Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part epic about how dads are portrayed in the Disney Princess movies. Check out part one here!
Recap: 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. Part two after the jump!
Princess: Jasmine from Aladdin (1992)
Father: The exceedingly silly Sultan of Agrabah
What’s Daddy Like?: The third Disney Princess single-dad in a row, the Sultan of Agrabah from Aladdin is a much lighter and more independent figure than poor, frazzled Beauty and the Beast‘s Maurice, but, again, he’s no Cliff Huxtable. The Sultan is, for lack of a better term, a lovable idiot. He’s sheltered, obsessed with toys, easily led, even more easily manipulated, and it’s really no surprise that an ambitious vizier like Jafar saw the Sultan as his one-way ticket to ruling all of Agrabah. He’s the entitled dad, a card-carrying one-percenter, who would be useless without his servants, advisors, or vast fortune solving every problem he encounters. Yes, he’s sweet – which, fine, counts for a lot – but he’s got that same oblivious streak that plagued Cinderella’s dad.
Jafar may be the bad guy, but, at a certain point, you have to blame the Sultan for letting him get so close to the throne (and how the heck did he not notice that the parrot could talk? I mean, c’mon!). That’s not to say that the Sultan is all bad. There are hints that he used to be a formidable person, back when Jasmine’s mother was alive, but maybe he’s since softened with privilege and age. And he does abolish the law that states that Jasmine MUST marry by her 18thbirthday – an act that would be a wonderful sign of respect and trust in his daughter…if she hadn’t already decided to marry the guy she met on the streets about three days earlier anyway (sigh).
Despite his constant dithering, I’d still choose the Sultan over many of the other princess papas – he, at least, shows signs of having a past (and possibly) future backbone. However, you can’t deny that he’s a bit of a manipulable clown, so, while a fine example of a politician, I wish he was a stronger example of a dad.
Princess: Pocahontas from Pocahontas (1995)
Father: Chief Powhatan
What’s Daddy Like?: Ohhh man…I need to tread lightly on this one. I’ve only let my five-year-old daughter watch Pocahontas once, and I won’t let her watch it again until she’s much, much older. Why? Because the subject matter of Pocahontas is incredibly dicey and I still can’t believe that Disney decided to turn the story into an animated princess film. Why? Because, unlike EVERY OTHER Disney Princess movie, this story is REAL. And, truth be told, the real story is actually rather sad and led to the near genocide of an entire race of indigenous people, so, turning it into a romance and inserting in a wacky raccoon sidekick seems a LITTLE insensitive and INSANE. So it’s incredibly hard, for me, to treat Pocahontas as a work of fiction. Granted, SO many of the factual details are completely fictionalized, but, if you then try to comment on the story like it’s fiction and say something like, “Boy, Chief Powhatan was kind of a jerk,” it feels racially and historically insensitive.
You just can’t win with Pocahontas. So, I’m going to comment on the story very, very broadly (and you can deal with my first world guilt). As a fictional character, Chief Powhatan reminds me of a more stoic version of King Triton. He’s a strong leader and a well-meaning single father who is fairly oblivious to what his daughter actually wants out of life. Rather than turning him into an angry brute (Triton) or an affectionate fool (Sultan), Chief Powhatan gets to remain smart, calm, and in control for most of the film (he does get a few flashes of anger). The only really negative trait he keeps is his obliviousness. And, while I think the screenwriters were very, very conscious of not making the Native Americans into savages or people to be pitied, it is incredibly hard not to look at Chief Powhatan and think, “Man, you have no idea what you’re in for in the very near future.” At the end of the movie, he’s saved by the noble white guy – kind of icky – AND he then tells said noble white guy that, “Hey, you’re always welcome here.” And, thanks to hindsight, you just want to grab Powhatan and scream, “You need to rescind that offer NOW!”
Chief Powhatan might be one of the more together Disney Dads, but his whole story is so loaded with cultural weirdness, historical rewriting, and fictionalized details that it’s hard to see him as a character – particularly as a father – rather than just a really uncomfortable Hollywood representation of the completely stomach-churning noble savage stereotype. So… yeah, the less said about Pocahontas, the better.