TV

Is Disney+ Staring Down A Ratings Problem With ‘Lizzie McGuire’?

“Let Lizzie McGuire f*ck” has become the rallying cry for young adults everywhere. Or at least the ones who grew up on the popular Disney Channel series about a pre-teen girl and her cartoonish avatar that relays her angst-filled inner monologue.

The original Lizzie McGuire series followed Hilary Duff’s character through her school years as she struggled to fit in, find romance, and achieve popularity — all the normal things our underdeveloped brains convince us are important at that age. She had a supportive family with two clueless parents and a peevish younger brother, but she also had an animated persona, one that served as a kind of audience moderator, narrating her anxieties and hang-ups to captivated young fans who saw themselves reflected in Lizzie’s coming-of-age story.

Late last year, Disney + announced it would be rebooting the beloved series on its streaming platform (probably sometime in late 2020). It was a smart bid for the rookie service, one that’s banked on nostalgia for classic films and an interest in superhero spinoffs to drive subscriptions and keep it afloat in the overcrowded streaming pool, but recently, the revival’s run into a bit of trouble. It turns out, Disney’s not down to clown when it comes to content that pushes the limits of their vague, arbitrary “family-friendly” content boundaries and the powers that be have tossed showrunner Terri Minsky for daring to let the series’ main character — a woman who would now be in her 30s — grow up.

It’s not the first time Disney’s run into issues when trying to repurpose old content for a new audience. Earlier this year, the company announced that its planned Love, Simon TV series was moving to Hulu — another Disney-owned property. The show, which follows a boy named Victor (Michael Cimino) who arrives at Creekwood High School (the same school as the film) and struggles to adjust to life in the suburbs while also coming to terms with his sexuality, didn’t fit the “mold” of what a Disney + show should be with the streaming service citing “alcohol use and sexual exploration” as reasons for the move to a more adult platform. Naturally, that decision garnered plenty of criticism from fans and LGBTQ groups who saw the relocation as a dismissal of queer storytelling and a refusal by the company to promote inclusivity to an impressionable audience.

But Disney’s reluctance to let Lizzie McGuire adult or two boys kiss is part of a bigger branding problem for the streaming service, one that calls into question its intended audience and overarching strategy.

Put simply, who is Disney+ really geared towards?

Sure, those fresh-from-the-vault originals and live-action remakes feel like kiddie-fare, but we’d be lying if we didn’t admit to giving flicks like The Lion King or Mulan a rewatch every now and then — “Make A Man Out Of You” still slaps, what can we say? Disney knows the power of nostalgia, so while spotlighting these older properties may have initially been a draw for kids and parents of those kids, they’re also betting on enticing viewers who are hoping to tap back into their childhood with remakes and re-airings of older original series. That’s So Raven is good, but it’s not exactly timeless.

Disney knows what it’s doing. But does it really know who it’s doing it for? The idea that the streaming platform refuses to house content that isn’t “family-friendly” feels like a weak attempt to avoid taking a stance on larger issues. If Lizzie McGuire’s potty-mouth or sextra-curriculars are too adult for Disney +’s streaming audience, then why are shows like The Simpsons or really any of the Marvel superhero movies getting top-billing there? Why does watered-down violence and cartoonish antics rate “friendlier” than casual references to a woman’s sex life or a quick party montage of teens pounding back solo cups?

And where does The Mandalorian — arguably the streaming platform’s best-performing piece of content so far — land on this Disney-translated MPAA spectrum? A series about a bounty hunter traversing the galaxy, offing bad guys and protecting a child meant for government experiments feels a little dark for the viewers supposedly being protected by the removal of shows like Love, Simon and High Fidelity or movies like Deadpool and the X-Men franchise.

It’s strange, too, that Disney would choose to alienate subscribers and risk profits by shelving content with established fandoms in an age when streaming platforms are fighting for every pair of eyes. With companies like Netflix, HBO, and Amazon Prime offering prestige originals and bingeable series that cater to wider audiences of all ages, Disney+ needs to find a way to keep up, one that doesn’t rely on a few Marvel spinoffs and a Star Wars action series to impress critics and make a dent on social media. They need shows like Love, Simon or Lizzie McGuire — yes, to provide fan service but also to remain relevant, to attract new viewers, older viewers that may cross over and become loyal customers. And they also need to decide who they are in terms of content production and purveyors of creative talent. The more showrunners fired, the more series tossed around to other platforms or put in jeopardy because of creative differences, the less likely it is that filmmakers and showrunners will want to set up shop with the streaming service.

It seems like the issues Disney’s dealing with when it comes to these off-limits shows and films are really just unnecessary drama of its own creation. Netflix has found a way to offer meatier, important storytelling for younger audiences while protecting viewers who may not be the intended consumers of those shows. Why can’t Disney?

We’re not campaigning for Lizzie McGuire to pop some molly and attend an orgy. We’re just asking that these characters and stories that were created decades ago be able to grow with their original audiences. We’re asking for the integrity of shows that cover timely, significant issues to be protected. We’re asking for the child locks to be removed from worthwhile films now under the Disney umbrella. We’re asking who Disney+ is really for.

And yes, we’re asking Disney to let Lizzie McGuire f*ck.

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