6 Reasons Why Disney Movies Still Appeal To Adults

2) Grown-up Themes


Sadly, all this extra hilarity that is to be had from watching Disney films as an adult comes at a price, which is that for every moment that becomes funny only when we get older, there will be something else that we suddenly realize to be distinctly unfunny. Disney have always used quite profound themes in their storylines, but – like a lot of the humour – we often only fully appreciate them once we’ve grown up and life has taken on a bit more meaning than who gets which cereal out of the Variety pack, and whether or not we’re there yet. In short – and in a weird stroke of irony – many of the U or PG certificate films that exist precisely so that children don’t have to watch the likes of Night of the Living Dead (or Children of the Corn, apparently) are the sorts of movies that are likely to reduce fully grown individuals to traumatized, tear-stained wrecks.

Take, for example, Up. The first fifteen minutes of Up can best be described as the result of what would have happened if Quentin Tarantino had originally tried to channel his love for ruthless brutality into making children’s films; the sequence in which a beautifully touching and enduring life-long marriage comes to an end – leaving Carl bereft, alone and fraught with the effects of old age – is nothing short of emotional assault. Children will no doubt realise the sadness here, but for them there are bigger and more important things afoot. While the adults are being pummelled by this record-speed trip through love, loss and loneliness, young viewers are about to get an answer to that universal childhood question of “if I tie enough helium balloons to this, will it fly?”

Similarly, children might sympathize with Nemo being separated from his Dad (at least, those that have already been through that childhood rite of passage of getting hopelessly and irretrievably lost in the supermarket), or with Dumbo being unable to see his mother – but young attention will again most likely be happily diverted by the colour, action and story of animation. Everyone else has something in their eye.

The ways in which people die is another good example of those aspects of Disney films that have a whole new impact once we’re old enough to really think about them. Whereas children will often just accept animation at face value (with the possible exception of The Black Cauldron, Disney’s attempt at dark-fantasy territory that succeeded so spectacularly in traumatizing every member of its child audience that it was promptly outdone at the box office by The Care Bears Movie, where clearly everyone had gone to convince themselves that there was still some good in the world), adults have the misfortune of understanding what was really involved. Mufasa is trampled/crushed. The noise of Jafar’s death is trumped only by the botched execution scene in The Green Mile. When Clayton accidentally hangs himself during the finale of Tarzan, we have to hope that his neck snapped immediately given that the alternative is that he hung there for another few days until something ate him alive or he finally died of exposure. Let’s just be grateful that the makers responsible for that gratuitous Rescuers shot didn’t work on Tarzan – his parents are eaten by a leopard.


Even just the basic content can offer more on a grown-up viewing. It occurs to us that the entire storyline of Beauty and the Beast is based on Stockholm Syndrome, and that Ariel is essentially a hoarder. One day (or more likely night – most likely after a pretty major raid on the drinks cabinet), we realize that we’ve actually shared Simba’s nerves over having to tell a potential partner about some rather awkward history! Or that we too have gone through a difficult life choice not dissimilar to Elsa! Even the characters’ responsibilities start to appear in a new light (although this bit probably only kicks in at around 3 a.m., with the post-drinking gloom); once upon a time it was “Wow, Simba gets to be King of that whole land!” Now it’s, “God, poor Simba….imagine the property tax.”

Admittedly, this might be looking a little too far into things – but this is precisely part of what makes the Whole New World of Disney such a renewed experience for adults. We loved these movies as children when they were nothing but colourful entertainment and loveable characters; we get to love them all over again once we come to realize that – give or take the odd talking animal – they are often also a fairly good representation of real life.

And ultimately, it is true that they are just cartoons – but this is where so much of the real enduring beauty of Disney lies. Because however much everything takes on the horrible edge of reality, we can always just crawl back inside that familiar, reassuring world in which, at the end of the day, everything is going to be ok.