by Joshua Silva
Graphic by Quincey Stewart-Kohr
Whether it’s the extermination of 50% of humanity or a catchy Elton John number mouthed lifelessly by computer generated monstrosities, the key to Disney’s recent success is an escape from reality. Their films resonate not because they mimic relatable experiences, but because they blatantly reject them. They are fantasies not in their subject matter but in their rejection of any emotional impurity, harbingers of a cinematic age of false innocence; a sexless, guiltless regression towards childhood. A nostalgia for a past that never existed.
Stargirl is so disconnected from the present that, removing the most tangential, obligatory reference to social media, it easily could’ve taken place anytime during the last three decades. Phones are rarely used, characters regurgitate the same obnoxiously calculated quips, and the protagonist hosts a local talk show. However, criticizing it for being out of touch is almost a fool’s errand. It reflects high school not as teenagers know it but as teenagers imagined it in their adolescence. Therein lies Disney’s vicious circle of consumption: teens who watch this are likely the same teens whose adolescent vision of high school was shaped by High School Musical, while the adolescents watching it now will likely fall into the nostalgic trap of Disney+’s 2026 offerings. This cycle can only be perpetuated if the product remains consistent. Thus, every tired trope is hit at exactly the right moment: a socially awkward guy meets a lethally quirky, unanimously beloved girl who writes songs on her ukelele, listens to vinyl, and has a pet rat named Cinnamon. The popular girls chastise her for being too nice after she rushes to help an injured football player on their school’s rival team. Inevitably, Stargirl abandons her quirky persona to dress and act like other girls, only to realize that you should actually, say it with me now, be yourself. Only Stargirl’s personality is not truly singular, it is Disney’s bland, focused-grouped definition of singularity. Since real individuality could threaten the audience, personality takes the form of multicolored socks and pigtails.
Like many Disney protagonists, Simba, Starlord, and Spider-Man, a Stargirl main character, Leo, is haunted by his dead father. Towards the end of the movie, his mom tells him that his father was the only person she knew who truly behaved like himself. This places nobility in a past that the protagonist only knew in his formative years, reinforcing Disney’s trademark nostalgic regression.
The most infuriating scene arrives when Stargirl regains her singularity by improvising a speech about the specters of conformity and immediacy haunting our technological age. She mourns the loss of authenticity, asking, “have you ever seen a flower grow?”, and of course receives instant gratification from the audience. The painful irony, that Stargirl is the cinematic embodiment of artifice, conformity, and disposability, is no accident. Disney’s entire enterprise perpetuates these tenets of consumerism while telling the consumer that they are unique. And after enough consumption, why would anyone return to authenticity, to feeling, when Disney has created something even better than the real thing?
It’s hard to judge this as a movie when there’s virtually nothing differentiating it from its innumerable string of predecessors. Reviewing it in a vacuum is like reviewing a McDonald’s hamburger as if there were no formula for it. And, like a Big Mac, it will be forgotten immediately after consumption, digested only to be superseded by another carbon copy, again and again and again.