Within the past few years, Facebook has shifted to a breeding ground for niche meme groups. Hyper-specific groups with titles like New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens started to pop up a couple of years ago, but nowadays, meme groups tend to have broader scopes and shitposting energy. Name a specific TV show or movie, and there’s probably a thriving group on Facebook solely dedicated to sharing and creating memes around it. With COVID-19 forcing so many people indoors, these groups have rapidly grown in size and number.
Facebook meme groups dedicated to animated movies of the 2000s particularly surged in popularity this year, lying in wait for fans to discover as they turned to online spaces to relieve boredom and make connections. Groups dedicated to The Road to El Dorado, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, The Emperor’s New Groove, and other films have been around for years, but their moderators say they’ve grown exponentially in 2020.
“We were getting a pending post submission every five minutes 24/7 for a while,” says Louie Brennan, creator and admin of The Road to El Dorado Goldposting.
Goldposting is the oldest of these groups, and since March 2020 it grew from 20,000 members to just over 250,000 at the time of writing. Brennan and his best friend Tim Brown had bonded over their shared love of DreamWorks’ 2000 box-office and critical flop The Road to El Dorado. Inspired by a few other shitposting groups they were in, Brennan and Brown talked about starting one for El Dorado for months, before Brennan finally created it at 3 a.m. in June 2018.
“We recognized the movie was pretty beloved by the people that knew it, but it was pretty obscure and wasn’t talked about very much on the internet anywhere!” Brennan tells Polygon in an email interview.
The first offshoots of the El Dorado group came a year later in 2019, with the Atlantis and Emperor’s New Groove meme groups. Jordan Waterfield, who created these two groups, said other members started to create memes for similar movies of the same time period to post in the El Dorado group.
“A few of us [Goldposting] members were regularly sharing content from other movies, until one day a few of us put our heads together and said ‘Hey, these movies deserve their own groups!’ There were a few groups [that] started over a week or two, and we grew from there to where we are today,” he explains. The groups dedicated to Atlantis and The Emperor’s New Groove have respectively increased by 5,000 and 10,000 members over the past few months. The Atlantis group now has 25,000 members; the Emperor’s New Groove group has 32,000.
Both El Dorado and The Emperor’s New Groove had their share of reaction-based memes before the Facebook groups, but they were usually single GIFs or screencaps used as punchlines to setups: think of Miguel and Tulio’s “Both? Both is good,” or the close-up of Kronk’s face going “Oh yeah. It’s all coming together.” Instead of using single-punchline GIFs, members of meme groups use lesser circulated screenshots for new meme formats or create referential memes about the movie itself. Atlantis — which is distinctly less humor-based than the other two movies — particularly benefits from this shift. Meme creators are encouraged to find relatively un-memed moments from the movies to cover, instead of endlessly returning to the most celebrated moments.
But it’s not just memes that these groups share. Many share fan art, edits, photos of old memorabilia, cosplay pictures, and other discussion points. In 2020, Facebook meme groups have evolved. Instead of being based in absurdist humor, they’ve become forum-like, a community cultivated out of a specific shared interest. Memes still happen, but they’re not the entire focal point.
While other groups dedicated to more traditionally popular movies like Beauty and the Beast have sprung up this year, the ones dedicated to these animated oddballs have been popping off for years. It may have something to do with the other Disney movies being more serious in tone and harder to mine for goofy gags, but the fact that El Dorado, Atlantis, and The Emperor’s New Groove were underrated in the first place is the very reason why they were the first meme groups.
Because these off-kilter animated movies weren’t hits at the box office, they found love after the fact via home entertainment, like many other cult classics. The people who grew up with these movies — who may have proclaimed them to be favorites as kids, but had a hard time finding others who enjoyed them just as much — are all in their 20s right now. They grew up with the internet and knew to turn online when they wanted to connect with other fans, and if those online spaces didn’t exist, they made Facebook groups themselves.
So when the world moved indoors and looked for something to do, these groups were waiting. To be clear, it’s not just meme groups dedicated to animated movies of the 2000s that are surging in popularity during the pandemic — meme groups of all types have seen an increase in members, such as Memehotep’s Mummy Memes, a relatively new group dedicated to the Mummy franchise. But it’s a testament to the unique underground popularity of these animated movies that those particular meme groups were lying ready.
The Atlantis group even drew the attention of the film’s creators — screenwriter Tab Murphy, producer Don Hahn, and directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise all joined the group in 2020 and began contributing. Appreciation for the movie came full circle as the creators suddenly discovered and began engaging with an enthusiastic fandom they never knew about. They’ve shared rough drafts of the script, old posters and concept art, pictures of the Mexican restaurant where the movie first sparked to life, and other behind-the-scenes information.
Murphy, in particular, has started giving out autographed posters and even sharing scripts for other Disney movies he worked on. Having the creators in the group, says Waterfield, has really evolved the experience — and validated the group.
“The group members have been blessed with so much more than just memes, movie paraphernalia, and cosplay because of their presence,” he says.
Adminning a meme group comes with the same challenges as running any online community: moderating posts, fostering growth, mitigating potential conflicts with members. Brennan says he’s definitely grown into a more socially aware person just from having to handle differing viewpoints and keep the peace. It can be disheartening, he says, but at the end of the day, he tries to be accommodating when people come to him with concerns. Meanwhile, Waterfield says the sheer volume of new members and memes in recent months has made it difficult for mods to step in when things get out of control. All of the groups have had to grow their moderator teams in the past year, which has helped with post approval, member conflicts, and generally overseeing the communities.
But in spite of the setbacks, the admins are thankful. When the groups first started off, it was mostly the creators driving the content and sharing memes; nowadays, they’re all small, bustling communities of their own, places where people come together amid the chaos of the world to just share funny content and gush about their favorite underappreciated movies.
“I’ve made a lot of friends and cool people here,” Brennan says. “It’s kind of like a neighborhood.”
The Emperor’s New Groove and Atlantis: The Lost Empire are available to stream on Disney Plus. The Road to El Dorado is available on Hulu.
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Correction: A previous version of this story referred to the admin of two of the groups as Jordan Waterfeld. The person's name is Jordan Waterfield. We've edited the article to reflect this.