I unashamedly consider myself a Disney enthusiast. Whenever time and budget allow, I make my way to one of Disney’s six global resorts, where my troubles seem to disappear faster than a Mickey Bar in the noonday sun. The atmosphere is electric, and even strangers on rides greet me with a wave. Suddenly, my most pressing concern is whether to head to the Haunted Mansion or “It’s a Small World” first.
While I can’t reside in the Disney Parks (I’ve double-checked), I’ve found the next best thing by infusing my London apartment and wardrobe with all things Disney. There’s the Mrs. Potts bone china teapot from Tokyo Disneyland, the $400 Lego Cinderella castle I and my husband constructed for my 30th birthday, and the Baymax backpack I picked up from the Disney Store in Shanghai. By the way, that backpack receives more compliments than any designer purse I’ve owned.
I’m far from alone in my devotion to Disney as an adult. It’s a rapidly growing demographic that includes well-known figures like Ryan Gosling, John Stamos, Rebel Wilson, and Kourtney Kardashian, whose recent Disneyland-themed baby shower illustrates our shared passion. Disney has learned not to ignore this fervent adult fan base, given the consequences of past missteps.
This fan base, often referred to as “Disney Adults,” became disenchanted with former CEO Robert Chapek, often dubbed “Bob Paycheck” due to ticket price hikes and the removal of free perks like fast-passes during his brief tenure. Their dissatisfaction, in addition to other controversial moves, contributed to Chapek’s removal from the company.
“Disney is deeply ingrained in every aspect of my life,” says Francis Dominic Garcia, a Disney influencer who enjoys a substantial Instagram following for his pop culture and theme park content. Garcia proudly sports Disney-themed tattoos, a wardrobe filled with licensed Disney apparel, and, of course, a Disneyland annual pass. He humorously adds, “I swear to God, if you look at my blood cells, they would literally be in the shape of Mickey Mouse.”
Another testament to the enduring love of Disney by adults is “Disneybound,” a lifestyle company founded by Lesley Kay. It originated as a Tumblr blog in 2010 when Kay and a friend decided to plan their trip to Disney World independently. While preparing for the trip, Kay began posting fashion-forward outfits inspired by Disney characters online. This gave rise to the Disneybounding movement, where fans wear character-inspired outfits to the parks. Kay’s partnership with Disney has resulted in official projects, including books and merchandise.
Disney has recognized its grown-up fanbase and adapted by offering age-appropriate products, experiences, and high-end licensing deals. Items such as $600 bridal Minnie Ears designed by Vera Wang, $350 Mickey-print Coach sweatshirts, and $280 “Beauty and the Beast” cast iron soup pots from Le Creuset are clearly intended for an older audience. Additionally, Disney’s collaboration with Charlotte Tilbury on a cosmetics collection, featuring a $100 jar of moisturizer, reflects its aim to cater to adults.
Disney’s adult fans can be found discussing all things related to the Magic Kingdom on fan forums like Disboards.com. The site boasts almost 600,000 registered members who engage in discussions ranging from the latest merchandise to the company’s stock price. While the return of CEO Bob Iger initially generated euphoria on the site, sentiments have since cooled. Disgruntled fans have been voicing their concerns, with some suggesting that Iger could be dismissed.
It might be tempting to assume that Disney Adults will buy anything with a Mickey Mouse on it, but in reality, fans are often the company’s harshest critics. As Robyn Muir, a sociology lecturer and self-proclaimed Disney Adult, points out, you can passionately love something while critically engaging with it to promote improvement. Muir, who has written a book about Disney Princesses, mentions “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” as an example of a film that both adult fans adore and acknowledge as “problematic.”
To support their shared interest in Disney, Muir co-founded an international research network that brings together academics from various disciplines who study Disney. This network provides a home for those who have been seeking a space to explore Disney from multiple perspectives. Like many Disney Adults I spoke to, Francis Dominic Garcia has encountered unwarranted negative reactions to his love of Disney. He finds these reactions baffling, as he sees the Disney experience as joyful and harmless. As he humorously concludes, “We spend our money on a mouse.”