The Unpretty Portrayal Of Dads In The Disney Princess Movies, Part 1
Princess: Aurora from Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Father: King Stefan
What’s Daddy Like?: FINALLY! A living father! King Stefan from Sleeping Beauty almost gets a free pass for both being alive and not apparently marrying a succubus from hell. Stefan seems loving, his wife appears normal… could Aurora be possibly bereft of latent daddy issues? Not a chance.
King Stefan might be a decent guy, but in classic Disney fairy tale fashion, he quickly becomes an absentee father. The evil Maleficent curses his child, declaring that, before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, Aurora will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into deep, magical sleep. So, what does King Stefan do? He burns all the spinning wheels in the land – GREAT start. He’s active, he’s protecting his kid – awesome. Then he decides that Aurora should hide out in the woods with some fairies until she’s sixteen to… to… OK, that doesn’t make a damn lick of sense. I suppose it was to hide her from Maleficent, who, I don’t know, might have kept mailing unwanted spinning wheels to the castle for sixteen years straight, but what a crazy, extreme reaction to the curse. Hey, Stefan, why not give it a few weeks? Let your wife breastfeed, bond with the child, feel out Maleficent a bit, and THEN abandon your only kid with some local Wiccans for SIXTEEN years. Maybe give throwing away the first sixteen years of your daughter’s life more than five minutes consideration.
And then, after the sixteen-year banishment, King Stefan evolves from the typical Disney absentee father to the typical Disney oblivious father. The deadline for the curse is the sunset on Aurora’s 16th birthday. They’ve dreaded that curse SO much for sixteen years that they ABANDONED their daughter to protect her. So, with HOURS left on the curse, they decide to call Aurora back to the castle and reveal her back to the world. WHAT? Are you kidding me? Could the reunion not wait until, I don’t know, after dinner? Did it not occur to them that Maleficent might be particularly vigilant about her curse in, like, the final few minutes before it EXPIRES?! Seriously? Compared to the dead princess fathers who married evil stepmothers, King Stefan might seem like a major step-up, but, again, he is defined by his HORRIBLE decisions and his tendency to not be around. Which, ONCE AGAIN, results in his daughter running after the first halfway together-looking dude she meets in the forest. Sad, sad, sad.
Princess: Ariel from The Little Mermaid (1989)
Father: King Triton
What’s Daddy Like?: The Little Mermaid shows an interesting progression in the typical Disney Princess father archetype, largely because King Triton is the first Disney Princess Dad who’s the primary caregiver. He’s a single dad – Ariel’s mom is nowhere to be seen, although her fate is detailed in some of the crappier direct-to-DVD Mermaid sequels – and he’s the main authority figure in Ariel’s life. Finally, a dad gets his moment to shine in a princess movie, right? Right?
Triton is a strange dad figure because, even though he’s dead-on right, three-dimensional, and normal for most of The Little Mermaid (he goes off the rails in the end), the filmmakers decide to make him look like a tyrant and a jerk for a big portion of the movie. He’s got a rebellious daughter that he largely indulges until she breaks a big rule – going to the surface – and then he scolds her and punishes her. That’s SO normal. That’s crazy normal. Triton is WELL within his rights to punish her. And then, when she breaks his rule again AND appears to have fallen in love with a surface person, he loses his temper. TOTALLY understandable. I mean, Ariel’s cute, but she needs some discipline. Fine, Triton was probably over the line by destroying everything in her grotto – he probably should’ve just confiscated the contraband like a disapproving teacher – but I get why he was so angry. He wasn’t suppressing her inner spirit, he was just trying to make sure that she didn’t end up in a tuna net or knocked-up by some random sailor.
But everyone LOVES free spirits – even if they are naïve and underage – so Triton comes off like a huge douche for just trying to be a protective parent. In fact, the “grotto destruction” scene has CONVINCED my five-year-old that Triton is, in actually, the true villain of The Little Mermaid. (Quote: “He is SO worse than Ursula, Daddy. Ursula didn’t break her stuff.”) Triton can’t catch a break. THEN, after Ariel’s Faustian bargain backfires, which EVERYONE saw coming from a mile away, Triton GIVES HIMSELF into slavery to free her – where is his “dad of the year” trophy?! Unfortunately, all of Triton’s tough love is thrown out the window in the end when he finally gives in to his daughter and grants her wish to become human – even though she’s spent the ENTIRE movie debasing herself and throwing away everything that’s important in her life to go be with a surface boy that she stalked for like a day and a half. All of Triton’s dignity and reason are tossed away so he can, once again, indulge his overindulged child. Such a shame.