‘The Florida Project’ ending, explained: The meaning behind that Disney World ending (2024)

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The Florida Project

  • ‘The Florida Project’ ending, explained: The meaning behind that Disney World ending (1)
  • ‘The Florida Project’ ending, explained: The meaning behind that Disney World ending (2)

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If you never watched The Florida Project, the 2017 critically acclaimed indie drama from director Sean Baker, well, there’s no time like the present! The Florida Project is streaming free on Netflix and Kanopy, and also available to buy and rent on digital platforms like Amazon.

The Florida Project tells the story of a mother and a daughter on the verge of homelessness in Kissimmee, Florida while living in the shadow of the giant, billion-dollar amusem*nt park, Walt Disney World (which was originally dubbed “the Florida project” while it was being constructed).

Baker co-wrote the script with his frequent collaborator Chris Bergoch (the team also co-wrote Tangerine and Red Rocket), who said he was inspired to write the story after observing kids in parking lots while he visited his mother in Orlando, Florida. It’s a slice-of-life character film that comes to a rather sudden end. If you found yourself confused by The Florida Project movie, read on for a full breakdown of The Florida Project ending, explained.

What is The Florida Project about?

Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) is a six-year-old girl who lives in poverty with her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), at a run-down motel called Magic Castle Inn & Suites in Florida, just outside of Disney World. Moonee befriends a new girl at the hotel, Jancey (Valeria Cotto), after she and her friends get in trouble for spitting on Jancey’s grandmother’s car.

It quickly becomes clear that Halley isn’t a very strict mother and lets Moonee run around, wild and unsupervised, all day. Moonee spends her days getting into trouble with Jancey and their friend Scooty (Christopher Rivera), whom Halley is supposedly watching for her friend Ashley (Mela Murder). The kids frequently aggravate the motel manager, Bobby (Willem Dafoe), but he nevertheless looks out for the kids and the other guests at his establishment.

One day, Moonee, Jancey, and Scooty accidentally burn down the abandoned condos on a nearby property. When Scooty’s mom finds out what they did, she forbids Scooty from hanging around with Moonee. She also stops giving Moonee free food from the diner where she works and cuts off ties with Halley.

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Halley already lost her job as an exotic dancer and has been trying to make ends meet by reselling wholesale perfume to tourists. After a few weeks of this, she is stopped by a security guard who threatens to call the police. Without the perfume sales or the free food from Ashley, Halley resorts to sex work. She has Moonee take photos of her in her bathing suit for her online profile. When clients come to the room, Halley puts Moonee in the bath, with loud music playing.

Bobby notices Halley’s influx of motel guests and cash and realizes what she’s doing. He’s already facing pressure from upper management to keep the motel up to code. When a client turns up to harass Halley for stealing his Disney World passes—which she scalped to a tourist—Bobby gets rid of him. But he warns Halley she will be evicted if she keeps up the sex work. He tells her all of her guests have to check in at the front desk, with ID, from now on.

Desperate, Halley asks Ashley to loan her some money. Ashley accuses Halley of being a whor*—showing her a picture of her own online ad—and Halley responds by violently beating up Ashley in front of Scooty. The next day, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), show up at Halley’s door. Clearly, Ashley called them.

‘The Florida Project’ ending, explained: The meaning behind that Disney World ending (3)

The Florida Project ending explained:

Halley cleans up the motel room. But when the DCF agents arrive, this time with the police, the state of the room doesn’t matter. They’ve obtained a copy of Halley’s online ad soliciting herself for sex, which is enough evidence to take Moonee away from her mother while an investigation is underway. Moonee asks to say goodbye to her friend Scooty, who mentions that she will be going to live with another family.

Moonee freaks out and runs away from the DCF agent. She knocks on Jancey’s door to say goodbye, sobbing. When Jancey sees how upset Moonee is, she takes Moonee’s hand. Together, the girls run away to Disney World. The girls reach the real Magic Kingdom, and the movie ends.

‘The Florida Project’ ending, explained: The meaning behind that Disney World ending (4)

The Florida Project ending explained with analysis:

The Florida Project is a movie about the side of Florida that Disney World tourists don’t see. While rich kids are taking selfies with Mickey Mouse, Moonee is taking photos of her mom in a bathing suit, so that they can afford to eat. She’s cutting the line at a food bank truck to collect her free bread. She’s begging for change on the street. All of this is happening less than a mile from the entrance to the Disney World amusem*nt park. But none of that tourist money Disney makes is going back to the residents who actually live there.

It’s telling that the name of the motel where Moonee lives is Magic Castle Inn & Suites, an obvious rip-off of the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. (And the name does fool a tourist or two into staying there!) At the end of the movie, Jancey leads Moonee to the real Magic Kingdom castle. After living so close by and yet in such a completely different world for her entire life, Moonee finally gets to experience the childhood magic that the children of tourists get to have.

The movie leaves it open-ended whether Moonee and Jancey will return home. Some audiences found the ending abrupt and confusing, much to director Sean Baker’s surprise. “It’s left up to interpretation but it’s not supposed to be literal, it’s supposed to be a moment in which we’re putting the audience in the headspace of a child,” Baker said of the ending in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “We’ve been watching Moonee use her imagination and wonderment throughout the entire film to make the best of the situation she’s in — she can’t go to the Animal Kingdom, so she goes to the “safari” behind the motel and looks at cows, she goes to the abandoned condos because she can’t go to the Haunted Mansion. And in the end, with this inevitable drama, this is me saying to the audience, ‘If you want a happy ending, you’re gonna have to go to that headspace of a kid because, here, that’s the only way to achieve it. It was always supposed to be a slice-of-life feature, where we spend a summer vacation with these kids, and having the audience be one of them. The summer was over for me, at the end.”

If you’re interested in my interpretation: I see this as Jancey and Moonee only putting off the inevitable. My guess is that the girls will have a great day at Disney World, but then eventually return home, where Moonee will be taken away by child services. That’s America, for you.


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‘The Florida Project’ ending, explained: The meaning behind that Disney World ending (2024)
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