When I was a kid, we visited Disney World.
At some point we ended up on a breakfast cruise, and there are pictures of me there, cherub-faced and smiling wide, surrounded by Mickey and Minnie, Chip and Dale, Cinderella, and assorted other Disney characters. I don’t remember it, but I’ve seen pictures, and I have no doubt it was one of the happiest days of my life. (We visited Disneyland too, but come on. There’s a reason all the pictures from that trip are from Universal Studios.)
I worshiped Disney as a kid. My five-year-old has no idea what Disney is.
He loves Finding Nemo, and most Pixar movies, and he was dying to see it. While he may not recognize “Pixar” as the outfit responsible for many of his favorite movies, he definitely recognizes the characters from those movies. Woody, Buzz, Sully, Mike Wazowski, Lightning McQueen, Nemo, Dory, Wall-E, etc. He has bed sheets and clothing and toys featuring those characters. He adores them.
I’m not sure he even knows who Mickey Mouse is.
My son’s primary exposure to Disney – aside from Pixar, which, like Marvel and Lucasfilm/Star Wars is technically Disney (but you try explaining corporations and mergers and intellectual property to a five-year-old) – is one crappy book of stories (in which Mickey, Minnie and Goofy attend a dude ranch, Mickey meets Pluto, and Donald Duck commits arson with his nephews) and that “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” TV show. We’ve shown him some of the classic movies (he’s partial to The Aristocats, 101 Dalmations, and Robin Hood) and he’s seen Frozen and Aladdin and The Lion King.
But the word Disney means nothing to him. And it’s almost shocking to me. I loved Disney, I loved watching “The Wide World of Disney”, I loved visiting Disney World, I loved Disney movies, and I loved Disney characters. So where did they go?
The classic Disney characters barely seem to exist anymore, at least outside of the theme park itself (where I assume they still walk around, sweating to death) and while I’m sure there are some kids out there that are more tuned into traditional Disney fare than mine, it seems obvious that the core characters and image of the brand just don’t carry the same weight anymore. Despite the fact that my son loves Pixar, worships Marvel’s superheroes, and literally doesn’t stop talking about Star Wars, he doesn’t view those things as Disney. He knows next to nothing about Disney!
I don’t exactly know what I’m bemoaning here. Yes, I worshiped the brand as a kid, but I’m no Disney fanboy. I’m not one of those adults who wears Mickey Mouse sweatshirts or makes an annual pilgrimage to the Magic Kingdom (I’m not a billionaire!) and I don’t know that my son is missing anything. He certainly doesn’t feel like he is. Mickey Mouse and his anthropomorphized animal cohorts were products of a simpler time. Children are more sophisticated these days, and so they want anthropomorphized toys and anthropomorphized cars and… different anthropomorphized animals?
I get it, it happens, the culture changes, and Disney has changed.
The company apparently chose to move into other stuff (the aforementioned Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars), and the bedrocks on which the company were formed have receded a bit.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just a curious one. I don’t begrudge the people who run Walt Disney’s company for changing gears. It certainly seems to be working for them! But as someone whose childhood was largely dominated by Disney characters, movies, TV shows, even books, it’s simply a little weird that my son is growing up without that presence in his life. It’s kind of like Looney Tunes, with Tom and Jerry and Sylvester and Tweety and Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. If I said those names to my five-year-old, he’d return a blank stare.
I guess I’m just old, whining about how the culture has changed and kids don’t appreciate Mickey Mouse anymore. At least my six-month-old seems to like Winnie the Pooh!
Don’t get me wrong, I still want to bring my kids to Space Mountain and Epcot and maybe even to meet Chip and Dale someday, despite the fact that I’m positive I’m the only person who remembers Chip and Dale and even more positive that they aren’t even featured at the theme park anymore. But should we amass the small fortune necessary to make the trip someday, I won’t use the prospect of meeting Mickey and Goofy in my pitch to my kids, and that makes me a little sad. I couldn’t wait to meet them.
Instead it will be all about the rides. Except for “It’s a Small World” because there’s no way I’m putting myself through that again.
ETA: I wonder if this isn’t more of an issue for boys. Thanks to the unstoppable juggernaut that is the Disney Princesses, I bet the brand name is alive and well for young girls…