Why Are People Mad at Disney? What You Need To Know [2023]

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One of the things I like most about The Walt Disney Company is the nostalgia. When I put on “Snow White” for the kids, I remember the time Nanny and Papaw took me to the drive-in to watch it back in the days before VCRs, DVD players or streaming services. 

I like going to the Magic Kingdom and getting on Small World or Peter Pan and remembering being a kid on those same rides. Papaw sitting over there waiting, eating an ice cream cone and wearing a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. When at Disney, I like showing my kids where 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea used to be and telling them about Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I like revisiting the places they loved on a previous Disney World vacation.


Young child (JP) at Disney World
Little JP at Disney World in Orlando (photo by John Gullion/HeyOrlando.com)

Disney World and nostalgia

Years ago, when JP had curly blonde hair, he and I sat at the tables over by the Casey Jr. Splashpad while his sister and mom did some shopping. He laid his head on the table and I snapped a picture. On our most recent trip, we went back to the spot for new photos and videos. It was seven or eight years later. I love JP as he is now. He’s funny, weird, stubborn, interesting and a bundle of love. But there are days that I mourn for the little boy who grew up so fast. The curly-headed wild man, impetuous and impish, who could hug you with every molecule of his being.

That’s why Disney is the most magical place. It’s our through line from Papaw and Nanny to Mom and my brother and to Leslie and the kids and me. All the versions of us exist at Disney. 

Generations have visited Disney World
Nostalgia often brings families to Disney theme parks (photo by John Gullion/HeyOrlando.com)

Nostalgia can be tricky and subjective

But nostalgia can be a double-edged sword. It can be dangerous, clouding our minds and dulling our wits. I find so many people engage in nostalgia for a past that never really existed. The saccharine version of the way things used to be can make the present and the future pale in comparison.   

The good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.

William Martin Joel

And so we face a certain challenge as we gauge our bearings about the world today, compounded by the wonders of modern technology. For example, we are wired 24/7 to a stream of information that bombards us. Often, to the point that it can alter our perceptions. 

Disney's Carousel of Progress
Disney’s Carousel of Progress features the technical side of change and progress (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Are people angrier today than in the past?

People are mad both at the media and each other. They are mad at politics and politicians and world events. Are they angry at the happiest place on Earth? Yes, especially so. Is it true that we live in the angriest time? I don’t know. Certainly, the powerful information delivery machines in our pockets can distort our perception of reality.

But are we the angriest we’ve ever been? I doubt it. I suspect people were plenty angry in the 1960s, during the Depression, the World Wars, the Civil War and many other historical times. Look, I don’t think there’s any question lots of people are angry. But it’s important we remind ourselves that social media isn’t real life. It’s life through filters – ideas and images that we change with hue and saturation and very selective cropping. 

The saturation of social media

Are people angrier now than they were when I was a boy in the Rust Belt in the 1980s and jobs were disappearing and plants closing and our water was as polluted as our air? I don’t know. But today, I’m saturated in that anger.

Forty years ago, I could go weeks without hearing about it. Today, I can’t go a couple of hours without some outrage leaking into my life. Whose fault is that? My own, of course. I could have a flip phone and delete Facebook and Twitter. Surely, I could stop watching TV or listening to the radio stations that have news. I won’t do that though, because I feel the need to be plugged in. It’s required in my job, truthfully. And so people are angry and we hear about it all the time. People are done with this. They’re done with that. They’re done with … Disney.

Walt Disney Presents Documentary Poster
Walt Disney’s exhibit includes entertainment with a short documentary of Walt Disney’s dream (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Is everyone saying they’re done with Disney?

Look, let’s not engage in hyperbole. Is EVERYONE saying they’re done with Disney? Ha, no. Disney parks are doing great business. The movies – for the most part – are doing very well unless they happen to be awful – looking at you, “Lightyear”. The new shows from Marvel and Star Wars seem to be doing well on Disney+. Is everyone done with Disney? Not by a long shot. 

But a lot of people are saying they are done, right?

Yeah. I don’t know. It’s hard to gauge the number of people vs. the volume of people. There are quite a few people with disproportionally big bullhorns leading the anti-Disney charge. It makes it hard to accurately gauge reality – which is one of the core issues we’re dealing with. Also, as a quick aside, a lot of people SAY a lot of things. The better barometer is finding accurate ways to measure their actions. 

Years ago, I worked for a newspaper in Alabama. We’d bring focus groups in, buy some donuts and coffee and ask them what they wanted out of their community newspaper. Mostly they ate our donuts and said they wanted happy stories, good news and a positive focus. But if I put the good news above the fold, it rarely sold well. 

