James Bond and the Leprechauns: the weird world of Disney+

With more than 800 titles, there were bound to be a few peculiarities on the new streaming service. Here are some of the strangest – and most disturbing

It’s a whole new world: after a UK launch that coincided so neatly with a national lockdown that future conspiracy theorists will have a field day, we have had a fairly intense week to explore Disney+. Most of the focus has been on the blue-chip headliners, with all those beloved animated classics bolstered by shiny new Marvel and Star Wars content. That is Disney+ at its best. But in a digital vault stuffed with more than 800 titles, not everything can possibly be as cool as The Mandalorian.

Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)

In yet more bad news for Bond fans, there is barely any Sean Connery on Disney+. But the strapping Scot gets to sharpen a scythe and sing a ditty called My Pretty Irish Girl in this regrettable leprechaun-themed romcom, which presents a rose-tinted and red-cheeked vision of life in rural Ireland. The real star is the wily veteran groundskeeper O’Gill, who spins tall tales at the local inn about his encounters with leprechauns. It’s not just firewater-fuelled blarney, though. The magical little people rave all night in a nearby underground lair as if they’re in The Matrix Reloaded, but their prideful ruler, King Brian, has a jaw-dropping mean streak, promising O’Gill that he’ll put “a scourge on this land that’ll make the potato famine look like a Sunday regatta”.

Sultan and the Rock Star (1980)

If you’ve already binged your way through Tiger King on Netflix and are in the market for another story of big-cat mayhem, this deeply strange one-off may scratch that itch. One of hundreds of stand-alone episodes produced for Disney’s various long-running TV anthology strands, it charts the fast friendship between a Bengal tiger being hunted for sport on a private island and a Harry Styles-esque young pop idol fleeing his touring commitments. It seems to take a principled stand against animal cruelty while also featuring an action sequence in which a live tiger has been plonked on to the bonnet of a speeding truck. Wild.

Lab Rats (2012-2016)

Unsettling … Lab Rats.
Unsettling … Lab Rats. Photograph: Bruce Birmelin/Disney XD via Getty Images

The gaudy production design, enthusiastic audience laughter and knockabout slapstick of this kid-targeted sitcom all help distract from what is a deeply unsettling premise: a blase tech billionaire has created three bionically enhanced teens, but keeps them locked up in a secure testing facility deep beneath his smart home. Once they are discovered by his wisecracking new stepson Leo, the naive cyborgs begin to integrate with society. But if Leo hadn’t accidentally dragged this highly unethical skunk works into the light, they would be down there still.

The Poof Point (2001)

The Poof Point … not as bad as it sounds.
The Poof Point … not as bad as it sounds. Photograph: Disney

Another tale of scientists meddling with forces beyond their understanding, this garish Disney Channel movie is one that is impossible to scroll past if it pops up in the recommendations bar. Your first reaction will probably be a sigh of relief: the “poof point” is a scientific term marking the moment a Benjamin Button-type experiment in ageing backwards becomes irreversible. The muddy moral here is something to do with kids being forced into childcare roles as their parents mentally regress to babyhood. But no one really wants to watch adults do baby voices and whine about messes in their nappies. (If they do, other streaming options are available.)

Fuzzbucket (1986)

Fuzzbucket … heartwarming – but also nightmarish.
Fuzzbucket … heartwarming – but also nightmarish. Photograph: Disney

A weird TV stand-alone, this suburban fantasy centres on Mikey, a 12-year-old fearful about going to high school. His new invisible friend seems to be taking Mikey’s mind off things, but while his parents and siblings roll their eyes, it is revealed (about halfway through, probably for budgetary reasons) that Fuzzbucket is very real – a furry little bipedal critter with a long, ratty tail. It is a sweet and heartwarming tale, but one tailored for standard definition: on modern TVs, Fuzzbucket has a clearly visible second human mouth inside his snout; a nightmarish piece of Cronenbergian body horror that can never be unseen.

Marvel’s Inhumans (2017)

Now that’s a big dog... Photograph: Courtesy of Marvel Television/ABC

In 2017, the Marvel brand was bulletproof. The company had magicked an unimaginably successful movie franchise into existence, seemingly from a standing start. Then came Inhumans, conceived as a cosmic Imax film about superpowered royals who live on the moon. It was downsized to an eight-episode TV event that struggled to leave any cultural footprint. Now, thanks to the magic of Disney+, it will be preserved for ever, a cautionary tale about corporate hubris more chilling than most episodes of Black Mirror.

Perri. Photograph: Ronald Grant

The Story of Perri (1957)

If it feels as if Disney now leans heavily on sequels, remakes and spin-offs it’s worth remembering the company has always been at it. The Story of Perri is the feature-length follow-up to Bambi, a “true-life fantasy” assembled from documentary-style footage of woodland creatures frolicking in a national park. It follows a year in the life of a spirited baby squirrel as she learns how to hustle beyond the beaver pond. To keep things interesting, while Perri is hibernating, there is a full-on fantasy dream sequence featuring flying squirrels and rabbits frolicking in the snow. Nuts.


Graeme Virtue

The GuardianTramp

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