5 kid-friendly hidden gems on Disney+ that all ages can enjoy
Need something to quaran-stream with your kids while social distancing? Here are some picks from Disney's vast streaming library that won't drive you crazy.
As we settle in for what's likely to be a long period of self-quarantine thanks to COVID-19, many parents will undoubtedly be in search of streaming entertainment to keep their kids occupied. One of the best options in this regard is Disney's streaming service Disney+, which contains a plentiful assortment of titles old and new from the studio's vast library (though it's still a bit wanting in some respects; where, oh where is The Muppet Show?!).
Of course, once you've finished your 30th viewing of Frozen II or Forky Asks a Question with the little ones, you might be finding yourself at your wit's end, and the endless scroll can be rather intimidating when it comes to finding new options. But never fear: We here at EW have some excellent under-the-radar choices for family-friendly viewing that cater to adults as well as kids. (Most of these are best for viewers age 6 and up, but use your own discretion.) Here are five options for child-friendly content that (hopefully) won't drive you up the wall — and, indeed, that we think you'll rather enjoy watching as a family.
The brilliance of Teacher's Pet begins with its rock-solid premise: A dog yearns to be a human boy, so he dresses as one and attends school with his owner… who happens to be the teacher's son. But the show's best quality and finest asset can be summed up in two words: Nathan Lane. The Lion King star voices pooch-turned-pupil Spot with gusto, fast-talking charm, and a full-bore commitment that helped earn him an Emmy for his performance. To be fair, though, Teacher's Pet boasts one of the best voice casts ever assembled for an animated kids' show, with Wallace Shawn, Jerry Stiller, and Debra Jo Rupp also among the ensemble. (Rupp's Mary Lou Helperman belongs right up there with That '70s Show's Kitty Forman in the pantheon of TV moms.) Couple that with sharp-witted writing and co-creator Gary Baseman's eccentric artistic style (he also designed the board game Cranium), and you have one of the most underrated and delightful shows in Disney's oeuvre. And be sure to check out the 2004 film adaptation, which serves as a series finale, also streaming on Disney+.
Described by critic Matt Zoller Seitz as "one of the smartest, most prankishly playful adult cartoons ever passed off as children's entertainment," Recess bundles sly critiques of government and capitalism; spoofs of classic films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Cool Hand Luke, and The Great Escape (see the title sequence above); and a deeply empathetic portrait of childhood into a kid-friendly yet sublimely intellectual package. The show centers on a core group of fourth-graders led by the prankish T.J. Detweiler: jock Vince, tomboy Spinelli, geek Gretchen, lovable outsider Gus, and "sweet-souled giant" Mikey. But Recess' universe is almost Simpsons-level in its richness, imbuing various cliques, elementary school archetypes, and potentially one-dimensional figures like fifth-grade playground ruler King Bob and strict Principal Prickly with surprising depth. If that's not enough to grab your interest, know that more than one observer has compared the show's tone and character dynamics to Community, which Recess predated by more than a decade.
The Band Concert
One of the richest treasure troves on Disney+ is the service's collection of classic Disney animated shorts, reaching all the way back to the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, 1928's Steamboat Willie. The best, or at least funniest, of these tend to come from the 1930s (before the studio started focusing on feature films) and star Mickey, Donald Duck, and/or Goofy. Disney+ makes it easy to fall down a rabbit hole here; just pick a short and proceed through a string of suggested content. To start, we recommend the 1935 masterpiece The Band Concert, in which Mickey attempts to conduct an orchestra through the William Tell Overture, only to be foiled by a certain mischievous duck, his trusty flute(s), and the irrepressible earworm "Turkey in the Straw." (As any Looney Tunes fan can tell you, nothing makes for a great cartoon like classical music.)
Goofy's How to… series
The rabbit hole will probably lead you here eventually, but we'll save you some time and point straight to one of the Disney cartoon canon's finest subgenres. In the early 1940s, the temporary departure of Goofy's voice actor, Pinto Colvig, from the Disney studio inspired the creation of this series, in which a narrator explains the finer points of a sport or activity (golf, fishing, photography) while the clumsy canine carries out the narrator's instructions in his own inimitable fashion. Some of the series' best entries (like the one above) are inexplicably missing from Disney+, but titles like How to Swim, The Art of Skiing, and The Olympic Champ are packed with plentiful laughs and impeccable animation. As no less than Roger Rabbit put it, "Nobody takes a wallop like Goofy."
Phineas and Ferb
Almost every episode of Phineas and Ferb follows a strict formula: Another day of summer vacation sees 9-year-old stepbrothers Phineas and Ferb creating something outlandish (a colossal roller coaster, a time machine, a fusion of summer and winter called "s'winter"), while their older sister Candace tries to "bust" them by exposing the project to their mother. Meanwhile, the boys' pet platypus, Perry, leads a double life as a secret agent, battling the hapless evil scientist Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz. Everything comes to a head when Perry, in the process of foiling Doofenshmirtz's latest scheme, inadvertently makes the boys' creation disappear before their mom can see it. Rather than forcing the show into repetitive oblivion, though, this formula quickly became a rich well of humor and story lines as the creators experimented with how far they could push, poke fun at, and eventually deconstruct it. Bursting with wit ("Why would marathoners be following anyone? Besides, you know, three guys from Kenya"), packed with delightfully catchy songs, and boasting one of TV's greatest comedic wellsprings in Heinz Doofenshmirtz ("If I had a nickel for every time I was doomed by a puppet, I'd have two nickels! Which isn't a lot, but it's weird that it happened twice, right?"), Phineas and Ferb should rank alongside SpongeBob SquarePants in the annals of great TV for all ages.
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