Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part epic about how dads are portrayed in the Disney Princess movies. Check back tomorrow to see part two!
As the father of a five-year-old girl, I fought the good fight against the Disney Princess franchise and – I’m man enough to admit – I lost. I totally got my butt kicked. My wife and I did our best to keep our little girl away from all of the princess culture indoctrination material with the crowns, make-up, jewelry, and the wishing that someday her prince would come, but, despite our valiant efforts, Disney Princesses found their way onto her radar when she was about three years old and they’ve stayed there ever since. And, now that I’m two years in, I’ll acknowledge that the whole princess thing isn’t completely horrible, provided that, as a parent, you balance it out with a lot of other material and some indoctrination of your own.
Our main worry was that some of the Disney Princesses aren’t exactly the best role models for young kids. They’re often submissive, passive, way too focused on their looks, and completely beholden to the men who come to their rescue. And, trust me, as the father of an only girl, you definitely want your little sweetheart to act more like Wonder Woman or Hit Girl than Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. And, thankfully, I think my daughter gets it. When she plays with her princess figures, she has THEM save the princes and not the other way around. She’ll wear princess dresses, but only if she can also carry her homemade lightsaber too. We somehow stumbled into a nice equilibrium with the Disney Princess craze, which was a nice surprise, but, once I stopped worrying about how the princesses were portrayed in the Disney films, I had time to start worrying about how the dads were portrayed. You know, the kings, the lost aristocrats, the noble warriors… the extremely, extremely absent father figures. And, as you can guess, what I was seeing wasn’t very pretty.
As a service to the dads out there struggling with kids who might have a similar affinity for the Disney Princess Industrial Complex, I decided to breakdown how fathers are portrayed in all ten of the major Disney Princess films, if only to point out exactly how low Disney sets the bar when it comes to showing fathers in a positive light onscreen. Disney Princess fathers are largely absent, oblivious, easily manipulated, loathe to accept responsibility, and generally not the sharpest tools in the shed. Their daughters normally succeed in life DESPITE them, not because of them. And, speaking as a dad, I think that kind of stinks. Take a look at ten of the least impressive fathers in film history and decide for yourself if they’re as potentially damaging to a kid as the old-fashioned damsel in distress.
Princess: Snow White from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Father: Dead King
What’s Daddy Like?: Aside from being the template for 75 years worth of subsequent Disney fairy tales, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs also firmly establishes the archetype of the Disney father, i.e. an absentee dad with a penchant for being completely, brain-numbingly oblivious. How oblivious was Snow White’s dad? He married the fairest maiden of them all (at the time) without realizing that she was sociopathically vain AND a fairly profound student of the black arts. Yes, people have written ad nauseum about Disney’s apparent obsession with the wicked stepmother, but let none of us forget that the true villain in an evil stepmother story is the IDIOT father who lets such a jerk get near his kids. Behind every black-hearted witch-queen stepmother is a spineless father-king muttering, “C’mon, you two, can’t we just get along?”
I’d actually prefer it if more of the Disney Princesses had unrepentantly evil fathers because, at least then, they’d be active and powerful and have a personality. As is, the majority of Disney Princess dads are SO ineffectual and emasculated that they barely register. It’s no wonder that Snow moved in with the first seven guys that gave her the time of day and MARRIED the first guy who ever kissed her. When a princess’ dad isn’t around and the long-lost king has such a legacy of being a legendary wimp, of course, she’s going to seek out new daddy figures whenever she can find them – no matter how short they are or how short a time she’s known them.
Princess: Cinderella from Cinderella (1950)
Father: Dead Aristocrat
What’s Daddy Like?: The fathers from Snow White and Cinderella are shockingly similar. Both are supposedly well-heeled men who married well and sired beautiful and kind daughters… until their “nice” first wives died and they lost their minds. At least, Snow White’s dad had the excuse that his replacement wife was allegedly the “fairest of them all” at the time, so it was a classic case of an older dad getting hypnotized by a banging trophy wife. Not a great excuse, but it makes way more sense than what happened with Cinderella’s dad. He married the strident, humorless Lady Tremaine on the rebound and brought her jerky, entitled daughters to come live with his supposedly angelic daughter. I guess there’s some assumption that Lady Tremaine kept her evil side a secret until Cindy’s dad kicked off, but, come on, again, the responsibility lies with the DAD in this situation – how could you bring such blatantly terrible people to come live with your only kid?
And, unlike Snow White’s situation, Cinderella’s stepmom had NO black magic ability – Cindy got all the bad hoodoo powers in her family – so the dad couldn’t even say he was bewitched. He was just a nebbish idiot with blinders the size of a pumpkin carriage. So, again, Mr. Oblivious drops his daughter into a horrible situation and, of course, she runs off with the first guy who gives her the time of day. At least, the Prince appeared to be active – searching for the woman he wanted – rather than Cinderella’s own father, who, in retrospect, comes off as a sad bachelor who thought that it was better to pick a new mom at random rather than, you know, hire a governess and spend some time raising his own kid.