It’s official: Following a number of behind-the-camera shifts as well as other series changes, Hilary Duff announced on December 16 that the Disney+ reboot of Lizzie McGuire (Duff played the titular character) has been officially canceled. The Disney+ revival was set to pick up as McGuire approaches 30, which would place her at the same age of many of the original series’ viewers. This suggests that the show was aiming to be relatable to millennials, which means it would need to attempt to engage with queerness (a lot of us are gay), sex (sex onscreen is no longer taboo, even for women), and finances (millennials are in tougher financial positions than ever before). Unfortunately, though, that revival is no longer coming to screen. “I’ve been so honored to have the character of Lizzie in my life. She has made such a lasting impact on many, including myself,” Duff posted on Instagram. “To see the fans’ loyalty and love for her, to this day, means so much to me.”
Though the cancelation is disappointing, it doesn’t come as a total shock. In January, Lizzie McGuire creator Terri Minsky (who also worked on The Carrie Diaries, Younger, and Andi Mack) stepped away from the revival after shooting two episodes. According to Variety, a Disney spokesperson said, “Fans have a sentimental attachment to Lizzie McGuire and high expectations for a new series. After filming two episodes, we concluded that we need to move in a different creative direction and are putting a new lens on the show.” Disney+ seems to want to step right on the edge of the border without actually moving a muscle. Take the Love, Victor debacle: In 2019, Love, Victor, a spinoff of Love, Simon (2018), was released on Hulu, but, like Lizzie McGuire, it was originally slated for Disney+. It was moved after Disney+ declared that the series, which follows the coming-out journey of a teenager, wasn’t “family friendly” enough.
Disney wanted to tiptoe into queerness without embracing the realities of that experience. With Lizzie McGuire, Disney+ seems to be repeating the same mistake of wanting to push boundaries without going too far. It’s a callout Duff herself made on her Instagram Story in February, when she said Love, Victor leaving Disney+ “sounds familiar.” Duff has remained open about her thoughts on the reboot process. Just a few weeks after Minsky’s departure, Duff posted on Instagram, “Was incredibly excited to launch Lizzie on [Disney+] and my passion remains. However, I feel a huge responsibility to honor the fans’ relationship with Lizzie who, like me, grew up seeing themselves in her. I’d be doing a disservice to everyone by limiting the realities of a 30-year-old’s journey to live under the ceiling of a PG rating.” That last statement stood out to Lizzie McGuire fans, myself included, who agreed with Duff. Who wants to watch a sanitized, flattened take on the life of a 30-year-old woman we’ve all been rooting for nearly 20 years?
Lizzie McGuire became an immediate cult favorite when it premiered in 2001. Alongside series like The Proud Family (2001) and That’s So Raven (2003), it was a show about a teenage girl coming-of-age and all of the messiness that comes along with it. McGuire experienced the ins and outs of middle school with help from her best friends, Miranda (Lalaine) and Gordo (Adam Lamberg), and her well-meaning but often goofy family. The series’ realness about the middle-school experience—and its willingness to engage with preteen messiness—made it a success. That’s So Raven faced fatphobia and racism head-on; The Proud Family spoke about Blackness and identity; and Lizzie McGuire taught young viewers about what it meant to be 13.
“Between a Rock and a Bra Place,” a treasured Season 1 episode, features McGuire turning to her mom and shouting, “I want a bra.” (The so-called “bra episode” is such a prized moment that the cast reunited for a virtual table read nearly two decades later.) In Season 2 episode “First Kiss,” McGuire has her first kiss and promptly has her heart broken. And, of course, the Season 1 episode “Aaron Carter Is Coming To Town” was a Big Deal when it came out because it gave us a dreamy Aaron Carter cameo against a festive Christmas backdrop. The show was memed endlessly, its 15th anniversary was celebrated by the likes of Entertainment Weekly, and the show was so beloved that the series was adapted into The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2003), which grossed more than $55 million at the box office.
If Disney+ wants to become a place to create fanfiction about its own canon, it has to reckon with the fact that these characters can, will, and should grow up.
Given the show’s cultural impact, viewers were excited about the Disney+ reboot bringing McGuire into the 2020s. In a time where shows are tackling everything from queerness and coming out to addiction and sexual violence, it’s the norm for a show to look at tougher issues head-on. Netflix’s original films and series have offered a new spin on the teen drama and issues like having sex for the first time. Hulu’s PEN15 brought masturbation and slut-shaming to the forefront, while HBO’s Euphoria broke just nearly every boundary without losing ratings. If we can offer honest narratives about being a teen girl, why can’t we do the same for adult women? In a 2019 article for The Ringer, Kate Knibbs attempted to get to the bottom of the Disney+ rating system. What does family friendly actually mean? What content gets to stay on the platform, and what never had a chance?
Knibbs went searching for “the dirtiest thing on Disney+” and, at the end of their research, dubbed the platform “the Puritan’s go-to streaming service.” There’s a sass there that Duff reflected in her Instagram post: “It’s important to me that just as her experiences as a preteen/teenager navigating life were authentic, [Lizzie McGuire’s] next chapters are equally as real and relatable.” Unfortunately, Disney, and Disney+, have yet to learn that sanitized stories aren’t always better. In a 2019 story for Bitch, Jourdain Searles reflected on the ways that “American cinema’s puritanical film standard” has shaped what we’ve seen onscreen. While Searles was specifically writing about orgasms, it feels like a lens we can shift to the larger representation of women’s actual lives in film and television. Would it truly be so horrific for an adult McGuire to have an orgasm or a steamy kiss onscreen?
Viewers were once invited to swoon over Gordo and Lizzie’s first kiss, but now, we’re being denied McGuire having a fun hookup or a loving moment with her spouse. It’s nonsensical to suggest that women’s sexual experiences become R-rated the moment they turn 18 but that’s exactly what Disney+ is implying. We’re in a bizarre time as streaming services that promised to air more diversified content are revealing their true colors. Disney+ has been criticized for its lack of original content, though the platform is looking to change that in 2021, and its tech has been a source of frustration for users. I appreciate Disney+ adding disclaimers to older content that’s racially insensitive, but the platform hasn’t proven itself to be a worthwhile, progressive source of television. Given Disney’s obsession with rebooting beloved content, I’m curious about how long it can survive with solely family-friendly content that revamps old characters and brings them into new environments. If Disney+ wants to become a place to create fanfiction about its own canon, it has to reckon with the fact that these characters can, will, and should grow up. That’s what viewers want. It just remains to be seen if Disney+ will rise to the occasion.