Best Disney Plus Shows and Original Series to Watch in January 2021

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Disney+ is a great place to watch nearly every Disney movie under the sun, but you can’t forget the television. Disney+ has so much original television programming, both that’s previously aired on Disney Channel and/or ABC, and shows that are original to the service. From new releases to nostalgic favorites to hidden gems, we’ve waded through the list of shows to pull out the ones that really deserve your time.

Below, you can peruse our list of the best tv shows on Disney Plus, which includes new original series, reality shows, kids-centric programming, and of course classics. For even more Disney+ suggestions, check out our list of the best movies on Disney+ or our complete list of everything available on the streaming service right now.


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Star Wars Rebels

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Image via Disney XD, Lucasfilm

The Disney XD animated series Star Wars Rebels arrived in 2014 as the first piece of new canon from Lucasfilm, preceding even the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s also still one of the best. The show takes place five years before the events of A New Hope and follows the early days of a fledgling rebellion that stars to take form as the Galactic Empire is hunting down and killing the last of the Jedi. While the cast of characters is mostly made up of new faces—a ragtag crew venturing throughout the galaxy, helping the rebellion when they can—the new hero of Ezra is a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe. A teenage con artist at the beginning, Ezra spends the series training to become a Jedi. The show is smart and compelling, with just enough heart and humor to make it memorable. If you missed the four-season run on Disney XD, now’s your chance to catch up on this Good, Actually Star Wars prequel. – Adam Chitwood

Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2

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Image via Disney+

One of the best nonfiction offerings on Disney+ is Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2, a first-hand account of the production of Disney’s animated sequel (that wound up being the most successful animated feature of all time). With fly-on-the-wall intimacy, Into the Unknown takes you behind-the-scenes at the somewhat contentious, always spirited production of the film, exploring just how much these films change in the months and weeks ahead of release. (Tellingly, 8 months before the movie is set to debut in theaters, directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck admit that they’re still not sure what the movie is even about.) It’s this frantic race to the finish line that serves as the overall structure for the movie, as things are refined, storylines clarified, and nonessential elements scrubbed (including, sadly, a big musical number partially sung by Sterling K. Brown). Whether or not all of the issues involving the movie’s narrative, mostly centered around the climactic “Show Yourself” musical number, are properly ironed are up for discussion. What Into the Unknown brilliantly does, though, is showcase just how hard the animators, technicians and story artists worked to get it into the best place it could be. No matter how you feel about Frozen 2, the documentary series will highlight just what a towering accomplishment it really was. And, yes, it’ll get “Into the Unknown” stuck in your head for several more days. – Drew Taylor

Toy Story That Time Forgot

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Image via Disney

This half-hour long Christmas special is one of the best things in the Toy Story universe, a hilarious, richly detailed, and action-packed holiday offering that stands as the kind of classic every family should watch every year. Written and directed by the great Steve Purcell, who co-directed Pixar’s Brave, Toy Story That Time Forgot centers on nervous triceratops Trixie (Kristen Schaal), who Bonnie takes over to a friend’s house after Christmas. That friend has gotten a set of Battlesaurs, quasi-futuristic gladiatorial dinosaur action figures, one of whom (Kevin McKidd) takes a liking to Trixie. She helps him realize that there’s more to life than vanquishing your enemies; he goes on a similar arc as Buzz did in the first film, realizing that he is, in fact, a toy. (The fact that this character wasn’t in Toy Story 4, save for a brief Easter egg, borders on criminal.) With A+ animation, energetic action sequences and a killer, old school score by Michael Giacchino (utilizing some of the same instruments used in the original Planet of the Apes), plus appearances from Tim Allen and Tom Hanks (really!), Toy Story That Time Forgot is really, really special. – Drew Taylor

