Tuesday, November 4, 2014
What does Disney have against parents? If you’re in a Disney movie and you’re a parent, more than likely you are either single or dead. Why is that? There are a few exceptions, of course: Rapunzel’s parents in Tangled (though Rapunzel was separated from them most of her life); Aurora’s parents in Sleeping Beauty (same situation as Tangled); Prince Naveen’s parents in The Princess and the Frog; Mr. and Mrs. Darling from Peter Pan; King Fergus and Queen Elinor of Brave; and Fa Zhou and Fa Li of Mulan. This is not a complete list, but you get the idea. Compared to how many Disney movies have parents who are either single or deceased, the scale is remarkably unbalanced.
While this strategy may be handy in removing unneeded characters from the plot and giving some depth to the protagonists, the reasoning must go deeper.
Children are raised with stories of brave knights and dastardly villains, rescuing the princess or saving the village. In tales like those from Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, kings or parents in general usually play a significant role in the story. But as fairytales have evolved, the role of the parent seems to have diminished to that of a prop in the background. No longer are fathers the voice of wisdom and reason. Mothers are so rarely ideal role models (take Mother Gothel from Tangled for example). While many other Disney themes are wonderfully imaginative and otherwise agreeable, their regard for parents has dwindled to something nearly nonexistent.
My dad works as a flight medic. One day he came home and was telling us about his interesting patients. He said a middle-aged man was moving a very heavy dresser in his bedroom and the dresser somehow fell on top of him. The drawers and knobs pinned his limbs in place, and the only things not being crushed by the very sturdy piece of furniture were the man’s head and one of his arms. His Mac computer happened to be sitting on the desk with the power cord running down the side. The man had gotten hold of the power cord and very carefully tugged the computer off the desk so he could type an e-mail to his mother telling her that he was trapped under a dresser and couldn’t reach the phone to dial 9-1-1. It was the man’s mother who had called for help for her son, but not until she read the e-mail… two days later. The medics stormed the man’s house and strategically removed the dresser while keeping pressure on certain body parts so the blood wouldn’t rush to his heart and give him a heart attack. The man was fine after a lot of medical treatment, but as my dad was relating this story to us at the dinner table, it struck us that the man would still be under that dresser if he hadn’t e-mailed his mother. And it made me realize that no matter how old you are or where you settle down, you will always need your parents.
I don’t think this theme is expressed enough in Disney films. The value of parents throughout our lives is not something that can be measured in dollars or pounds. And I don’t mean calling them when you need a recipe or you’re trapped under a dresser. My parents are people I want to be more like. People that others can depend on and look to for encouragement. I hope someday to have gained my father’s wisdom and my mother’s compassion. I hope one day I can understand what it means to be a good parent.
And while I still love Disney films and am all about strong female characters, it would be refreshing to see a more family-oriented tale from my favorite storytellers.