Did Disney movies influence millennial culture?

How The Millennial Identity Was Influenced By Renaissance Disney Movies

"I don't care how far, I can go the distance".

Paige Ryan

Millennials are known for their quests for self-discovery and their wanderlust. We are hard workers and dreamers who don't want to settle for the mundane.

And a lot of that comes from Disney.

The movie heroes and heroines that were adored growing up probably had a bigger influence on the generation than you realize.

Millennials are the generation of people who were born between 1981 and 1996. And the Disney Renaissance refers to the decade from 1989 to 1999 during which Walt Disney Animation Studios produced critically and commercially successful animated films. As the main target audience, millennials grew up with these movies.

Disney films, especially older ones, are well-known for typically having a love story for the main characters. However, in the renaissance period, the love plotline usually came on accidentally during the hero or heroines quest to find themselves. They actively go after the things that they want This is in contrast with movies such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, where the protagonists were very passive and even spent part of their screentime comatose.

The Disney Renaissance films are different, but many of the protagonists are seeking a common goal: to understand themselves and to find adventure. Each Disney Renaissance protagonist even has a song where they define their goals, and these songs are well-known by many people. This is reflected in the millennial generation as well, as many are seeking self-acceptance and understanding and adventures out in the world.

Ariel - The Little Mermaid

"Part Of Your World"


Even though Ariel is motivated after seeing Eric to willingly trade her voice for a pair of legs, it's very clear that she never really felt like she belonged in the sea. This is evident by the cavern where she keeps all of the trinkets she finds in shipwrecks. It is also shown at the beginning of the movie where she swims to a wreck and risks being attacked by a shark to collect human artifacts. Ariel's interest in the human world leaves her unsatisfied with her life under the sea and leads her to pursue her love for Prince Eric.

Millennials are said to be dissatisfied with the status quo and the normal expectations of society. With social media, we have the ability to really compare what other people have and do with their lives.

Belle - Beauty and the Beast

"Little Town"


Belle also starts off her story by singing about how she wants so much more, "than they've got planned". She wants more than her banal and same-old "provincial" life within her village. She sings about wanting adventure in the great wide somewhere. She ends up getting it, although maybe not in the way she envisioned. But Belle is another example of a Disney Renaissance protagonist embodying what many millennials want out of their lives.

Aladdin and Jasmine - Aladdin

"A Whole New World"


Aladdin and Jasmine are like a reflection of the other. Jasmine wants to get out of the palace and lead a "normal" life. Whereas Aladdin wants to get out of poverty and chase riches. Millennials can relate to Jasmine's desires to escape rigid expectations, and to Aladdin's desires to get out of poverty. Also, why is food so expensive?

Simba - The Lion King

"I Just Can't Wait To Be King"


Simba has an idealized version of what being king will be like. But by the end of the movie, he realizes his kinghood will have responsibilities and hardships, but it's part of the legacy.

Pocahontas - Pocahontas

"Just Around the River Bend"


Pocahontas also wants to explore beyond the limitations of her place in life and understand her purpose in life. Plus, in the Disney version, she's all about peace and breaking the barriers between people who are different from each other.

Quasimodo - The Hunchback of Notre Dame

"Out There"


Disney's adaption of Hugo's story is for the outcasts. Unlike in the original story, where so many die at the end, it's definitely a more hopeful story about social justice. Quasimodo wants to be accepted by the masses, with an idealized vision of what that would be, and for people to tolerate him even just for one day. With such stories being prominent during their childhoods, millennials are hopefully a generation that is moving to a more accepting, inclusive future.

Hercules - Hercules

"Go The Distance"


In Disney's take on Hercules, he is adopted by a normal family but he becomes aware that is different from the other kids. His motivation in the movie is to find his place in life and "find where he belongs".

Mulan - Mulan



Mulan wants self-actualization. She wants to be the person she wants to be without the pressures of her family and peers to follow society's rules. At the end of the movie, she learns to embrace her inner self and make the society change for her, rather than change herself for society. I know many young girls (including myself) who loved this film and looked up to Mulan. This film definitely influenced this young generation of women.

Tarzan - Tarzan

"Son Of Man"


Even though Tarzan doesn't actually sing any songs, it's shown that a lot of his motivations have to do with him trying to figure out where he belongs. While the main conflict circles around the film's villain Clayton, there is a conflict between group leader Kerchak and Tarzan as the former doesn't accept the latter as a real member of the family. This causes Tarzan to question his identity and place in the world to the point of making the choice to leave for England.

During the Disney Renaissance, the main characters were all given a driving motivation that launches them on their journeys. It varies, but they all mainly want the same thing: a sense of belonging, adventure, to find their place in the world, and to accept their responsibilities while being true to themselves. Many of them, such as Aladdin, Jasmine, Mulan, and Belle, also want to break the rigid rules and expectations of the societies they live in.

These are things that most millennials want out of life too. That, and a more affordable cost of living...

"One Jump" cdn-images-1.medium.com

With all the beautiful imagery in these films of the protagonists running into fields and chasing sunsets, it's no Cave of Wonders why millennials are chasing these same dreams.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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