Doug

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Image via Disney

Doug is the perfect animated show if you’re a child growing up with anxiety. The show follows the daily travails of Doug Funnie, a sweet kid given to day dreaming who has a crush on his classmate Patty Mayonaise and tries to avoid the bully Roger Klotz. Yes, these are the broad archetypes of a kids’ cartoon show, but Doug makes them work by letting us see how Doug’s mind frequently runs away from him, whether he’s fantasizing about him and his friend Skeeter becoming pop stars or worrying that everyone in his life will hate him. Of course, by the end of the episode, Doug has learned that both his fears and his hopes are outsized, and that the reality is never as overwhelming as it seems. – Matt Goldberg

DuckTales (1987)

Image via Disney

The first animated series Disney produced for modern television is arguably still the best (its theme song is undeniably the best). DuckTales follows the globetrotting adventures of Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and their grotesquely wealthy uncle Scrooge McDuck. After Donald Duck dumps his nephews on Scrooge so he can go to war (not a joke), Scrooge takes the boys to exotic locales around the planet on quests to find valuable treasures to increase his status as the richest duck in the world (yes, that is his sole motivation). It’s a fun show in the style of old adventure serials, and the animation, which was leaps and bounds better than anything else on TV at the time, still holds up. – Tom Reimann

Agent Carter

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Image via ABC

Alas, Agent Carter, we only knew ye for a pair of all-too-short seasons. The series, created by Avengers: Endgame writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, is a truly unique and endlessly charming pocket of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, led by Hayley Atwell’s consistently dynamite performance as Peggy Carter. Set in the 1940s after Captain America crashed into the Arctic ice, the series saw Carter emerge as one of the brightest live-action characters in Marvel’s catalog while also filling in fascinating layers of the modern-day MCU. Way more of an espionage show than your classic superhero fare, Atwell’s Peggy Carter was a force as she balanced personal life with top-secret missions for Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), usually accompanied by Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy, always a delight). Definitely make some time in your Disney+ scrolling schedule for a few more dances with Agent Carter. — Vinnie Mancuso

The Mandalorian

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Image via Disney

The Mandalorian was one of the most heavily promoted new series at this year’s D23 Expo and it’s not surprising why. Creator Jon Favreau compared it to both a “space opera” and an old-time Western with its story of a lone gunfighter (played by Pedro Pascal) traveling through the outer reaches of the galaxy. The series takes place five years after the events of Return of the Jedi and showcases how the galaxy is doing in a period of relative lawlessness. The show is a mix of John Ford Western and Star Wars futurism. Add to that a cast that includes Ming-Na Wen, Giancarlo Esposito, and Werner Herzog and you have the makings of a series that not only Star Wars fans will gravitate to, but also those looking for engaging drama. – Kristen Lopez

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Image via Disney+

When Disney announced that there would be a companion documentary series to go along with its blockbuster live-action Star Wars series The Mandalorian, it was easy to roll your eyes and assume that it would be little more than an overstretched collection of DVD bonus features. But it wasn’t! We actually learned things! Disney Gallery comprehensively traces the production of The Mandalorian – from the exciting directors enlisted to bring Jon Favreau’s vision of a lawless Star Wars underbelly to life to the next-generation technology responsible for the show’s otherworldly vistas (and everything in between). Using a combination of behind-the-scenes footage, finished sequences, and roundtable discussions led by Favreau (that man really loves roundtable discussions), even the in-camera, computer-rendered effects seem easy to comprehend. And if you weren’t initially a fan of The Mandalorian, it might make you at least appreciate the series know when you see what an ungodly pain-in-the-ass the whole thing was. (Yes, Baby Yoda was adorable but he was also a technical marvel – as was assassin-turned-babysitter droid IG-11.) Season 2 of The Mandalorian still feels like a galaxy far, far away. Shorten the time by watching this engaging, frequently illuminating documentary series. – Drew Taylor

Mickey Mouse (2013)

