ever live up to the ragtag group of reluctant singings of the original series. But the show is exactly what a teen show needs to be, dramatic and cheesy with a dash of teachable moments. What keeps you around is the talented performers. One of the leads, Nini played by Olivia Rodrigo is only sixteen and seriously gifted just check out her at fourteen singing Creep.
It could be argued that the covers of the songs from the movie feel like they might be missing something purely because we have been deeply influenced by their original counterpart. But that argument is rendered mute by the new songs coming to life. Just for good measure, the cast sometimes sing live in the shoots, just check out Olivia with her co-star Julia Lester singing Wondering.
As always with these teen shows, I find being hyper-critical is redundant. Just enjoy it for what it is, don’t pull it apart, because at the end of the day it’s about high school students producing a musical. It’s going to be awkward in places, it’s going to be sappy, but it will also be magical if you let it. Of course, tugging on those feelgood moments is one thing, trying to make a standalone serious in a beloved universe is another thing entirely.
When I pressed play on episode one of The Mandalorian my soul was satisfied. The thematic homage to westerns, the familiar places and faces, the transitions between scenes and episodes as chapters mirroring the original films, there was a lot to love. I appreciated what they had done, and I was contently watching the bounty hunter team up with a bounty-droid when the unexpected happened.
I was immediately on board. I mean who is Baby Yoda? How is this cute little 50-year-old infant possible? The Mandalorian is going to protect him, right? He has to keep baby safe!
After a moment, my mind switched, and I realised the bigger picture. Disney played us.
In all the trailers, we didn’t see one glimpse of the storyline revolving around Baby Yoda. There was no mention of the green child, allowing Disney to sneak in a spectacular reveal past our critical eyes. Not only are we hooked, but people who haven’t even seen the show are talking about it. Baby Yoda is the subject of some of the biggest memes of the year; The ultimate promotion tool where the biggest draw card for watching didn’t come until the first episode was released.
And now it’s too late. We’re attached. Even those who don’t watch Star Wars are invested and the cultural implications are huge. Some of us want to know the fate and identity of Baby Yoda as fans of the fantasy universe; Others use Baby Yoda in cultural discourse through memes while never being fans of Star Wars and never setting their eyes on The Mandalorian.
How? Because he represents so much. Did Baby Yoda save 2019? Did that cute little thing bring hope and light to a grim and dark world? The answer is probably yes, but whether Baby Yoda helped Twitter become a slightly less toxic place has never been in question.
DisneyPlus went beyond our assumptions. While their massive catalogue of existing Disney content is a cultural digital museum, it allowed them to step into the ring with Netflix and their own Hulu. With over 10 million subscribers on their launch day, Disney somehow managed to captivate our sentimental side and energise our consumer side. Then again, maybe they aren’t competing with those services, instead shifting there attention to where serial entertainment is bound to end up.
Whatever the case, DisneyPlus and Baby Yoda became the most searched items on Google for 2019 overall and in the ‘Babies’ category respectively, with The Mandalorian landing in fifth for TV Shows despite it only being released at the end of November. The platform has left a mark and show no signs of slowing down.
Having only launched late 2019, DisneyPlus is already a massive success thanks to their careful marketing and quality content. They know their market, they know how to sell, and they know how to deliver. With entertainment becoming more and more accessible, Disney carefully crafted a rival to other streaming services that might do the impossible…
And if Disney has taught us anything, it’s to reach for the stars and monopolise while you’re there.
By Naomi Eleanor