December 11, 2023

I am, undeniably, a Disney Adult.
Whenever I have time (and funds), I head to one of Disney’s six resorts across the world, where I can feel my problems melt away quicker than a Mickey Bar in the midday sun. The air brims with excitement, strangers wave at me from rides and suddenly my biggest dilemma is whether to hit up Haunted Mansion or It’s a Small World first.

Unfortunately, you can’t live in the Disney Parks (I checked) so I’ve done the next best thing and infused 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 my husband and I built for my 30th birthday; the Baymax backpack I snagged in the Disney Store in Shanghai (which, by the way, garners more compliments than any designer purse).

Nor am I alone in my adult devotion to the Mouse House. We’re a fast-growing demographic that includes Ryan Gosling, John Stamos, Rebel Wilson and Kourtney Kardashian (whose recent baby shower was decorated like Disneyland) — and it’s one that the company has ignored at its peril. Disgruntled Disney Adults nicknamed former CEO Robert Chapek as “Bob Paycheck” thanks to the ticket price hikes and undoing of free perks such as fast- passes that took place at the parks under his short-lived tenure. Their dissatisfaction contributed to Chapek’s ouster late last year after a series of moves that angered Hollywood talent in addition to brand faithful.

“Disney’s pretty ingrained into every aspect of my life,” says Francis Dominic Garcia, a Disney influencer whose pop culture and theme park content has garnered a healthy Instagram following. Garcia has Disney-themed tattoos, a closet full of licensed Disney outfits and, of course, a Disneyland annual pass. “I swear to God, if you look at my blood cells they would literally be in the shape of Mickey Mouse.”

Lesley Kay created Disneybound, a lifestyle company that grew out of a Tumblr blog she set up in 2010. Kay and a friend had been begging their parents to take them to Disney World without success. “And then suddenly we realized we’re 22; nobody can tell us what to do with our money,” she says. While planning her trip she began posting fashion-forward ensembles inspired by Disney characters online. Within weeks Kay had created a new movement known as Disneybounding, in which fans wear character-inspired outfits to the parks. She now regularly works with the company on official projects including books and merchandise.

Kay’s professional relationship with Disney speaks to the way in which the company has begun to acknowledge its grown-up fanbase with age-appropriate products, experiences and high- end licensing deals.

“Our adult consumers were searching for ways to connect with our brands through product selections that reflected their lifestyles and individuality,” Liz Shortreed, Disney’s senior VP for global softlines and global strategy, tells Variety. 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 evidently aren’t aimed at kids. (Nor, presumably, is the new Disney x Charlotte Tilbury cosmetics collection, which includes a $100 jar of moisturizer that promises to reduce wrinkles.)

On fan forum Disboards.com, the site’s almost 600,000-strong registered members spend hours discussing all matters Magic Kingdom, from the latest merch to the company’s stock price. And current CEO Bob Iger should take heed: while news of his return to the company was initially greeted on the site with euphoria, sentiment has noticeably cooled since then. In one recent thread titled “Bean counters and shortsightedness,” commenters have been discussing Iger’s future: “Iger can get fired, too,” wrote one poster, who noted that former CEO Michael Eisner “thought he was indispensable. Not so much.”

Although some might assume Disney Adults simply hoover up anything with a Mickey face on it, fans are often Disney’s harshest critics. “You can absolutely love something and still critically engage with it because you want it to be better,” says Robyn Muir, a sociology lecturer at Surrey University in England and self-described Disney Adult (“I buy a horrendous amount of merchandise,” she admits). Muir, a feminist scholar who has written a book about Disney Princesses, cites “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” as a film grown-up fans can both cherish and acknowledge is “problematic.”

Last year, Muir co-founded an international research network for academics who study Disney across a range of disciplines, from literature to economics. “It’s about creating a home for all of us who have not really had one when it comes to Disney,” she says. Like many of the Disney Adults I spoke to for this story, Francis Dominic Garcia has experienced “weird negative connotations” in response to his love of Disney, which he finds baffling. “It’s so fun and so harmless,” Garcia says. “We spend our money on a mouse.”

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