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Image via Disney

While these are technically short films, paid for by Disney’s Consumer Products division to enliven the Mickey Mouse character and aired in-between programming on the Disney Channel and on Disney-owned YouTube channels, they’re listed in the “series” section of Disney+ so we’re putting it here. Simply put, these revitalized Mickey Mouse shorts are truly essentially. Developed by Paul Rudish, a longtime artistic partner of Genndy Tartakovsky, these shorts are overflowing with devilish energy, attention to detail, and genuinely jaw-dropping animation (plus they’re so short). There are also more Easter eggs – to other Disney properties, theme park attractions and movies – than you could possibly count. The characterization of Mickey Mouse himself, completed by stellar voicework by Christopher Diamantopoulos (yes, Russ Hanneman from Silicon Valley and Mickey Mouse are the same man), is vital. Rudish, Diamantopoulos and the unbelievable creative team injects much-needed personality and psychological depth into a character that has, in decades past, become a bland corporate symbol. Look no further than Walt Disney World, where Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, using this version of the characters, recently opened to rapturous reviews (it’ll be coming to Disneyland in a few years, gloved fingers crossed). If you think these Mickey Mouse shorts are just for kids, think again – this is sophisticated, deeply funny animation. – Drew Taylor

Disney Parks Sunrise Series

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Image via Disney+

These are basically hour-long screensavers, as you watch the various Disney Parks spring to life at the start of each new day. You don’t see throngs of tourists or cast members; just the parks themselves, accompanied by some soft, easily ignorable music. This might sound silly, but its subtly profound; it allows you to drink in the majesty of these parks, the awesomeness of their design and the true limitlessness of their imagination. There are few things as impressive as seeing the icons of these locations – the Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (which, per the name, at one point had much stronger biblical implications, mercifully removed during development), say, or the geodesic wonder of EPCOT’s Spaceship Earth, as the light first hits them. (The Animal Kingdom one is even better because you can hear all the animals rustling awake, including the gaggle of parrots that fly at the base of the Tree of Life.) Obviously mileage may vary according to your need to Zen-out while watching static footage of empty theme parks, but it’s subtly meditative and allows you glimpses of the Disney Parks that few will ever get to experience. So far Disney Parks Sunrise Series is limited to three of the four Walt Disney World parks; hopefully it’ll continue with the water parks, west coast parks and international parks. Who doesn’t want to see the sun rise over Tokyo DisneySea? – Drew Taylor

Darkwing Duck

Image via Disney

“Daring duck of mystery, champion of right …” If you don’t remember the actual series, you probably still have the theme song lodged in your memory. But there’s more to Tad Stone’s crime-fighting comedy Darkwing Duck than a catchy tune. Originally thought of as a Duck Tales spin-off, since it shares some characters and a similar design aesthetic (it was debunked by creator Tad Stones in 2016, stating that Darkwing exists in a parallel universe), Darkwing Duck was an essential part of both the Disney Afternoon syndicated programming block and Disney’s slab of animated Saturday morning cartoons – and now it has a permanent home on Disney+. (Fun fact: it was originally set to star Launchpad as a James Bond-style secret agent, based in part on the DuckTales episode “Double-O Duck,” but they ran into legal trouble with the Broccoli family and quickly changed course.) Darkwing Duck holds up surprisingly well, with its mixture of warm, fuzzy family stuff (embodied by Darkwing’s alter ego Drake Mallard’s relationship with plucky orphan Gosalyn and right hand man Launchpad) and dynamic, oversized super-heroics (the show has a great array of villains). At the time, Disney Animation Studio was firing on all cylinders, with top-notch satellites all over the world, and you can see (and feel) that quality in the relentlessly entertaining Darkwing Duck. – Drew Taylor

Gargoyles

Image via Disney

You’ll never look at rooftop gargoyles the same way after watching Gargoyles. The mythology at the heart of the story centers on the title characters: stone gargoyles by day, defenders of the innocent at night. The group of gliding gargantuans, led by Goliath, have a contentious relationship with humans that stretches back more than 1,000 years and continues into the present day. These relics of the past, from a world of “superstition and the sword”, find themselves flung into our modern era where science, technology, and advanced weaponry make their very existence even more perilous.

