The rationale behind marketing for the 50s Cinderella dispels a misconception about Disney movies. The company has been responsible for many of the most beloved animated films over the decades. Classics like Cinderella and Sleeping Beautyas well as more recent projects such as the confused and Frozen movies, have become the mainstays of pop culture. Such films have positioned Disney as a leading and long-lasting influence on the entertainment industry at large. But despite the company’s success and celebrated cinematic trajectory, there’s an occasional misconception about its films: the idea that they’re just for kids.
The sentiment is somewhat understandable, given the films’ colorful settings, whimsical plots, and kid-friendly characters. However, nearly all of the studio’s big screen projects (animated and live-action) are designed to be viewed by adults as well, and the promotional campaign for the original Cinderella proves it. Emily Zemler’s book, Disney Princess: Beyond the Tiara, charts the history of Disney’s princess films. The publication examines the mentality behind Cinderella‘s marketing efforts, stating that it was advertised as a “date movie” to attract both adults and a younger audience. According to the book (p. 78):
“‘Cinderella’ was marketed as a date movie, with the tagline ‘Midnight never strikes when you’re in love’, and Walt intended the film for audiences of all ages, not just kids. This translated into the merchandise released around the movie, which was aimed at adults as much as it was at kids.”
Historian Stacia Martin added: “Walt [Disney] made what he felt were good stories for everyone. He made what suited his taste, and his taste was very much in keeping with the general American psyche of the time he inhabited. The market for these objects was everyone.” Efforts to make Disney’s movies appealing to everyone have been taken over in Cinderella‘s merchandising, which per Beyond the tiara, is designed for a wide age range. Walt Disney and his associates did indeed have a keen sense of what the audience wanted to see. Disney movies like Cinderella and snow white became cultural phenomena and remained relevant even decades after their release. The company’s universally appealing storytelling approach has remained an integral part of the business model, with the studio continuing to find mainstream success through the Frozen franchise, confused, moana and much more.
Disney has never been just for kids
Disney movies are undeniably family-friendly, but if Cinderella‘s marketing strategy proved that they have never been just for kids. The company’s films have always had a grown-up edge, which is partly reflected in the brutal violence and deaths in films like Tarzan (Clayton’s death), Brother Bear (Kenai kills Koda’s mother), and Finding Nemo (Nemo’s mother and siblings are eaten). Still, these moments are only a small part of what makes Disney movies appealing to adults. The movies are, of course, made for kids to enjoy, but their stories and themes are universal. Projects like the original Little Mermaid, mulan, and Upwardsare ultimately about people who determine their place in the world.
Disney films mask adult concepts such as trauma and grief in comforting visual styles in a way that allows them to resonate with children while also making an impact on an older audience. After all, most of the studio’s films are honed versions of ordinary human experiences. It’s that storytelling that has ensured that the company’s offerings remain critical to family-friendly entertainment. Even outside the animation world, Disney has consistently told recognizable stories in live-action through rogue, enchanted (which will be continued) disappointed), and Cruellaamong other things. Cinderella is a good example of Disneysuccessful storytelling strategy. The company’s films tell recognizable stories in colorful packaging for audiences of all ages to enjoy.
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