Gender Fluidity and Disney’s Real Magic

Disney has once again performed a marvelous trick – as good as any magic Mickey ever pulled off while donning a wizard hat and waving his wand. The new Jungle Book movie raked in over $100 million in a weekend, more than the opening numbers for the mega-blockbuster Frozen. So what’s the trick? In both cases, Disney convinced boys that the movies were made for them; while whispering to girls that they must grab a ticket, too. Despite the frequent psychological talk these days about “gender fluidity,” professional marketers know that a large number of girls will shy away from a show that stars monsters, and a large number of boys will slink away from a princess. In advertising Frozen, Disney often avoided the “princess” label and played up the male characters who battle for Anna’s affection. To promote The Jungle Book, Disney appealed to boys by flashing growling panthers in its trailer, and by showing that trailer before the latest Star Wars blockbuster. To attract girls, Disney’s savvy team reached out to Tumblr and to those Disney TV shows that lean pink.

I’m a little sensitive about The Jungle Book, and not just because I have three daughters.  When I was a little tyke, my mother did not take me to the movie theater to see the original. I was a disappointed toddler. After all, the “The Bare Necessities” was my favorite song on an album of Disney songs that also included “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and “SupercalifragilisticexpialiSU-Pg-15-jungle-disneydocious.” Yesterday I teased my mother about her censorship of my toddler-hood. But today – because Disney has learned so well how to appeal to girls and boys, seniors and youngsters – we’ve agreed to see it together. After all these years I’ll give up my grudge, forgive my mother, and for two hours “forget about my worry and my strife.”

In my book New Ideas from Dead Economists (aka Lasting Lessons from the Corner Office), I present the life and lessons of Walt Disney himself.  He would be proud of Disney’s recent string of hits.

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