As a middle-aged American, I — like many others of my generation — have been subjected to hours, months, and ultimately many years of meticulously crafted entertainment from the Disney Company. Consciously, we view Disney as a hallmark of purity and high-quality family entertainment that espouses only the highest morals and family values. But under the surface, there is more than meets the eye.
Now, as a fatter, older, and surly grey-haired father of two girls, I am subjected to Disney movies and cartoons at an unprecedented rate. Through all of this, I also see a stark formula readily apparent in these films that I watched casually over the last 30-plus years and films that I am now forced to watch religiously. And it is quite troubling.
What is this Disney formula so ubiquitously found throughout its entire catalog? After watching “Little Mermaid” a few times over the past day or two (it’s playing on our DVD player as I type), I realize that from a father’s perspective, this plot is a direct kick-to-the nuts for dads everywhere. It is probably no better for mothers, either, though I suspect many moms grew up loving this freakin’ movie. Most of all, this formula is even worse for the little girls who watch this movie and are thereby expected to pattern their life’s path to parallel a fictional mermaid princess that exists in an absurd universe of fairy tales and magic spells.
1) First and foremost, be it in animated movie plots or in real life, success for females hinges solely on being kissed by a prince, whether he be human, amphibian, a man-bear-pig (or whatever the hell that thing is in Beauty and the Beast) or otherwise. Given the fall of monarchies and lack of the feudal system in our modern-day reality, a rich, hunky young man will suffice in the place of royalty. In the movies, the viewer is absorbed into the female protagonists’ misery, which is balanced on certain failure if she cannot win the heart of a man — a man who is likely a rich, spoiled heir to a fortune pillaged from the masses. But have no fear. If you, young teenage female, are unable to achieve the simple goal of letting Prince Eric have his way with you, there are ways to make this happen. Which brings up #2…
2) If, at first, you don’t succeed, turn to black magick to get what you want in life. I suppose this began in the Disney realm when Jiminy Cricket implored Pinocchio to wish upon a star to become a real-life human boy. It continues in the Little Mermaid when Ariel sells her soul to the evil sea-witch Ursula for a pair of sexy legs and a three-day window to seduce a human prince…only for the temporary cost of her voice followed by a possible eternity living as some twisted sea creature under Ursula’s thrall.
3) The fact that the lead female character in the Little Mermaid had to change something about herself in order to win over the man — her physical appearance and natural essence as a mermaid, no less — only underscores the inferiority complex Disney engenders within female characters. “Girls, your best isn’t good enough. He’ll never like you the way you are.”
But I ask, why couldn’t Prince Eric be changed into a mermaid and live under the sea with Ariel? Or why couldn’t he just accept her as a mermaid and find a way to make the surf-and-turf relationship work? Or why couldn’t the movie end with Ariel realizing she doesn’t know jack shit as a 16 year-old teen and decide she will wait to at least finish college before marrying? I don’t know, maybe even by ol’ dad, King Triton’s sagacious fatherly advice? Might as well have had King Triton drop off Ariel at the plastic surgeon to receive a boob job and botox injections to win over Prince Eric.
That’s really about it, folks. The rest of the movie includes admittedly clever and catchy songs belted out by colorfully animated animals and humans alike. In fact, I have had “Under the Sea” stuck in my head for the past two weeks.
It also includes some other things that I find objectionable.
- King Triton, the father figure, is a total pushover. Worse, his house in which he allegedly “raises” his family is no use whatsoever in disciplining or grounding his daughters. Sure, he had a meltdown and blew up Ariel’s collection of artifacts with his magical trident, but that was also a critical misplay in the game of parenting. Every ounce of ill fate that befalls Ariel (and subsequently everybody else in the film) could have been completely avoided if she was sent to her room without eating her dinner, like real-life children, in a room that doesn’t feature twenty ways to escape without your parents’ knowledge.
- Worse yet, when it comes down to choosing to save his daughter or selling his own soul to the sea-witch (which, in turn, would doom the fate of his entire kingdom), father faint-heart foolishly sacrifices the lives of thousands of innocent mermaids and sea life as a whole so that his daughter doesn’t get what she deserves.
- Worst of all, at the end of the movie, Triton allows his 16 year-old daughter to marry a guy she’s known for three days! Great example, Disney!!!
Okay, so if you’re still reading, you probably think I have gone overboard on ranting about a damn Disney kid’s movie. Well, you’re right.
But hopefully, in my household at least, this translates into daughters who don’t dream about prince charming coming to the rescue and sweeping them off their feet, but to maybe kick a little ass and do something in life that doesn’t involve selling their souls to win favor with the boys.
Thanks to Disney, that’s all I can realistically hope for in this world.