Prince (Mostly) Charming

Life’s Not Perfect, But We Can Always Enjoy Our Disney Dreams

Lately, I’ve noticed that my 17-year-old brother, James, has been popping the classic movies he loved as a boy into our VCR (yes, we still have one) to rediscover “the magic of Disney.” I caught him watching “Jungle Book” just the other night. And yesterday, he was watching “The Parent Trap” — the old version with Hayley Mills playing both of the saucy twins and Maureen O’Hara as the fiery-haired and fiery-tempered but affectionate mother.

I’m not sure what it is about old Disney movies that captures our imaginations, but I suppose it has something to do with the wholesomeness, the humor and the simplicity we find in them. Who doesn’t love a movie about something cute and furry, or beautiful and innocent? Who can resist the charms of “Bambi” or “The Fox and the Hound” or “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”?

This is not to say, of course, that the movies are flawless. Soon after joining the scores of college students and young people (and now older folks too) on Facebook, I became a member of the group “Disney Gave Me Unrealistic Expectations About Love.” At first glance, it’s humorous in a slightly self-deprecating way. But there’s definitely a grain — or maybe even a large spoonful — of truth hidden in that statement.

When you grow up watching movies about lovely princesses who, the first time they meet a handsome prince, are instantly swept off their feet and end up living happily ever after with him, you start to think that’s what will happen to you too.

Especially when you’re watching at the tender age of 6 or 7, the stage of life when you think movies must reflect reality. (I remember a young cousin of mine who was that age or a little younger jumping off the top of a swing set yelling, “I can fly!” Sadly, the lack of requisite fairy dust meant the laws of gravity kicked in rather painfully.)

In Disney movies, they always talked about dreams coming true. After one too many fairytale films, you started to think maybe Disney was right — maybe if you just wished it hard enough, your dream would come true.

Finding out later that Dr. Phil says you should look for “Mr. 80 Percent” — someone who embodies 80 percent of the traits you want in a future spouse — can be a rude reality check. “Disney must not have talked to Dr. Phil when they were making their movies,” you think ruefully to yourself. “I don’t remember Snow White ever complaining that her Prince Charming didn’t meet 20 percent of her expectations!”

Or perhaps “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” simply brings you quickly to the end, when the Prince kisses Snow White, marries her and carries her off to his castle, so you don’t find out about actual married life, when the Prince becomes preoccupied with the duties of ruling a kingdom and Snow White gets dark circles under her eyes from staying up late with her crying babies.

But those flaws aside, there’s a reason why Disney World and Disney movies are ever-popular sources of entertainment. I think it stems from a certain longing we have for order, harmony, beauty and a story that will work out flawlessly. The power of storytelling is its ability to carry us to another place, to help us forget about the here and now, and to watch a drama that unfolds and goes through tension and release. It gives us hope that perhaps things can resolve, that the tension can vanish, that the loose ends can be neatly tied up. Even if it’s not happening here and now, maybe it’s happening somewhere, somehow.

And beyond that, if you’re like me, you always liked that scene in “The Parent Trap” when Vicky gets her comeuppance. I always wanted to try making a string booby trap to surprise an unwary sibling. It’s a good thing string is cheap … because that’s one dream that just might come true.

 

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