The Streaming Service of the Moment

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Disney launched its new service, Disney+, on March 24th, the same day as the lockdown began in the United Kingdom. As Sophie Elmhirst wryly notes in her piece for The Guardian, the launch falling upon the day that 66 million were told to stay at home for 23 hours a day, must have resulted in “a quiet elbow bump in a meeting room, perhaps.” Elmhirst herself was quick to sign up in the service as a source of her entertainment for her children. 

Maybe it didn’t feel like that for everyone. Maybe the parents who secretly love the home schooling vibe, the timetables and worksheets, the children sitting happily at kitchen tables, tongues sticking out of the side of their mouths as they complete little astronomy quizzes while the parent stirs a healthy stew, maybe they didn’t sign up for Disney+ a full week before it launched. For the rest of us, hurling fish fingers into the oven with one hand while trying to tap out a piece of work with the other and break up a fight with a toe, the relatively low cost of a Disney+ subscription (£5.99 a month) when contemplating the long, long, just so very long, period of time ahead of us, felt like a sensible investment.

Rewatching the old classics, Elmhirst soon realizes that she signed up for the service for herself just as much as for her children. In times of uncertainty, there is comfort in the familiar.

During that seventh Bolt viewing, I realized why the kids wanted to keep watching the same movie over and over again. There’s the expert appreciation for a fine piece of computer animation, no doubt, but there’s also the deep comfort to be found in repeat viewing. Even multiple screenings in, they both covered their eyes in terror during a chase scene. The fear was real, but it was that pleasurable kind of fear you know will pass. There’s no uncertainty, no risk. You know, for a fact, that everything will be OK. It’s fear with a happy ending.

Despite the current crisis Disney probably will indeed be OK. However, it’s current reality is very different from its normal fairytale image. 

Rightly, the company isn’t high on anyone’s worry list. But it’s striking how far the current reality of Disney is from its well-tended corporate image. In late March, various news outlets published pictures of Disney’s closed theme parks – empty car parks, rollercoasters, cafes, golf courses, and a lonely-looking Millennium Falcon at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The photographs are somehow more sinister than those of empty cities that have been doing the rounds. Cities, at the best of times, are conflicted and messy, beautiful, and cruel. They rarely pretend to be anything they’re not, unless there’s an Olympics going on.

Disney, on the other hand, is always pretending to be something it’s not: it is a highly efficient profit machine that presents itself as a place where a merry band of misfits conjure happiness.

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