Why can't the internet stand people enjoying wholesome, family-friendly fun?
The first time I went to a Disney Park, I was 18. It was also the first time I got on a plane. I even paid for the whole thing myself — a whopping $950 I earned from working at various restaurants from the time I was 14-years-old. This trip with friends would become a core memory for me. I can still remember feeling the kind of edge-of-17, sun-kissed freedom that only being between high school and college can provide.
That joy stands in stark contrast to visiting a Disney Park today, where parents sometimes roll their eyes at the sight of a "Disney Adult," a dismissive term that’s become synonymous with being a childless millennial enjoying a place that seems designed for children and families and willing to spend money to do it.
I'd like to reclaim this narrative. The first time I went to Disney World, I was a Disney Adult. I was taking it all in for the first time. I didn't ask for the Disney Adult life, the Disney Adult life chose me. I wasn’t afforded the chance to go as a child with my family, but that first trip affirmed the reality that my childhood exposure to Disney was a foundational part of my upbringing. I was always destined to be a Disney Adult.
"When you're a kid, all you want to do is be an adult. But when the time finally comes — and all the responsibility that goes with it — you look for an escape. Disney creates an escape from adulting, a break from deadlines, meetings, and obligations," says Jessica Sanders, who started The Happiest Blog on Earth, turning being a Disney Adult into a full-time job. She covers happenings at Disney Parks and goes to Disneyland at least once a month to help readers plan their own trips.
What does it mean to be a 34-year-old Disney Adult in 2022? I who wore Minnie slippers while getting ready at her wedding, a Disney wedding hat in the cake-cutting photos (with my supportive husband partaking, which is true love), changed into sneakers that feature Mickey Mouse from The Sorcerer's Apprentice, all while getting married at a hotel that was the inspiration for one of the most iconic hotels at Disney World. For years, I was on a personal campaign for the Brandy and Whitney Houston version of Cinderella to be added to streaming and was delighted when it finally came to Disney+. I have a Google alert set for Tower of Terror so I know right away in the event that Disney decides to break my heart and change the ride at Disney World. This week, I was captivated by a TikTok theory that suggests scenes in The Lion King show that maybe Scar ate Mufasa?! For many people, being a Disney Adult is about loving everything Disney and not hating other people for it.
Disney allows us to go back to everything that was carefree and fun about childhood.
Adult/child psychiatrist Amanda J. Calhoun, M.D., explains why so many people remain attached to Disney, even as adults. "Disney is a departure — maybe even an escape — from real, everyday life. Real life, especially grown-up life, can be boring, unrewarding, maybe even monotonous for some," she says. "Disney, on the other hand, is a magical place where dreams come true and where imagination and creativity are valued and embraced."
Sanders agrees, adding that a lot of what adults do for fun actually goes back to what brought them joy as children. "I think most Disney adults take the hate with a grain of salt, because most things we enjoy as adults are just a grown-up form of childhood, anyway. Fashion goes back to children's dress-up, NFL or MLB are like high school football or tee-ball games, playing store, house, or office is like actually working at a store, running a household, and going to the office,” she says. “We thrive on nostalgia and Disney allows us to go back to everything that was carefree and fun about childhood. We can enjoy it through our own lens and through the eyes of our children, nieces and nephews, and friends."
People who identify as Disney Adults agree that Disney provides an escape into a world where there are no limits to the possibilities of the imagination. An escape that is needed perhaps more now than ever after the toll the last several years has taken on our collective well-being. Even now, Disney continues to innovate and influence culture with its parks, films, and team of Imagineers, who keep the illusions alive and the magic coming.
"I am a Disney adult because I was raised on all of the incredible Disney movies of the '90s and even some of the older more obscure ones (Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Thomasina, and even the sing-along VHS tapes). As a kid, it allowed me to escape and imagine a fantasy life that was far from the reality that being in a family of a single mom and myself allowed," says Chrissi Michael, a self-described Disney Adult.
Disney, as a company and organization, has shortcomings, most recently stemming from its involvement in Floridian politics and the state's Don't Say Gay Bill. It's just one example of how Disney can and should do better. But I also see the ways in which Disney continues to surprise me with its progressive efforts towards inclusion. Disney doesn't always get it right, but it is committed to progress in ways that matter. I never would have thought in my lifetime that I would get a Disney film like Encanto that not only highlights the themes of generational trauma at play in Latinx families, but also gives us the now-classic song "We Don't Talk About Bruno" from Latinx icon Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Disney instills the idea that everyone and anyone, especially with Disney's recent increased representation of minority characters, can be a hero.
"It makes sense that some people may cling to the 'magic' of Disney more than others." Dr. Calhoun explains. "Disney instills the idea that everyone and anyone, especially with Disney's recent increased representation of minority characters, can be a hero. I think this idea can be especially powerful to those who may feel disempowered in their own lives at times."
Though the internet may be responsible for giving Disney Adults a bad reputation, it's also no secret the internet has also helped Disney lovers foster a sense of community and belonging. Whether it's offering up Disney Bounding inspiration or even space for someone like me, who loves Disney and horror movies, there is something for every type of fan.
This sentiment of Disney belonging to us all also isn't one I've developed out of nowhere, but I know that it is one that anyone who truly loves Disney shares. The idea of inclusion was a huge part of the core message behind the creation of Disneyland, which was the culmination of Walt Disney's life's work. He wanted the space to be enjoyed by all. If you're younger, it inspires a sense of excitement and wonder. But no matter what age you are, Disneyland offers a way to step back into these positive memories of your childhood.
When people ask why I love Disney so much, it's hard to really pick just one reason. I was lucky enough to come of age during the Disney Renaissance, which turned out classics such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King — but it really extends beyond that. I love the feeling I get whenever I hear Lea Salonga sing — and yes, that means as any of the two princesses she voiced. Because no matter how many times I watch, I will sob through the first and last 15 minutes of Up and Toy Story 3 respectively. Every! Single! Time! I love Disney because it includes my love of Star Wars. Or because Main Street U.S.A. smells like cupcakes whether you are in Anaheim or Orlando. The parks have become my de facto happy place, where I can be reminded of all these movies and watch as it continues to grow to include new films and stories.
What is the actual harm in being a Disney Adult? Like a real-life fairy godmother, Dr. Calhoun suggests you should look within yourself to find the answer. "I would wonder why people are critical and what that says about them. In my experience, having an affinity for Disney is not harming anyone," she says. "While some people may think it is 'immature' or balk at the idea, why do some people associate maturity with a loss of magic? Why can one not be 'mature' and enjoy fantasy and heroism? That's the question."
That’s what you'll have to answer when deciding whether or not you'll continue to be bothered by Disney Adults who want to continue to celebrate their love for Disney, with or without kids. Why have we decided that becoming an adult means you have to suspend our belief in magic or make-believe? Is it any different from running a fantasy football team or reading horoscopes? Not only is there still room for it all, I'd argue you'll have a better time relating to younger generations if you leave a little space in your heart to believe.