Disney+ is now offering mature content and new parental controls. Here’s how we got here
Disney+ has added a number of mature titles in recent weeks, a sign that the platform may become more than a family-friendly streaming service
Disney+ will become more mature beginning Wednesday, bringing in a slew of mature Marvel shows that will reshape how the app operates.
On Wednesday, Disney will add new Marvel shows rated TV-MA that were originally released on Netflix. These shows include “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” “Iron Fist,” “The Defenders,” and “The Punisher,” along with the TV-14 rated “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which originally premiered on ABC.
The decision to add these shows is a first step for Disney+ in branching outside of its family-friendly material, though the streaming service already has mature content overseas. Disney+ has mostly remained family-friendly compared to other streaming apps, so this is quite a swerve for the company. But with the goal to expand its outreach, Disney+ is adding more mature content.
The bigger question, though, is what it means for American family viewers in the future.
To be fair, Disney+ has decided to add new parental controls to its platform due to the launch of these mature titles. All Disney+ users will be prompted to change their parental control settings once they open the app for the first time on or after March 16.
Subscribers can make multiple changes, including adding a new PIN to their accounts to make it harder for children to find mature content. Families can also set new content settings so that only specific content will appear based on the rating. For example, families can keep the default settings, which will allow anything rated TV-14 and under to appear on the selection menus.
“Disney+ has served as the home for some of the most beloved brands in the industry, and the addition of these live-action shows brings more from the Marvel brand together, all in one place,” said Michael Paull, president of Disney streaming, in a statement emailed to the press in early March.
“We have experienced great success with an expanded content offering on Disney+ across our global markets and are excited to continue that here in the U.S. as well by offering our consumers not only great content with the new Marvel additions, but also a set of features that help ensure a viewing experience most suitable for them and their family,” Paull added.
Disney+ did not respond to Deseret News’ request for comment on the parental control changes.
Disney has had a history with R-rated movies in the past, according to the Deseret News , as it has distributed rated-R films through the American film distribution label Touchstone Pictures since 1986.
You could say the decision of Disney+ to add more mature content is years in the making. Disney’s multibillion-dollar purchase of 21st Century Fox in December 2017 first raised the question about Disney adding more mature superhero movies, since 21st Century Fox produced the “Deadpool” films. Deadpool is a popular superhero with proven box office success, so it would be an odd decision for Disney to drop the character altogether. But the “Deadpool” films are R-rated for mature language, graphic violence and adult content — something that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has avoided.
“(‘Deadpool’) clearly has been and will be Marvel branded. But we think there might be an opportunity for a Marvel-R brand for something like ‘Deadpool,’” then-Disney CEO Bob Iger said at the time. “As long as we let the audiences know what’s coming, we think we can manage that fine.”
But the addition of the “Deadpool” films — as well as the decision to merge Marvel Television with Marvel Studios, which led to the eventual addition of the mature Marvel shows to Disney+ — has brought the process into a new light.
Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, said at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in February 2021 that Marvel Studios will make a third “Deadpool” movie with an R-rating. He said R-rated projects will only happen if they make sense, as I wrote for the Deseret News, a sign that there would be limitations on R-rated content.
And since all of the MCU movies make it onto Disney+, Feige’s comments appeared to be the first confirmation that Disney+ was dipping into mature content.
This may have been months in the making, though. Disney executives have been reportedly arguing over whether to add new mature or adult-only content to Disney+ in recent months.
A report from Puck News detailed that the former CEO Iger wants to keep Disney+ family-friendly, whereas Disney CEO Bob Chapek wants to add content beyond family-friendly to the streaming service in order to reach more audiences.
Chapek has long said that Disney+ reaches all audiences, but that hasn’t been the case, as it lacks mature content. While Disney+ has a number of family-friendly intellectual property, it doesn’t match the level of adult content that Hulu, Netflix and HBO Max have, which prevents it from expanding.
“For the service to grow beyond kids, fanboys, and Indian cricket lovers, it must become more of a general entertainment platform. It needs a little bit of Marvel, a little bit of Pixar, and a little bit of ‘Only Murders in the Building,’” Puck News reported.
But Iger “insisted on sticking to the narrow definition” of family-friendly, focusing on content for families instead of expanding it, a source told Puck News. Chapek “intends to expand it,” the source said.
Unnamed sources told Puck News that some Disney+ insiders felt that Chapek, who uses data to make decisions, does not have the right vision to make sure the transition happens correctly.
“Notice that Netflix spends insane amounts and makes a ton of crap. A handful of phenom hits in a giant pile of crud,” an unnamed source told Puck News.
The Parents Television and Media Council released a statement that denounced Disney+’s decision to add more mature content, saying it could be considered “off brand.”
“For more than 98 years, the Walt Disney Company has been synonymous with the words ‘Family Friendly,’ and I can think of no other corporation in American history that has been built more squarely on the backs — and on the wallets — of parents and families,” said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television and Media Council, in a statement.
“It seems wildly ‘off-brand’ for Disney+ to add TV-MA and R-rated programming to this platform, ostensibly to increase subscription revenue,” he added. “So what comes next, adding live striptease performances in Fantasyland at Disney World?”
All-new Parental Controls on #DisneyPlus keep you in charge of the action. ✨ pic.twitter.com/MeWm060MIl— Disney+ (@disneyplus) March 15, 2022
Winter said the council supports the addition of parental controls, but the mature content “violates the trust of families, and may well turn them off entirely.”
“There is no need for Disney+ to compete with the explicit content on other streaming platforms,” Winter said. “Disney is already at a competitive advantage with a streaming platform that is the safest one out there for families. Its foray into TV-MA-rated fare will forever tarnish its family friendly crown.”
It would appear that Chapek’s vision has won out, though. Not only is Disney+ adding more mature content with the addition of the Marvel shows, but some new content is being promoted as more violent.
In a recent interview with Empire, Feige said that the “Moon Knight” series would be darker and more violent. And Disney+ did not make Marvel Studios hold back.
“It’s been fun to work with Disney+ and see the boundaries shifting on what we’re able to do,” Feige said. “There are moments when ‘Moon Knight’ is wailing on another character, and it is loud and brutal, and the knee-jerk reaction is, ‘We’re gonna pull back on this, right?’ No. We’re not pulling back. There’s a tonal shift. This is a different thing.”
“Moon Knight” — which premieres March 30 — is only the beginning. The Marvel Cinematic Universe seems poised for a darker turn as the shadowy Black Knight was added into the MCU in “Eternals,” as seen through Dane Whitman (Kit Harrington). There was also a brief teaser for the vampire-killing vampire Blade. The MCU is going darker. With “Deadpool” on the horizon as well — and a potential future “Daredevil” project in the works — it looks like Disney+ will continue to embrace a more mature audience.
Or so you would think. Marvel may be leaning into the darkness, but Lucasfilm isn’t. Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy said in a new interview with Entertainment Weekly that the original version of the upcoming Disney+ “Star Wars” series “Obi-Wan Kenobi” was too dark for audiences and production was halted in order for the script to be reworked.
While some reports say the production was halted due to creative differences, Kennedy was adamant in her interview with Entertainment Weekly that the show wanted to provide a better ideal than darkness — hope.
“We’re looking, ultimately, to make a hopeful, uplifting story,” Kennedy said.