I came home today to find my housemates watching Despicable Me. Last night, while my girlfriends were all getting ready to go out, they were playing Disney songs on their Macs. I had to ask myself, why do millennials love children’s entertainment?
Before you assume that my friends are just all really immature people (which may or may not have a grain of truth), let’s take a look at some numbers.
–The Lion King 3D theater re-release grossed $29.4 million dollars its opening weekend, dominating the box office, over twice Disney’s anticipated amount.
–The Muppets, released in 2011, is the highest grossing Muppet movie by over $20 million.
In and of itself, those numbers are impressive. But, dig deeper and you’ll see that millennials are behind much of this success. 26% of the people who attended The Lion King that opening weekend were non-families. The Muppets specifically targeted millennials with viral video marketing and Saturday Night Live appearances.
When you only look at these two movies, there’s one simple answer that explains why millennials helped boost sales dramatically beyond expectation. Nostalgia. Apparently, millennials aren’t too young to feel it. We want to return back to movies we loved when we were children. It’s why television channel TeenNick started running a segment called “The 90’s are All That” ” in response to multiple Facebook groups requesting older programming.
However, nostalgia can’t explain this: millennials aren’t just watching movies that were popular during their own childhood–but movies made for children today. Some children/young adult books, like Twilight or The Hunger Games, blur the line between child and adult entertainment (what other time have adults loved reading books written at a thirteen year old reading level?). However, they seem to hit every generation pretty evenly. What I’m referring to here are the twentysomethings that saw Finding Nemo in theaters without a little brother or sister in tow.
Or the adorable twentysomething couple who based their engagement pictures on the Disney movie Up.
I’m pretty sure my parents’ generation didn’t watch children’s movies until they actually had children. What’s the deal with millennials? Here’s my theory.
1. Anxiety About Growing Up
Millennials are weirdly anxious about adulthood and spend a much longer time in “not child/not adult” limbo. More than any other generation our age, we’re waiting longer to get married, settle on a career path, even find a permanent living situation. Some of the most popular movies aimed at our generation, like Knocked Up or Young Adult, are coming of age stories where the protagonist is already in his/her twenties and still waiting to “grow up”.
Watching children’s movies also allows millennials to indulge in this hybrid life stage by combining elements of both child and adult life. For example, I don’t think the people playing this WALL-E drinking game are parents (and I really hope that they aren’t children).
Children’s movies also help soothe the anxiety surrounding adulthood. While millennials have surprisingly optimistic outlooks concerning the future, the fact that we’re spending significantly less than other generations did in their twenties belies underlying uncertainty and the effects of The Great Recession. “In a kids’ movie, I know that the good guys will always win and there’s a happily ever after,” explains one female twentysomething and proud Disney fan. Another one of my friends (this one male) reluctantly admits to watching How To Tame Your Dragon after a bad day.
2. Type of Humor
That scene from Bridesmaids. The whole plot of The Hangover. The “Shout!” montage in Wedding Crashers. If you’re a twentysomething looking for comedy, prepare for something raunchy. With R-rated comedies passing the $1 billion mark last summer, it doesn’t look like this trend is going away anytime soon.
Newer children’s movies provide a type of humor at the other end of the spectrum. With less middle-of-the-road PG13 comedies aimed at twentysomethings, millennials are turning to newer children’s movies to balance out the gross-out humor. Most kids’ movies today have elements aimed at making the parents laugh, like pop culture references, that go over the kids’ heads but aren’t usually explicit. “Shrek is genuinely funny”, says 22-year old Kelly, “for the parts aimed more at adults, you’re in on the joke.”
3. Quality of Movies
According to the Steve Jobs biography, Steve Jobs , he convinced his failing film animation company, Pixar, to change their tactics and focus on quality storytelling that would attract parents, not just kids. The result? Pixar released smash hit Toy Story in 1995.
I would never pay money to go see Bolt or G-Force unless I had to, but I saw Up twice in theaters. Why? Despite the movie being aimed at children, there are some universally great parts. Sure, there’s talking dogs in airplanes, but I dare anyone of any age to watch this wordless animation scene and not cry.
The recent quality of animation and storytelling has produced some wonderful movies that are worth watching at any age. That’s why I’m okay with saying, I’m twenty two, I enjoyed Finding Nemo and I am not ashamed.
Are you an adult who has seen any good kids’ movies lately? Let me know! Thanks for reading. Lindsey Kirchoff.