For example, we had a photographer go out on a spring day to cover the Special Olympics. The sky was bright blue, the grass vivid green. Perfection. Donnie got some great pictures that day. However, the best, the one I ran on the front page, was a picture of a young man crossing the finish line euphorically. There was a tight focus on his face with the blue sky behind him that reproduced perfectly on the press. It may have been the best depiction of pure joy I’ve seen captured by a camera. I ran that picture HUGE. 

That afternoon, I went to lunch and sat next to a man holding my paper, looking at that picture and thumbing through the rest. His friend came in and sat down at the side of the table. As he took his seat he asked, “Anything in the paper today?” “Nuthin,’” the man replied. People will say a lot of things.

Meet Mickey Poster at Disney World
Meet Mickey on the red carpet at Disney World (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Why are people angry with Walt Disney World?

Finally, that’s the right question. People are angry with Disney. They’re mad with the Disney theme parks and Disney CEO Bob Chapek. Some are angry with the movie studios. Don’t get the Star Wars people going. Heck, I’m angry with the Walt Disney World Parks, too, if I’m being honest. But a lot of people are angry for a lot of different reasons. Let’s break them down scientifically into two categories. Legitimate reasons and illegitimate reasons. 

What are some of the legitimate reasons people are mad? 

Disney scientifically and efficiently runs its parks. Disney understands how to manage the parks as well as any company in the world. It understands ticket holders’ movements and trends. Certainly, it understands exactly how what’s happening at Animal Kingdom can affect Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It understands how weather patterns determine the park’s visitors and also how new rides and new shows affect wait times at the old rides and shows.

So, there isn’t a lot of guesswork. Disney knows the exact capacity it needs to have to maximize profits without hurting guests’ experiences enough to make them leave or stop spending money. And that brings us to cost. 

1. The ticket and food pricing

They’re pricing a lot of loyal customers out of the experience. The demise of the free FastPass system for expediting queues for the Genie+ Extra and Lightning Lanes has – in our recent experiences – negatively affected Disney parks. The crowd calendar – the system through which you book your day in the park after purchasing a ticket – was an invention of life during the park’s reopening.

But it has stayed because it gives Disney a way to manage park visits. It may also keep the parks at the optimum profit point. While the movie theatre business tries to revive, Disney’s parks are carrying the profit load, and it’s showing.

Lobby Disney Wyndham Lake Buena Vista
The lobby of Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs Resort (photo by Daniel Munson/HeyOrlando.com)

2. Resort affordability for larger families

I had a third kid – an apparent mistake in Disney’s eyes. Disney simply isn’t well equipped to handle a family of five at the moderate rate hotel level and it drives me nuts. For example, I priced a 7-day, six-night vacation with six-day park tickets – for May 2023 on the Disney website. The price for the four oldest members of our family was $3,601 to stay at one of the all-star resorts. That’s no upgrade, park hopper or meal plan. If I add 7-year-old Ainsley, the cheapest price I can get goes up to $5,277 to stay at the Caribbean Beach. An all-star music suite is $5,756. Additionally, the cost of Ainsley’s ticket for that week is $563, meaning Ainsley is worth $1,000 more for the Disney Resort system. 

Disney says its basic rooms sleep up to four adults – but it may as well say up to four people. I called when Ainsley was four to see if we could get a regular room. I was told that Disney’s hands are tied by Florida hotel law. That may be true, but I’ve stayed in dozens of Florida hotel rooms with the same setup as a Disney basic room and have never been made to upgrade or get another room.

By the way, the same week at Universal? By comparison, it’s $3,421 for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter experience. In addition to tickets and a hotel suite at Dockside or Surfside – we get a pair of breakfasts for all at the Three Broomsticks and The Leaky Cauldron, free lanyards and a keepsake box. For comparison, we could have a week outside of Paris, flight included, for about $6,000 or London for about $4,800. 

Daisy Duck can be spotted near guest relations before entering World Discovery (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

3. Underpaying and overworking employees

Don’t take my word for it. Look for the comment of Abigail Disney – the quite rich grandniece of Walt. She has very publicly criticized Disney executives for accepting massive salaries and bonuses while paying cast members less than a living wage.  

4. Underpaying VFX workers

The Marvel Cinematic Universe falls under the Disney umbrella. It is also one of several makers of a certain kind of movie that has drawn heavy criticism for unreasonable deadlines and overworked employees in video effects shops throughout the country. Marvel also is drawing criticism for basing its movies on the work of comics creators and authors and paying them relative peanuts based on contracts and industry standards that were created long before superhero movies became billion-dollar enterprises. 

