Decoding Disney Dads
On Mother’s Day we brought you an article dissecting Disney’s poorly written mother roles. Now that Father’s Day is here, I’ve examined the roles of dads in Disney movies and found that many of them fit neatly into one of a few categories. Since father figures are often not the main role in these movies, they must serves as plot devices for the leading character’s development. Below I discuss some of those categories many Disney dads fit into.
1. The Well-Meaning Fool
These dads are good fathers because they certainly love their children. However, their foolishness either acts as a foil or a plot device for their children. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle’s father Maurice is an inventor known to the townspeople as an “old fool”. His scatterbrained ways get him lost in the forest and kidnapped by the Beast which sets the whole story in motion.
Some of the princes’ fathers fall into this category as well. Both Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming in Cinderella have portly elder fathers who are more bark than bite. Both King Hubert and Prince Charming’s father (I guess first names don’t run in the family?) are puffed up and proud and make somewhat of a fool of themselves, becoming foils for their perfect princely sons. All three of these well-meaning yet foolish fathers make our main characters look better or give them a reason for doing what they do. Not to mention they all look remarkably alike.
2. The Overbearing Father
This type of father is one many are familiar with in their own lives; they want the best for their children but as a result can come off controlling. These fathers’ overbearing attitude offers a plot device for the movie. They give the main characters a change to rebel and make stupid decisions. A classic example of this is King Triton in The Little Mermaid. Without his constant insistence that she not go to the surface or mess around with humans, she may not have wanted to do so quite so badly and trade her voice for a guy she never really met. Nemo’s dad Marlin serves the same purpose in Finding Nemo. After the death of Nemo’s mother (because it would be too much to ask for anyone to have both parents), his father becomes extra strict. This pressure leads Nemo to defy him and get captured by humans.
This plot line is a little skewed but still relevant in some other Disney movies. In Pocahontas, her father urges her to marry Kocoum even though she is reluctant to do so. In Aladdin, Jasmine’s dad is also obsessed with her getting married (seriously though, these girls are still teenagers). Mulan’s father too wishes her to become a respectful lady and make a good match, however he seems to accept her for who she is a bit more than the other fathers in this category. Regardless of the extent, each of these fathers present a reason for these characters to work harder for what they want, despite the consequences.
3. It’s Better to Have Loved and Lost…
Sometimes our main characters get the pleasure of a father who is top notch. He is wise and full of great life advice. Sadly, this type of father figure is just too good to be true, so they must be killed off quickly. Think of Mufasa from The Lion King. Simba is kind of a dumbass as a cub but his father is always there to steer him back into the right direction with wise words about his kingdom and his life. Sadly, the story takes a Shakespearean turn and Mufasa dies at the hands of Scar. This gives Simba an excuse for running away and forsaking his responsibility and voila: a plot develops.
Then there’s Tiana and her father James in The Princess and the Frog. They are a family with not too much money but they enjoy good food and friends and live happily in New Orleans. Tiana’s father teaches her that if she works hard she can accomplish her dreams. He dies and she grows up to be a hard-working young woman who wants more than anything to open her own restaurant. While his advice makes her one of the most admirable Disney princesses, it also gives her a one-directional mindset which leads her character development.
4. Missing or Pretty Much Useless
Last but not least we have the typical dead parent syndrome that Disney likes so much to fall back on. As discussed in the last article, many lead characters in Disney movies lack mothers. Many of them also lack fathers as well. Snow White and Cinderella are both pretty much orphans. Their fathers’ remarriages conveniently provided an villain character before they also conveniently disappeared. Both these leading ladies have to survive the deadly advances of their jealous and conniving stepmothers and thus, a plot is formed.
Sleeping Beauty has a father but since she is raised in the woods by three fairy godmothers and doesn’t meet him until she’s 16, he pretty much had no bearing on her storyline. The same goes for Rapunzel in Tangled. She was separated from her father as a baby and her plot exists entirely without him. In Lilo & Stitch, Lilo and Nani’s parents were killed leaving them effectively orphans. While Lilo has her older sister to care for her, she is also absent a father figure.
Obviously there are more than just 4 roles for dads in Disney movies. However my evaluation reveals some very obvious themes. Most of these movies are based on character development and that development is set in motion often by the actions of secondary characters such as fathers. I hope to see some more originality in the future, and am curious as to how Brave’s character Merida will turn out and how they portray her relationship with her father. Fingers crossed.