Why you (a fully functioning adult) need Disney to keep you sane

I’ve developed a new addiction these past couple of weeks while I’ve been sick with bronchitis (ain’t nobody got time for dat). I’m not talking about painkillers – although that has happened before, but that’s a different story for a different day. No, I’m talking about a movie that came out last year. It’s called Moana.

Moana is the latest Disney animation movie – think Frozen and Tangled but without a love story. It’s about the chief’s daughter on a Polynesian island, who longs to be on the ocean and embarks on a music-filled adventure to save her people. I know the age demographic the movie-makers were aiming for was somewhere between three and twelve years old, but I’m telling you, adults need this movie more than anyone else.

When I’m lying in bed unable to breathe out of my nose while my friends are all off somewhere having fun, what I definitely DON’T need is some bleak episode of Black Mirror to remind me that eventually social media is going to take over the world and we’re all going to die. What I need is to be transported to a south Pacific island complete with a comic chicken, a demi-god voiced by Dwayne Johnson, super catchy songs and a really, really happy ending.

Needless to say, I’ve watched Moana five times.

For some reason, there’s a prevailing stereotype that liking Disney as an adult makes you weird, or unformed, or immature. I would argue the contrary. If you don’t seek imagination and escapism as an adult, I would ask – how the hell do you stay sane? The world is depressing. You go to work, you pay bills, you get stressed about insignificant things, you want the things you can’t have, you lose people you love. Then you die. Morbid, right? Well it’s true. But in Disney, there’s always a happy ending, and even in times of adversity or death (Elsa and Anna did lose both their parents) it always ends in triumph and you finish the film with that totally satisfied feeling you get after eating a large – but not too large – bowl of spaghetti bolognese. You know, warm and fuzzy minus the heartburn.

I had the opportunity to visit Disney World in Florida last year, with my Dad, Laurie and two of my sisters. One of my sisters was twelve at the time and – would you believe it – she was actually the one who enjoyed the experience the least. She stropped in the queues for the rides and she put her fingers in her ears and scowled when the nightly fireworks started going off. What did she need with Disney anyway? She didn’t need a fantasy or an escape, because as a child her life was so darn easy anyway. She didn’t even realise that people had to pay tax in real life, and not just in Monopoly.

But the rest of us – well, that holiday delivered the true magic Disney World is intended to deliver. Pretending to be a princess and walking through make-believe worlds was exactly what the rest of us needed. It sounds cheesy, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt happier or freer than I did when I was strolling down Main Street USA as a twenty-something-year-old woman.

I won’t deny that Disney is problematic too. Not only was Walt Disney himself pretty racist and anti-Semitic, a lot of Disney movies definitely did skew my expectations growing up. I thought I needed to be rescued by a handsome prince, I thought absolute monarchies were totally acceptable and idyllic political systems and, for a while, I wouldn’t eat apples for fear that they might kill me (not gonna lie, still don’t trust Granny Smiths. That sourness could easily be a sign of poison). But this is the whole problem with only enjoying them as children, because you take them too literally. As you get older, you of course realise all of that is crap, and you get to see them for what they really are. Fantasies – ridiculous, unrealistic, mildly offensive fantasies, that will make you feel five hundred times better if you’ve just been sacked or you’ve got a really painful UTI (#adultproblems).

So if you’re one of those people who dismisses Disney as being childish – hun, take a seat, get yourself a bar of Cadbury’s and let Moana wash all your worries away. You’re welcome.


1. The Little Mermaid

Very obvious reasons here. The heroine is called Ariel (and the Jamaican crab Sabastien even pronounces it like ‘Arielle’) and she lives under the actual sea. The movie has even more resonance to me now because the song Part of Your World really reminds me of my makeup obsession (“thingamabobs? I got twenty. But who cares, no big deal. I want more”)

2. Beauty and the Beast

Problematic in many ways (bestiality is not good, kids) but I like the fact this princess has brains. Until she gets Stockholm Syndrome that is. But it also teaches you to never judge a book by its cover and be nice to the crockery because they could actually be alive.

3. Mulan

LET’S GET DOWN TO BUSINESS = the best opening line of a song of all time, and really should be everyone’s alarm clock. Or pre-sex soundtrack. Love this one because of the beautiful message that cross-dressing and pretending to be someone you’re not will ultimately lead you to true love.

4. Snow White

My OG favourite. My Mum loves to tell a story about me watching this aged three. She came into the room when Snow White was running through the woods and all the trees are jumping out at her, and asked me if I was scared. Clutching a fistful of hoola-hoops, I replied: “nope, but Snow White is.” She took that as a sign of great emotional maturity, apparently.

5. Tangled 

I can totally relate to Rapunzel, because she has such big hair that she can hoist people up a tower with it. I have such big hair that I can store 10 bobby pins in it without even noticing they’re there. The moral of this story is to rebel against your parents and you might just find yourself and, by doing so, discover that you really were a princess all along.

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