Disney's Hall of President's Entrance
The Hall of Presidents at Disney World (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

What are some of the illegitimate reasons that people are mad?

Here we are, reader. This is where we delve into sensitive territory. Reasonable people can agree to disagree on certain political hot buttons. But I think we all understand that there are some unreasonable people who live on the internet who want nothing more at the end of the day than to argue online.

The crux of the entire issue – in my opinion – is that Florida Gov. Ron Desantis wants to be President of the United States of America. A couple of years ago, Governor Desantis had little to no national profile. In my opinion, he saw a way to fix that. Specifically, his way was to engage in any number of hot-button issues that inflame passions and grab national headlines – or more accurately – the attention of television pundits. 

Reader, forgive me, I am going to try and thread a delicate needle. I have certain beliefs. You have certain beliefs. I am going to lay this situation out as best I can sans editorial comment. Ultimately, we’re a travel site whose aim is to tell you the best theme park restaurant to get shrimp scampi and which rides may not be worth your time.

When did the push against Disney begin?

The big mad push at Disney began chiefly with Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill, aka the Parental Rights In Education Act. Desantis supported the initiative. Depending on who you believe, some say the bill’s purpose was to eliminate “inappropriate” discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity from Florida schools and classrooms. Others say its purpose was to remand Florida’s LGBTQ community to second-class status by making any mention of their way of life verboten. 

Initially, Disney’s response was relative silence, which drew criticism from Disney employees. Disney executives responded with a stronger public stance, which drew the ire of Desantis, conservatives and other supporters of the controversial bill.

Be Our Guest Magic Kingdom
Be our Guest restaurant at Disney’s Magic Kingdom (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

What is the Reedy Creek Improvement District?

Apparently enraged – if you allow me a bit of editorial comment, I suspect privately thrilled – Desantis stood up to Disney. He led the charge to dissolve something called The Reedy Creek Improvement District. The jurisdiction was created by the state in 1967 to essentially allow Disney to operate as its own government.

The law, however, abolishing the Reedy Creek Development District doesn’t go into effect until June 2023. But that means the state of Florida may be on the hook for $1 billion in bond liabilities. There is question as to who would be responsible for providing the infrastructure – firefighters and such – that had previously been paid for by Disney.

Will Reedy Creek be dissolved?

Rumors are that negotiations are taking place behind the scenes. I think it’s unlikely the dissolution takes effect, but it’s important to know that I am not a lawyer and also just guessing. 

Given all this information and taking into account the current level of public discourse, the internet went on to have a very mature and rational discussion of all of the intricate details involved in whether a private corporation should have been allowed to ever establish itself as a de facto government, what is appropriate at what age in schools and just the status of life on the planet. 

Nah, just kidding. The fringe people lost their minds. There were protests and picketing and accusations flying all around. Disney was accused of things the search engines don’t want me to type. I’d tell you to Google it, but honestly, you shouldn’t. Guys, please see our legitimate reasons to be mad at Disney section. Disney is a massive money-making operation led by people who are really good at making money. They’ve hired talented artists to make movies and music and run amazing theme parks, but ultimately Disney’s only real goal is to keep its stockholders happy. 

a thick crowd at Disney's Magic Kingdom in orlando
The crowds are still thick at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, despite the controversy (photo by Daniel Munson/HeyOrlando.com)

Has all the controversy hurt Disney?

I think the situation is way too complicated to say definitively. The post-lockdown movie theater situation is certainly affecting Disney’s bottom line, but anecdotally, the parks and resorts seem to be doing just fine.

It’s still hard to get last-minute dining reservations and the parks seem quite busy all the time – regardless of whether or not most of the country’s kids are in school. Disney’s had a few missteps at the box office, but the original programming on Disney+ seems to be thriving. Disney’s stock was down $61 over the last year but is still up $15 on the price from five years ago. I think it’s hard to make the case that the controversies have had a major impact other than bolstering Desantis’ national Q-rating. 

What’s next for Walt Disney World Resort and Florida?

I imagine there is a chance they’ll all kiss and make up. The development district would be saved. Desantis would be able to say he stood tough. More Disney movies would open and more shows will come out. The new Tron ride will open this spring. Things will continue as they have. 

Disney will provide a place for families like mine to make magical memories, covering themselves in nostalgia and remembering a time when they saw their child’s heart soar. It will also continue with price increases on families like mine out of the magic, left with the memories they made or dreaming of the ones they never got to make. One thing’s for sure, Disney will continue to do what it does best, make massive amounts of money.

Are you angry at Disney? Tell us why in the comments.

Photo of author


John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

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