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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘Disney adults’ are online punching bags. Why are they so happy?

A Reddit post about a Disney wedding ignited the latest round of social media dunking

(Washington Post Illustration)
7 min

When the familiar chatter kicked up last week, John Metzdorf turned to Twitter for a tongue-in-cheek victory lap.

“We did it again, Disney adults,” the 34-year-old Georgia man wrote from his Gratuitous Disney Memes account, @GratDisMemes, attaching a screenshot of the trending topic.

“The cycle of ‘Disney Adults’ trending on Twitter is typically linked to members of the fandom doing something, which many would consider on the level of unhealthy obsession, and honestly, that’s fair,” Metzdorf said in an email.

Among online subcultures, adults who love Disney have become a frequent — and easy — target for roasting. Take this sentence from Rolling Stone in January: “Of all the Main Characters on the internet, there is perhaps no creature that merits more opprobrium, more rank disgust, than the Disney Adult.” Then there was this headline from fan site Inside the Magic in February: “The Internet Hates ‘Weird Disney Adults’ (Again).”

The cause for the latest round of mockery: A widely circulated Reddit post from a user who said that she, a 28-year-old bride, and her 30-year-old husband had drawn ire from some wedding guests for choosing to spend their catering budget at a Disney wedding on an appearance by Mickey and Minnie Mouse instead of food. The post has since been deleted.

Nuptial priorities aside, the Reddit post — along with a recently surfaced video showing an interrupted proposal at Disneyland Paris — reignited the social media debate over why some grown people embrace Disney fandom and whether those adults are “cringe.”

“In this instance, me and my sector of the internet, we kind of turned it into a joke,” said Itzy Zepeda, a 24-year-old Disney fan and elementary school teacher from Chicago. “Like, ‘Oh, what did we do now?’”

Childless millennials are passionately defending their Disney fandom

She recalls past examples that garnered social media pile-ons: people waiting in hours-long lines for special new popcorn buckets, a woman who cried when she finally got to hug Goofy after the pandemic halted character interactions.

“In those instances, I get a little defensive,” she said, noting that the fandom isn’t hurting anyone. “In that case, I like to sit down and be like, ‘Hey guys, can we not be rude to people unnecessarily on the internet for no reason at all?’”

In 2019, the debate was centered on whether childless millennials were ruining the Disney experience for families — and whether they were weird for going at all. The nearly $5,000 price tag for two people to stay at the new role-playing Star Wars hotel has raised eyebrows. And critics of Disney adults found new fodder when the company announced plans for residential communities, called Storyliving by Disney, in February.

Disney’s $5,000 Star Wars hotel and line-cutting fees: Some fans say the ‘magic’s gone’

Jodi Eichler-Levine, a religion professor at Lehigh University who is working on a book tentatively titled “Faith in Disney: Finding Religion at the Happiest Place on Earth,” weighed in on the recent discourse with a Twitter thread that also went viral. While she believes it’s a “very bad idea” not to feed wedding guests, she also urged critics to stop “pathologizing Disney adults.”

She said a lot of the social media “castigation” she’s seen over the past several years has infantilized adults who enjoy Disney, or taken a form of gendered criticism against women. As she scanned recent posts when Disney adults were trending, Eichler-Levine said she was dismayed at the toxicity in the comments.

“There were so many charges of mental illness and people saying things like, ‘Disney adults will be the downfall of society, this is a plague,’ ” she said. “There was medicalized language, both saying these people are crazy and saying it’s a disease.”

In her thread, Eichler-Levine said many Disney fans find “immense meaning” in the parks, and drew parallels between their experience and religion. In an interview, she pointed out that the theme parks were explicitly intended for children and adults. At Disneyland’s opening day, Walt Disney’s welcome promised that “here, age relives fond memories of the past.”

His brother, Roy Disney, dedicated Walt Disney World more than a decade later by calling it “a Magic Kingdom where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn — together.”

There are dozens of guides for adult Disney trips online, some written by the company. And Disney adults say a bit of roasting doesn’t discourage their fandom — though they also point out that fans are often vocal critics of the company, too.

“Personally, do I get questions of, ‘Oh, you’re going on vacation again to Disney? Like weren’t you just there, didn’t you already see everything?’ ” said Jessica Gold, 33, a retail manager, full-time student and Disney writer for the blog Nerdthusiast. “Yeah, I get that all the time. But, you know, yes, I was just there, and, yes, I am going back because that’s my favorite vacation place.”

“It just frees you from everything else. You’re not worried about work or school or anything.”
— Jessica Gold, a self-described Disney adult

Gold, who lives in New Jersey, calls herself a “quintessential Disney adult.” She has an annual pass to Walt Disney World in Florida, visits the parks five or six times a year, has “a full leg” of Disney tattoos and watches livestreams of the fireworks shows.

“I enjoy it so much because there is something so simple about, you know, grabbing coffee on Main Street and getting ready to watch the parade and smelling the smells of everything there,” she said. “It’s just very, very familiar, and it just frees you from everything else. You’re not worried about work or school or anything.”

She knows some people take a dim view of adults like her. But she also enjoys sharing her joy with like-minded fans.

“For every negative person, there’s probably about 20 very happy Disney adults,” she said.

Zepeda, the Chicago teacher, said she has a love-hate relationship with the term “Disney adults.” While she said she is “very much an adult who loves Disney,” she knows some fandoms can get extreme. She likes to think she’s somewhere in the middle.

“I know when and where Mickey Mouse ears are appropriate,” she said.

Growing up without a lot of money as a child of immigrants from Mexico, Zepeda said going to Disney itself was an “unattainable goal” — but the family would go to the Disney store on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

“To me, Disney was always like pretty colors and princesses,” she said. “And although there aren’t characters that necessarily look like me, the stories always have a happy ending.”

Zepeda found Disney as a child, but she said she remains a fan because of the community — and also because theme parks and roller coasters are fun.

“If you can find the right sector of the internet, you will find some of the kindest, happiest people who honestly just want to see you do well,” she said.

Metzdorf, the owner and digital creator of the Gratuitous Disney Memes accounts, said he doesn’t fault people for making fun of the more extreme Disney fan activities. And he doesn’t expect everyone to understand why fellow adults love something.

“What I can’t abide by is endlessly bullying people, just because they like 'X' thing,” he wrote. “After all, what is so different from an adult spending their money to go to a theme park and an adult spending their money to go to a football game?”

He added: “At the end of the day, we’re all nerds for something.”