by Michael J. Corso, Ph.D.
Once upon a time, in the land of Disney movies, if there was a daughter, there was no Dad. Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Snow White’s fathers are all more or less absent. In these popular tales, we meet young, fatherless women who are poisoned in spirit and body by some older, jealous witch-like woman. I have been wondering what message these movies communicate to my two daughters and their friends. Watching Disney’s recent feature length animated movies also made me curious as to whether there has been an evolution in the stories Disney is telling. These movies speak to us gathered around glowing screens the way myths spoke to our ancestors sitting around the embers of a fire. They represent archetypes of men and women, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers.
In that light, the tales above tell of the struggle between mother and maturing daughter in the absence of the father. Though the older female is usually a step, protecting us as in a dream from direct association with the biological mother, these stories animate an accurate, albeit fairy-tale version of the “traditional” family. A father away from his castle, a mother in charge at home, a daughter struggling toward independence while keeping house as little girls should. What is most distressing about these young women and the view objectionable today, is that each seems powerless to improve her situation.
Sleeping Beauty is, well… asleep. Utterly passive, her only hope is for the prince to arrive, slay the witch, and kiss Rose into arousal. The man has female fairies helping out, but he is clearly the hero. Cinderella, at least, is awake. She even has a helpful fairy godmother (the good side of the mother?). When she is imprisoned, however, Jacque and Gus-Gus, both mice and both male, heroically get the key and free her. The prince then completely liberates her by marrying her. Snow White, winner of several Oscars, will perhaps not win any awards in the “Best Female Role Model” category. Here is a woman mindlessly keeping house for not one, but seven men. The dwarves go whistling off to work every day and combined they make one dutiful, though moody, husband. Snow White’s hoped for her Prince comes and, though she is unconscious, he wakes her with a kiss so they can live happily ever after.
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