This surprisingly dark and dramatic Disney show was on par with Batman: The Animated Series back in the ’90s, and remains solid even today. It’s developed sort of a cult following thanks to its memorable characters, Shakespearean thematic material, and powerful performances from voice actors like Keith David, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Ed Asner, Jonathan Frakes, and Marina Sirtis, among many others. It’s impressive that the original idea, created by a committee of sorts, still holds up among the best of the best animated series today. — Dave Trumbore

The Owl House

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Image via Disney

One of the very best Disney Channel original animated series of the past few years, Dana Terrace’s The Owl House is an otherworldly hoot (pun very much intended). Terrace, a veteran of DuckTales and Gravity Falls (shows that appear elsewhere on this very list!), synthesized a number of her obsessions (the Harry Potter books, anime) into something wholly original and utterly captivating. Luz (Sarah Nicole-Robles) is a human child who accidentally winds up in an upside-down fantasy realm while on her way to a disciplinary summer camp meant to straighten her out. It’s there that she befriends a witch named Edna (Wendie Malick), her diminutive demon sidekick named King (Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch) and begins her training to become a true witch. From there, the first season of the series spirals outward, encompassing palace intrigue, folksy horror, and an openly queer relationship for Luz (it’s poignant and beautiful and way ahead of its time). It’s easy to simply marvel at the animation of The Owl House, which is endlessly imaginative and so gorgeously rendered, that you can sometimes overlook the show’s deep messages and themes about acceptance, individuality, and the power of mentorship. Before the show returns for Season 2, definitely get up to speed now. It’ll cast a spell on you. – Drew Taylor

Muppets Now

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Image via Disney+

After several failed attempts at reviving the Muppets brand, Muppets Now seems to have done the trick. Instead of a single narrative, the episodes of Muppets Now are structured around a loose consortium of smaller, bite-sized segments, each hosted by a different Muppet (or set of Muppets). Miss Piggy hosts a life-style video blog, Pepe the King Prawn oversees a low-budget game show and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker conduct Mythbusters-style experiments that always end in some kind of large-scale destruction (lots of things get blown up). Charming and funny, the Muppets interacting with celebrities in unscripted scenarios is frequently off-the-wall and the wily framing device (recorded during quarantine) adds even more personality and texture. (Also, the brief nature of every installment insures that the individual Muppets never overstay their welcome. It just leaves you wanting more.) If you’re not totally in love with it already, please keep in mind that even The Muppet Show took a couple of seasons to really get going. So hang tight. Hopefully Muppets Now is here to stay. I’m not sure what I would do without Pepe’s crummy game show. – Drew Taylor

So Weird

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Image via Disney

Disney isn’t just aiming for new fans of their programming but all those still living life like it’s 1999. So Weird was a three-season show that focused on the adventures of Fiona “Fi” Phillips (Cara DeLizia) who, along with her rock-star mom, investigated supernatural phenomenon. Often called The X-Files for kids, So Weird garnered a legion of fans during its three seasons though it hasn’t been on television screens since 2003. The series starred not only DeLizia, but real-life Hollywood royalty Mackenzie Phillips as Fi’s mom and Disney’s original ‘90s dreamboat Erik von Detten. It’s great that Disney is sharing nearly everything from their catalog, including the television shows only a select few probably remember. – Kristen Lopez

X-Men: The Animated Series

Image via FOX

Iconic, stirring, emotional, groundbreaking, and folks, that’s just the theme song. (Sorry, it’s in your head now, too.) For a specific pocket of people, X-Men: The Animated Series is the ultimate form of nostalgia overload, an instant emotional call-back to a mid-90s Saturday morning. But, surprise! The show holds up shockingly well in every department from animation to storylines to performances. So much of that is down to the fact that the series is pretty much the perfect adaptation of everything great about X-Men comic books. There’s all the inter-team mutant banter you could want; Wolverine (Cathal J. Dodd) passive-aggressively calling Cyclops (Norm Spencer) “bub”, Storm (Alison Sealy Smith) casually dropping wisdom between thunderclaps, Gambit (Chris Potter) being shockingly pervy at all times. But the show, like the comics, was also never afraid to delve into deep territory, making sure audiences both young and old understand that prejudice is an evil worth fighting. — Vinnie Mancuso


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