How Age and Gender Determine Disney Franchises

After my latest trip to the Disney Store, I wondered aloud why you could find Big Hero 6 merchandise at Hot Topic, but not there. It seemed odd, since BH6 is getting a TV series and every fan of the movie I’ve met wants a sequel.

I talked about it with my Mom, and she suggested that might be because Big Hero 6 is geared more for older kids and teenagers. And you know what, I think she’s right, and it extends to a lot of other non-Princess animated Disney films.

Films like Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, and Zootopia all handle complex themes. Wreck-It Ralph is how labels don’t define you, Big Hero 6 is about grieving, and Zootopia is about prejudice. While Zootopia’s handling on its topic has been debated, they’re all generally great at handling more mature topics and having layered stories. And notice how the protagonists of these movies tend to be older (WIR is about a thirty year old man, BH6 features college students as main characters, and all the characters in Zootopia are adults) as well. I think while they’re initially marketed to children and can be seen and enjoyed by people of all ages, older people will be able to really appreciate them. I probably would’ve liked Wreck-It Ralph if it came out when I was a little girl because of Vanellope, but I realize that the reason why Big Hero 6 is my fave movie is because it came out precisely when I needed it: when I was a depressed university dropout.

Consequently, a lot of the new Disney Princess movies (yes that includes Frozen and Moana) are for little girls, with simpler stories and an emphasis on Girl Power TM. I wouldn’t mind so much except that these movies kind of dumb down their stories and characters (there’s a lot of telling rather than showing, such as when Moana sings about how much she loves her people without actually showing her feel real compassion and care for them) and have a lot of themes that would’ve been handled better in a non-Princess movie are kind of glossed over. Your grandmother dies without warning? You’ve been abandoned as a baby and it scarred you for life? You’ve spent years in isolation being led to believe that you’re dangerous? Eh, a couple songs and you’re all good!

But you can see why there’s so much merch for movies like Frozen, Moana, and other Disney Princess films and hardly any for films like BH6 and WIR (except at Hot Topic): the former is much more easy to market to children, with a specific demographic that will eat that princess shit up. Not every older fan will want to buy dolls and action figures for their fave non princess movie. (Though if I could get a collectible doll or figure of my fave movies that aren’t Funko Pops, I would be very happy.)

All this also explains why Disney purchased Marvel and Lucasfilm. Disney has had great success with their animated properties, but with very few exceptions, their live action films have not. Even today, Disney’s original live action films struggle to make a profit. With Marvel and Star Wars, they are now able to make movies that people will definitely watch and have another huge demographic: little boys AND older fans that are easier to market to. Similarly, they can market their live action remakes of animated classics to kids and adults with nostalgia.

As you can tell, this is a very brilliant merchandising plan, albeit one that isn’t entirely fair to successful non-tentpole movies that have their following. Will this last forever or hold up? We’ll have to see, though I am a little concerned for Star Wars (as summarized by another person HERE). But the best I can do is support the movies I love the best way I can to show that it IS easy to market films that aren’t Princesses, Star Wars, or Marvel.


Author: Laura Alexander

My name is Laura, I use they/them pronouns, and I'm a recent graduate of the Social Service Worker Program at Sheridan College. I'm on the autism spectrum (Asperger's) and I have a passion for film and animation, social issues, and helping others, all of which will be featured on The Flying Red Robot blog. Please read the about page before commenting or following. "Big Hero 6" is my favourite movie.