Friday, June 5, 2015

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I take alot of joy in Disney movies, especially the ones that were released when I was young; it's like a time portal into my childhood. But it was only as an adult that I began to really think critically about the stories and the messages contained in them. It's pretty easy to see that most of the Disney princesses emerge from a daddy-daughter relationship. Freud focused his theory of the father complex on ambivalent feelings for the father on the part of the male child, as an aspect of the Oedipus complex.  But according to Jung,  females are also able to develop a father complex, which might be either positive or negative.

Let's start with The Little Mermaid. Ariel is the youngest daughter of the Sea King, and true to Andersen's text, she is enamored with the world above the water. Her father forbids her to have any contact with it, so is forced to hide her fascination with it, as well as her extensive collection of artifacts salvaged from sunken ships. When her father becomes aware of her continued interest with humans, and her new interest in a particular human, he sets out to eradicate this rebellious streak in her. I think this scene is the most authentic in communicating the nature of their relationship because the dialogue sounds authentic: Ariel's pouty "I don't care" is the favorite uttering of sixteen year old girls. But furthermore, the symbolism of Ariel hiding behind the Prince Eric effigy at first, and later desperately trying to protect it (she's literally between a rock and hard place) represents the classic struggle of a daughter to distance herself from the central male figure in her life only to seek a new one.

She sacrifices her voice (much less painful than her tongue, as in the original story) to the Sea Witch in exchange for legs, so that she can go ashore, find the prince, and (silently) charm him. In the age of third wave feminism, it's a pretty horrible message that in order to make a man love her, a woman should be voiceless.
Ariel's voice, and tail, is restored when her time on land runs out. As stipulated in her contract with the Sea Witch, she is now her property, and we see her slowly devolve into a sea urchin.
Prince Eric defeats the Sea Witch, and the other sea urchins are restored to their original forms (mermaids and mermen who also defaulted on their deals), but Ariel is still confined by her fins. It's only through her father's power that she is able to return to land to reunite with her soon-to-be husband.
I guess if you want to be sentimental, you could say that King Triton is unselfishly allowing his daughter to live her dream, even though it pains him. But it must also be noted that he is sacrificing his power over her; earlier he told her as long as she lives under his ocean, she is to obey his rules. She traded in one kingdom for another.

All this being said, I still canot be trusted with the remote control during a viewing of this movie; it rapidly devolves into a loop of Part of Your World and a (bad) one woman karaoke show.

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