Disney’s Business Model is Turning Kids Into Dysfunctional Adults
Its customer base isn’t kids. It’s messed up adults.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
“Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children," Walt Disney once said.
Walt’s unique strategy of building an entertainment empire for kids once made Disney a trusted source of family entertainment. That didn’t last long after Walt's death as Disney started releasing R-rated movies and adult television programming under the Touchstone label.
A decade later, Disney bought Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax. During the 90s, while Disney's more family friendly brand was releasing animated cartoons, Miramax featured Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, and the Scream sequels. During this time Weinstein was accused of sexual harassment and assaults. Some of this was taking place even as Disney’s “family friendly” brand released The Hunchback of Notre Dame with its depiction of a lecherous Catholic villain praying before a cross while ranting about his lusts. This was what Disney had become.
In the new century the barrier between the two schizoid faces of Disney has come down.
Disney isn’t for kids anymore. Its movie business is dominated by Marvel blockbusters. Half of Disney+ subscribers, its big bet on the home streaming future, are adults with no children. ‘
What about the theme parks?
60% of Disneyland visitors were adults with no children. Only 36.7% of Disney World visitors had children under 18. The largest demographic for the theme parks, like the movies, are millennials. They are also members of the fandoms who are likeliest to spend money on licensed merchandise, and on toys and movie tie-ins that are Disney’s bread and butter.
And Disney is rapidly adapting with theme parks and resorts that emphasize its Marvel and Star Wars properties more than classic fare. Its Galactic Starcruiser hotel, aimed at Star Wars fans, costs $4,809 for two adults. Why bother with kid stuff when you can sell $13 beers?
Disney may have started out feeding the imaginations of children, but now its business model is acquiring intellectual properties with active fandoms and milking the adult fans for every cent.
Its political opposition to a Florida law barring teachers from pushing sexual issues on kindergarteners might be out of tune with the old family values Disney, but the company’s actual base, like that of virtually every entertainment corp in the country, is a narrow slice of upscale urban millennials with lots of disposable income and no families. Wokes are Disney’s base.
In 1966, the idea that a single adult would spend more money on Disney merchandise than a family of four would have seemed ridiculous. In 2022, it’s just the new normal. If you doubt that stop by a theme park and see how many of the adults with no children wearing every single piece of Disney merchandise on sale would love to lecture you about queer theory.
These are the people Disney caters to now. Not little girls who want to be princesses. That’s why its theme parks will no longer address little girls as princesses. That’s also why rides like Pirates of the Caribbean or Jungle Cruise are being revamped to be more politically correct. Disney’s new woke demographic is much pickier than even the pickiest child could be.
It’s also sexually creepy.
Disney’s new demographic are adults who have never properly grown up and on some level still think of themselves as children. That’s also the profile for the average child molester. And of the kind of adult who insists that schools force children to “explore their sexual identities”.
Healthy adults raise, protect and care for children. Deeply unhealthy ones erase the barriers between themselves and children in ways that can be merely immature or outright evil.
Disney is a messed up company with a messed up base. This is no secret to theme park employees who will, anonymously, spout about it at forums. But some of those employees have also been caught up in child sex investigations. Disney has the clout to make much of that go away through its advertising budgets and the incredible power its theme parks wield over local governments in California and Florida (though Gov. DeSantis has warned that’s going away.)
The growth of Disney paralleled a post-war child-oriented family culture. The collapse of that culture into counterculture sent the company astray. And after decades in the wilderness reemerged with cartoons full of show tunes that catered as much to Broadway lovers as to children, to an indie film movement with a seamy underbelly, and finally perpetual fandom.
Disney found its post-Walt success in moving beyond selling universal family entertainment to tapping into obsessive subcultures. As a company that had nurtured fandom in children, it was uniquely positioned to capitalize on the transformation of adults into overgrown children.
None of this is good for adults, for children, or for the culture. Neither is Disney.
American birth rates are lagging and the family is in a poor state. Only 3 in 10 millennials are living with a child and a spouse. Much of the demographic growth is coming from immigrant childbirths, not Americans. Seen from this vantage point, Disney’s bet on diversity in children’s entertainment and on catering to adult fans willing to drop $5,000 on a hotel with lightsaber training or sing-along sessions to cartoon show tunes from their childhoods makes sense.
The Walt Disney business model depended on a healthy national family. Shareholders are not going to bet on a growth segment in the American nuclear family that doesn’t exist. Betting on dysfunctional adults with sizable disposable incomes makes a whole lot more sense.
Americans are more atomized than ever. Families are drifting apart. Religious faith is imploding among millennials and zoomers. The fictional characters and entertainers of popular culture are taking the place of family and faith. Fandom provides a sense of belonging and culture that community no longer does. Main Street is being replaced by The Avengers and Mos Eisley.
And who can blame a generation born into a broken nation for choosing fantasy over reality?
Peter Pan, like the Narnia books, concludes with the reality that children have to leave fantasy behind, grow up and become adults. But what happens when the children never grow up?
Disney still has a profitable kids segment, but its real profits come from overgrown children born into broken families, prematurely coming of sexual age, who are eager to embrace leftist utopian causes and fantasies, who are seeking an identity and an escape at the same time.
The company isn’t for kids, it’s for broken adults. And it’s only natural that Disney would seek to create more broken adults to perpetuate its business model. A healthy functional adult isn’t nearly as profitable for the entertainment giant as a dysfunctional one addicted to its product.
Advocating that schools push sexual identity on kindergarteners is a cause that the entire entertainment industry, which wouldn’t exist without dysfunctional adults, can get behind.
What’s bad for America is great for Hollywood.
Functional people don’t spend all of their time in front of a television set. And functional families don’t plant their children in front of one and then buy them whatever they want to get them to shut up. Functional people are not very profitable for Disney or for the rest of Hollywood.
The entertainment industry went from a leisure enterprise to one that thrives on dysfunction, that is less interested in having 60% of the country watching something for an hour than having 10% of the country binge watch it for six hours. Ratings and demographic profiles of the industry reflect a profound shift away from entertainment as a past time to entertainment as a lifestyle.
And even an identity.