Disney dads suck.
There are a few notable exceptions — namely Tiana’s dad, Mufasa, Goofy and, eventually, Nemo’s dad — but generally, Disney dads are the fucking worst. Both Cinderella and Snow White’s dads, upon being widowed, marry very clearly evil women who proceed to abuse/attempt to murder their stepchildren following the dads’ untimely deaths (hint: If someone is literally known as “The Evil Queen” or “The Wicked Stepmother,” maybe don’t consider them suitable parent material?). Mulan’s dad, Moana’s dad, the dad from Zootopia and the dad from Ratatouille all do everything they can to stomp on their children’s dreams. The dad from Beauty and the Beast puts up zero fight when his daughter volunteers herself as the Beast’s hostage in his place. Jasmine’s dad is a worthless moron who encourages her to marry an — again, very clearly — evil older man (I don’t care if he was hypnotized, he probably would have done it anyway — he’s a goddamn idiot).
But even after all that, there are two Disney dads who stand out among the rest — dads so horrible that it’s no wonder their daughters find themselves in such dangerous situations later in life. Those dads are, of course, King Triton from The Little Mermaid and King Agnarr from the Frozen movies.
Let’s begin with King Triton. Starting with the original The Little Mermaid film from 1989, King Triton is a prejudiced asshole whose existence seems to be fueled solely by his hatred of all humans. (In later stories, we find out that his hatred was born out of a run in with a pirate ship which got his wife killed, but judging an entire species based on the actions of a few? Not cool.) Triton consistently refuses to hear his daughter out or listen to how she’s feeling: instead, he silences her, banishes her to her room and forces one of his employees to spy on her (the court’s musical composer, no less — a profession clearly marked by a talent for quiet subtlety).
He reaches peak shittiness later in the movie when, upon discovering Ariel is in love with a human, he flips the fuck out, barging into Ariel’s safe space and blowing up all her most treasured possessions — whozits, whatsits and all — with his magical trident. Now, look, as a father myself, I understand wanting to keep your daughter safe. But if my reaction to her doing something that had me concerned for her safety was to bust into her room, rip the heads off all her Barbies and stomp her My Little Ponies to bits, I have to imagine the only likely result would be traumatizing her for life and possibly getting her taken away by child services.
This isn’t an isolated incident, either: In the direct-to-video prequel, he does pretty much the exact same thing. The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning does, as mentioned earlier, shed some light on the events of Queen Athena’s death, thereby suggesting some sympathy for King Triton. But this sympathy quickly dissipated when his response is to ban all music in Atlantica, as it reminds him of his late wife. The story is basically Footloose with mermaids — Flipperloose, if you will — and all the hip people in Atlantica are frequenting an underground nightclub, unbeknownst to the king. When Triton inevitably finds out, he characteristically loses his shit, first raiding the nightclub with a pack of swordfish, then banishing his daughters to their rooms, imprisoning all of the club’s musicians in the dungeon of his giant penis castle, and for good measure, blowing up the entire nightclub with his magical trident.
Triton’s tirade in the original film is clearly part of a pattern of how he handles situations he disagrees with, and this makes it far more understandable for Ariel to later decide to leave the mer-world entirely: It’s the equivalent of a human woman with a shitty dad marrying a guy who lives on another continent, conveniently putting a ton of distance between them.
In Triton’s defense, I will say that he seems to grow a little as time goes on. Not only does he see the error of his ways by the end of the original film, by the time Ariel has a daughter of her own in The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, Triton seems to have mellowed out and become a nice old grandpa. Perhaps Ariel, who seems pretty chill with her dad in this installment, has even had some… what’s that word again? Oh, therapy! But there’s no doubt that she still has some emotional scars from such a violent childhood.
While Triton is the standard bearer for overt shittiness, parading his tyrannical authoritarian bullshit right out in the open, Frozen’s King Agnarr is a much more subtle monster. At first glance, Agnarr seems like a good dude: He’s handsome, soft-spoken and likes to tell his kids bedtime stories. But when you look a little deeper, all is not okay in Arendelle. When faced with one single — admittedly very dangerous — incident involving Elsa’s growing powers, he, alongside those highly dubious trolls, puts the fear of God into his little girl, making her terrified of all human interaction for the next decade and a half.
Elsa is forced to constantly repeat the mantra, “Conceal, don’t feel,” and warned that society will never be able to handle her for who she really is. It’s no wonder that Elsa has become something of a queer icon, as the story lends itself very naturally to a coming out context for those in the LGBTQ community.
In addition to his mistreatment of Elsa, King Agnarr also has the memories of Anna — his other daughter — erased! He then pretty much puts his whole family under house arrest, causing Elsa to be a self-loathing introvert and Anna to be a desperately, desperately lonely, unsocialized goofball, spending her days talking to portraits and wondering why her big sister — her former best friend — won’t talk to her anymore. All this emotional baggage that Anna is carrying leads to very serious relationship problems literally the minute the gates to the kingdom are reopened.
Now, it’s true that, in Frozen II, it’s revealed that Agnarr and his wife left Arendelle on a mission to find out more about Elsa’s powers, in order to help her control them. But since he and his wife were drowned in the process (dick move again, King Triton, Lord of the Seas!) without ever having told his daughters — who were 15 and 18 at the time — where they were going, it just leads to more questions and misery and, later, another adventure that nearly gets everyone killed. While Triton eventually mellows out in his old age, Agnarr dies before getting any kind of redemption for the shit he’s put his family through. Technically, this may actually make him a worse Disney dad than the temperamental Triton, although the latter’s raging blow-ups make that a tough call.
Either way, both dads’ mistreatment of their daughters leads to emotional trauma and, indeed, endangers their very lives, since it leads them to seek guidance elsewhere, and in the worst forms (an evil octopus woman and a power-hungry sociopath). But, I guess, that’s also why they ended up as Disney princesses, because, as Wreck-It Ralph 2 makes abundantly clear, you don’t get to be a Disney princess without a really fucked up family life.