Back when I was a child and someone asked me who my favorite Disney character is, I answered Belle. Nowadays, when I ask my 7-year-old cousin who her favorite character is, she says Selena Gomez. A moment of silence for all of our beloved animated friends.
In case you don’t know who she is, Selena Gomez was an actress on the popular Disney Channel show, Wizards of Waverly Place, and now is a mega-popular star in films and music. Although she is affiliated with Disney, she isn’t a classic animated icon that helped shape the magic of the brand for the past 100 years, like how Mickey Mouse and his crew did. Yet if you ask the younger generation who their favorite character is, it is the hip, singing, glittering stars from their favorite Disney Channel shows that they choose. Remember that classic Donald Duck frozen orange juice carton from our childhood? Now there appeared Hannah Montana fruit roll up snacks. Yes, it had reached that point.
It's to the point where you walk into a store and see backpacks, lunchboxes with the teen stars’ faces, more so than the classic cartoon friends. I’m going to refer back to the explosive popularity of the High School Musical franchise and assume that that was what started it all. Ever since then, the actors themselves became household names, appearing on morning talk shows and magazine covers. As a Dis-nerd, let me tell you, I don’t recall ever seeing any actors from Disney Channel pre-HSM days appear on any talk show!
The huge contrast from before and after was that in pre-HSM, the film’s characters and storyline had the spotlight and was what drew audiences in. Even though most of the voice actors were extremely talented Broadway veterans, they played more of the supporting role when it came to the promotion of the film. Fast forward to post-HSM, Disney began brining the hugest stars of mainstream Hollywood to work on their projects. One of the earliest ways we even hear about a new Disney movie coming out in the first place is because the popular star in the film announces it on his/her Twitter account, not really from the actual studio. Even Ellen Degeneres announced the making of the Finding Nemo sequel on her daytime talk show.
The entire course of promotion flips where the star is put front and center of the PR train. Don’t get me wrong, the quality of the movies is still as amazing as ever and all actors, no matter from a Broadway or film background, are still talented. The only discernible aspect of these newer films is that the celebrity status that Disney now has is used to its full advantage. With the positive reviews and box office numbers, there shouldn’t be any reason to complain anyways!