As a writer, I do my best to be, above all else, observant, and recently I have noticed something that most of Disney’s new films, television, and even Park experiences have in common: they are made for us, the childless millennials and/or “Disney adults.”
Encanto was made for us. Lightyear was made for us. Turning Red was made for us. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers was made for us. Spider-Man: Now Way Home was made for us. Obi-Wan Kenobi was made for us. Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and its fully-immersive multi-day L.A.R.P.ing experience called Galactic Starcruiser were made for us.
I previously wrote about Disney’s attempt to create the “family-friendly PG-13 movie.” But since then, I realized that Disney is also proving that a movie for adults does not have to be rated PG-13 or R. It can be rated PG. Disney’s storytellers have learned how to inject the nostalgia-satisfying and agenda-validating attributes that so many of my generation crave into stories capable of reaching younger viewers. A reach that is achieved by both the lower the rating, and the amount of “Disney Adults” with kids who want to experience watching a new Disney movie with their kids.
This is not the Disney I grew up with. The Disney I remember was always focused on winning the next generation. When The Little Mermaid was released, it was for the children of the now-adults who grew up with Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Sleeping Beauty. Of course, they made it enjoyable for the parents, but the target audience was the kids. The same goes for all of the subsequent “Disney Princess” movies from Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin through The Princess and the Frog and Tangled.
But then Frozen came along and a paradigm shift began to occur. I would argue that since 2013 The Walt Disney Company’s target audience has been in a state of transition. No longer are they truly focused on today’s generation of kids. The past 30 years have created a media-consuming generation who, thanks to social media, has been very vocal about what they want and what bothers them. These are the kids of the Disney Afternoon and Disney Renaissance Era who are now adults with adult money and who are more than happy to use that money to carry their childhood nostalgia into adulthood with them rather than reliving vicariously through their own children. Many of these kids have also gone to work for Disney, becoming Cast Members who arguably put more of their paycheck back into their company at a faster rate than even Amazon employees. And being one of the most recognized and beloved companies in the world, Disney has been smart enough to capitalize on this almost-guaranteed consumer base.
Older generations stopped watching cartoons. They left their childhoods behind, for the most part, and turned their focus elsewhere. My generation, on a much larger scale, has not. So, Disney has not needed to recruit a new audience. On top of that point, my generation has always felt the need to express themselves and rebelliously share the stories they were never allowed to share before. Because, as I said, we are adults now.
Movies stopped being just movies. They became vehicles for social agendas and outlets to artistically say “screw you” to people. The simple idea of being held back from achieving your dreams was replaced by a more overt display of “real” intergenerational victimization. The romantic ideas of “love at first sight,” and singing your heart out about something were openly rejected and replaced with cynicism and sarcastic almost-fourth-wall-breaking self-awareness that robs kids today of that fun innocence.
Sure, Encanto can come off as a great movie for kids. It provides a sensory rush with all of the colors, fast movements, catchy beats, and simple lyrics (you don’t even need to have any real sense of the plot because it is so entertaining to look at and its script epitomizes repetition, so you can get caught up easily). There is also some merit argued in the diverse surface-level representation it upholds. But its actual story is for the millennials with each stereotypical trope represented by each of Abuela Alma’s older grandkids, tied together by their obsession with claiming victimhood to “intergenerational trauma.”
Turning Red and Rescue Rangers, on the other hand, stand out because these PG movies displayed the most overt disregard for any viewers who are not part of that “Disney Adult” generation. Not only did both movies bring millennials back to their childhoods (and all the cringe that came with it), but they also give an angsty generation the satisfaction of seeing characters as “real” as them. In fact, one of the only complaints I have heard about Rescue Rangers is that is not appropriate for kids.
Pixar’s Lightyear has made it even more apparent that the PG-rated adult films are the new normal because only adults care enough about Buzz Lightyear to want this movie and only adults can actually push for LGBTQ+ representation in the movies.
Disney has also continued to green light Marvel and Star Wars franchises with little regard for rating. they are also drenched in nostalgia, requiring years of previous investment in the previous saga material, from the ultimate fanfare experience that was Spider-Man: No Way Home to the Disney+ Original Series Obi-Wan Kenobi. George Lucas caught a lot of criticism when he decided to make the prequel Star Wars trilogy for the next generation of kids, but now I realize why he did it and I appreciate those movies even more.
Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek said that over 50% of domestic Disney+ subscribers are childless households, and we shared a while back that more childless adults are choosing Disney Theme Parks as their vacation destination. This target audience is clearly growing.
Do not get me wrong! In no way do I mean to say that being a “Disney Adult,” and finding happiness in that lifestyle is a bad thing. I would not be a reporter for this website if I did not have a lifelong love of Disney. And some of these projects have been really good and deserve praise. But there is something concerning about Disney’s magic makers putting too much focus on the aging and self-righteous generation.
Disney is becoming more and more reliant on delivering stories to the “Selfish Millennial” stereotypes in a way that said millennials can justify feeding the stories to their own kids. We say it is for the kids, but the fact of the matter is that it is us, the adults who are getting validation and satisfaction from the new “woke” and “openly inclusive” content. WE want to feel good about supporting forced and debatably appropriate levels of “diversity” in new shows and movies. WE want to be able to share videos on TikTok with our kids saying “look, mommy, that’s me!” We want the movies that shove intergenerational trauma and otherwise “taboo” into the faces of everyone around us who still holds some desirable sense of “don’t ask don’t tell” decorum.
There is a generation of kids growing up right now with almost nothing but sequels watered-down to be passed off as appropriate enough for them to watch. They don’t have their own princesses as we did. Instead, they are given cheaply-written copies politically cleansed while being told that the beautiful, award-winning films we grew up with are backward and racist.
This brings the “timelessness” of Disney movies and shows into question like never before.
Over the past 100 years, Disney has always been able to keep the new generation in mind. The Renaissance period was founded on creating stories for the children of the day that was enjoyable for the parents. Now, it appears that the next 100 years will start with Disney creating movies for “Disney Adults.” Kids are no longer given the clean slate. If The Walt Disney Company is to stay on this course, one can only hope that its plan worked and the next generation of fabricated Disney Adults will emerge in full force.
But, personally, this approach reeks of short-term business thinking. Forget the politics, forget the quality, and forget about the debate over “Disney Adults.” My worst fear from this observation is that Disney has become entrenched in such short-term thinking. I really hope I am wrong and my favorite entertainment company is still here in another 100 years.
Disclaimer: The opinions in this article are the writer’s and may not reflect the sentiments of Disney Fanatic as a whole.