Given that Disney ruthlessly ruined millions of childhoods (mine included) with their callous treatment of Mufasa, it’s a bit rich of them to suddenly be lecturing us about fathers on film.
But they might be on to something – apparently, the market is bored of the classic dad tropes: bumbling idiots who can’t look after themselves, let alone the absent workaholics who ignore their offspring.
It’s no longer hilarious when a hapless man can’t make dinner for his kids because he’s literally never opened the fridge in his own kitchen. We aren’t amused by good-for-nothing dads falling asleep on the sofa, mouths open, beer can dropping to the floor while their families fall apart around them. And we don’t feel moved by the redemption story of an absent father who finally realises he needs to spend more time with his children… frankly, he should have known that from the start.
According to some new research by Disney, modern parenting is moving away from stereotypes – and representations of parents on-screen need to follow suit. Dads today are motivated by four key factors: they aspire to bond with, protect, equip and entertain their children.
A spokesperson for Disney pointed out that fathers have always been important to the stories they tell even when the dad isn’t doing such a great job (ahem, Darth Vader), but from now on they want to consider modern dads more carefully when they’re making and marketing films.
Because their survey – which spoke to 160 fathers in the UK, Germany, Sweden and Spain – also showed that kids are more likely to be introduced to certain films (like the original Star Wars trilogy, for instance) by their dads. The research suggested that relationships between mothers and children are often centred around the offspring’s tastes, but dads are more likely to establish family bonds based on sharing things they are already passionate about.
So, that’s why they play their favourite record over and over when we’re young and impressionable until we know all the words without even realising (a blessing if your dad is a Bowie fan; less so if he’s into Simply Red). They’re just trying to bond with us.
Parenting doesn’t look like it used to and there are more ways than ever to have and raise children – films should reflect that
It’s a point of contention with some friends that I give the impression of being cineliterate when I have some conspicuous and shameful viewing gaps. I haven’t seen Back To The Future all the way through and only saw Jurassic Park aged 27 (and only because I had to, for a work thing).
Instead, I grew up absorbing my dad’s taste in film. I distinctly remember the conversation over whether I was old enough to watch One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and how excited he was for me to watch Paris, Texas – his favourite film, and now one of mine. I remember coming home from uni to spend an evening mixing us giant martinis and watching Let The Right One In. Or staying up together after my mum had gone to bed because she thought watching Blue Velvet as a family might be “a bit weird”.
Disney has realised that when brands only target mothers and lazily peddle the stale-dad stereotypes, they’re missing out on the Papa Pound. The more diverse types of dad we see in pop culture, the more dads will connect with their on-screen counterparts. They are not all the irresponsible big kid in Knocked Up or the overbearing patriarch in Road To Perdition.
Like the demand for female characters to be more flawed and more complex, there is a lot more narrative potential in a father character that veers away from stereotypes. And I’m thinking less Daddy’s Home 2 (or indeed any film with the word “daddy” in the title), and more Viggo Mortensen’s off-grid socialist in Captain Fantastic or 2015’s cripplingly awkward Force Majeure when a dad makes a questionable split-second decision that puts himself before his family in the face of an avalanche.
Parenting doesn’t look like it used to and there are more ways than ever to have and raise children – films should reflect that.
So, who would be the perfect pop culture dad? I’m going with the moral compass of Coach Taylor in Friday Night Lights, the eyebrows of The O.C.’s Sandy Cohen, the vulnerability of Hal from Malcolm In The Middle, the co-ordinating signature look of Chas (and Ari and Uzi) Tenenbaum, the grumpiness of Fresh Prince’s Uncle Phil, the gravitas of Ned Stark and the armchair of Martin Crane.