Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Parents in Disney Films and the real audience of fairy tales

Here is an interesting post from an adoptive mother on her thoughts on "Tangled."

Honestly I'd never thought about that situation before and I have to sympathize with it. However I've also seen other families with adoptive children buy the film for their kids and say nothing negative about it -- instead simply declaring how much they love it.

And I think that's the proper attitude to have because for the most part, it's NOT Disney's fault that adoptive/step-parents are portrayed in a negative light in their movies. These elements are taken directly from the original fairy-tales!

True, in Rapunzel the birth parents get some of the blame as well, as they bartered their daughter in exchange for a plant. However the original Rapunzel also has the girl getting pregnant out of wedlock and the prince getting blinded by thorns for his sins. Someone has to draw a line somewhere.

Snow White? Cinderella? Evil Step-mother definitely in both of those tales. Furthermore in some versions we get to see the princess's father, who is clearly a pretty weak guy. However, in Snow White I see the adoptive family being the dwarves, and they obviously would do anything for their princess.

What about Sleeping Beauty? Aurora is adopted by three kind fairies who adore her.

What about parents in general in Disney?

My mother was always a little ticked that the mom died in Little Mermaid. And yet this is also part of the original tale. However in that version, the Mermaid's grandmother still lived, a position which is taken by Flounder and Sebastian in the Disney version. True, Triton is rather overbearing, and yet I've seen well-meaning fathers (not mine, thank goodness!) be extremely strict and harsh with their daughters, sending the girls into lives of lies and deception as their only way of living anything like what their friends have.

We get good parents in Mulan. Wise and honorable parents who dearly love their daughter and want what is best for her.

The parents in "The Lion King" are fantastic. In fact, Mama Lion gets off easy, as she remains kind and loving even when her "Hamlet" counterpart shows an evil side.

What about Beauty and the Beast? Poor Maurice is made out to be rather ridiculous. And yet, isn't ridiculous a bit better than the original fairy tale, where the father trades his daughter for his life?

Pocohantas? For a film that takes a lot of liberties with history, they actually got Powhatan fairly right. And, as we know nothing about Pocohantas's mother, nearly every version of her story that I've read leaves her out.

Aladdin? Believe it or not, originally Aladdin had a mother in the film! However, they had to fit their running time and determined that Mama didn't move the story along fast enough. Jasmine has a loving father, who might seem a little silly yet makes the right decisions in the end and clearly only wants what is best for his daughter.

What about Peter Pan? If anything, this is Disney's strongest mother film, as Mrs. Darling and Wendy herself both present a positive, admirable picture of the virtues and necessities of mothers. In fact, since Wendy plays an adoptive mother, this ends up being positive on the adoption front as well! In the animated film they didn't have enough time to show the fact that all of the lost boys ultimately are adopted by the Darlings, but live action versions have been quite good about showing this.

Going back to my original thought... I don't mean to completely dismiss this mother's concerns. In her situation, I can see her point and why she would be worried. My point is simply, if anything, Disney made the fairy tale much more forgiving of parents.

Madam Gothel has always been a character who could be either sympathetic or villianous. Disney chose the villianeous route because their formula insists on a villian and Madam Gothel is the most obvious one. That said, they did tone her down from the heights of their other villians so that you can at times sympathize with her. Still, I think they made the right choice that for a positive family film, it was necessary that the 'real' parents be shown as loving and good, and the kidnapper as bad. Can you imagine how traumatizing it might be for a child to watch a film that showed the real parents as being willing to give their child away for a PLANT? That's material for an adult story, not a children's retelling.

Which I think explains a lot of the changes made in Disney's adaptations. If anything, they tend to make parents MORE kind or at least, realistic than the original stories. It's necessary though, because what we tend to forget in this day and age is that fairy tales were NOT originally "children's stories." They were stories the whole family enjoyed, and in many cases, they were morality stories of caution and consequences for those who did wrong. Case in point, the original Rapunzel has been CONSIDERABLY watered down to be appropriate for children. However an accurate retelling of the original tale would ONLY be appropriate for adults. The whole point of the story is the danger of locking a child away in an ivory tower where they have no idea of the reality of life and can become victims for predators. A good kid's story? I think not. Sounds more like a cautionary story for... parents?

Wow. This piece got a lot more rambling than I expected. I'll sign off now and give you all a chance to chime in.


Hannah Liz said...

Elena. I loved this post. THANK YOU for saying something on this point. It's been in my mind for a while and I got hammered for it because I could not clearly state my thoughts and explain it all clearly. I agree it's a funny movie and some parts ARE brillint. But on the whole, to me, it's not really a good movie for kids. It gives them a confused and perhaps hurtful mental picture of parents...sort of. It just gives a few confusing messages to kids I thought. Thank you SO much for sayig something on this again. All I've ever hear is it's an awesome movie that the kids should love.

Unknown said...

I can definitely see how the portral of an adoptive parent being evil might make someone uncomfortable, but I do think it is just a story and they do tone it WAY down and always do! It's not just in Disney movies that step paretns are bad, most fairy tales have an evil parent in there somwehere! Where do you draw the line?

I know my dad doesn't really like how Papa Bear in the Bearinstine Bear books is protrayed, but we still have them. It's a good oportunity to talk to your kids/siblings about how families should work!

I love Aladins song for his mother, I'm sad they had to cut it out of the film!