Disney movies are something that has never really fallen out of fashion, and most people alive today grew up with Disney animated movies as a part of the entertainment in their childhood, whether it was at the cinema in the early days, on VHS in the 80’s and 90’s, or nowadays, on DVD or streaming services. However, where previous generations tended to put aside their fondness for these films when they grew up, returning to the classics they had once loved only when they had kids of their own, millennial adults seem to be a little more reluctant to cast aside their love for Disney movies. They tend to be just as keen to see the newer releases that have come out in recent years like Moana and Frozen, as the children these movies have always been made to be aimed at.
Additionally, because millennials are in the age group with the most disposable income at the moment, where they have reached the age of having professional careers and are also, according to statistics, putting off having children until a later age than their parents’ generation, businesses like Disney have been leveraging the nostalgia that millennials show for their brand to actually market to adults, not as parents, but for the first time, as direct consumers. Millennials are also interested in spending their money on nostalgia inspired purchases, as is shown by the popularity of old video games and memorabilia from things from the 80’s and 90’s. This same audience could be the reason why if you look at how much Disney VHS tapes are worth at Do You Remember and you’ll see that some of these are fetching hundreds or even thousands of dollars second-hand.
So, why is the current generation of twenty- and thirty-somethings so passionate about Disney?
Shifts in the Brand
One thing that can’t be ignored is that Disney has moved with the times. Whereas in the past, Disney may have been criticized for having what the current PC generation might call ‘problematic’ elements, in terms of lack of diversity and traditional gender roles in its stories, it has moved toward a dynamic that the modern audience approves of. Rather than traditional fairy-tale love stories and adventures, which were Disney’s original source of inspiration, now they are producing things that aim to give viewers a less old-fashioned view of the world. They are focusing less on romantic relationships and more on role models.
Disney has also benefited significantly in the eyes of the millennial audience from its Pixar brand. There was a time in the late 1990’s when Disney-style animated musicals had fallen out of fashion, and people were developing a taste for 3D animation where humor was at the fore – movies that were written to be enjoyed by adults as well as kids and which told brand new stories rather than classic fairy-tales. Disney’s Pixar studio caught on quickly to the change in tastes and was able to adapt, producing franchises like How To Train Your Dragon, Cars, Wall-E, and many more, as well as moving their more traditional stories like Tangled and Frozen to a 3D design. The most recent Disney animated musical in the original style was The Princess and the Frog, which was appealing partly because it was a novelty compared to recent 3D animated works!
Disney also bought two brands that millennials are especially attached to – Star Wars and Marvel – bringing in people who were perhaps never all that into princesses or musicals, but who enjoyed action adventure.
Another big change to Disney since the 90’s is the use of celebrity voices. Until Robin Williams did the voice of the Genie in Aladdin, the actors who voiced the characters in famous Disney movies were not people the audience were familiar with seeing on screen. Now, an all-star cast is essential for an animated hit, and this is also something that adults care about far more than children.
The Nostalgia Generation
Of course, while Disney does a lot more now to appeal to adults, it isn’t just the recent Disney and Pixar enterprises that millennials are fond of. Disney princesses from classic Disney movies are still popular motifs with a lot of adults, as are characters from other Disney movies and TV shows, such as Disney’s representation of Winnie The Pooh.
In essence, the reason why modern younger adults tend to be far more into the Disney products from their childhoods than previous generations is probably the prevalence of nostalgia culture on the internet. While people who grew up in the 1970’s may have enjoyed reminiscing about the popular culture of the time with their peers, now there is the internet, and it is easy to find references to the things you remember, even if they are quite obscure. Something like Disney, which is almost universal as part of any Western person’s childhood is, therefore, something adults now are reminded of more often, and which showing enthusiasm for online is seen as normal.
What Will Today’s Kids Be Nostalgic Over?
An interesting effect of the nostalgic tendencies of millennials is that brands like Disney modernize but don’t really fall out of fashion or change direction wildly. This means that just as people in their early thirties now are fond of Star Wars, Spider-man, and the Disney fairy-tales, it is likely that the kids who are ten now will be nostalgic for exactly the same characters and franchises, given that this is what most of the blockbuster mainstream entertainment still features!
It is interesting to think that while kids now watch their entertainment on streaming services rather than VHS, they are, in general, still excited about the same things as generations before them, just with a modern shift in terms of having more diversity and better role models in the stories they are consuming. Will the nostalgia trend continue, or will the next generation change their tastes when they get to prime disposable income age?