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How Disney’s Dads Can Step It Up -- A Psychologist Explains

Happy Father's Day, Goofy!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that basically no one in a Disney movie is allowed to have both parents at the same time -- one of them (or both!) ends up dead or disappeared eventually. Add to that the overabundance of magic powers, royal ancient traditions and headstrong daughters, and Disney's dads have a LOT to deal with.

Some of them are doing a great job as it is, of course, but that doesn't mean Disney's dads can't take a few lessons from licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Janina Scarlet, who has a regular column about the psychology of inspirational women in pop culture over at The Mary Sue and is currently writing a book called "Superhero Therapy."

We asked Dr. Scarlet to run through some of the most popular Disney dads in honor of Father's Day, and here's what she thinks we can learn from them:

  • King Triton, "The Little Mermaid"
    Disney

    Triton's biggest problem? That he needs to get over his manliness and quit being such a hard-ass.

    "He's this great alpha male who's kind of a typical, traditional kind of dad, very overprotective of his daughter," Scarlet said. "I think in a lot of ways by over-shielding her exploration of trying to find out who she is and what she likes, he pushes her into it. Then again, we also see this great change when Ariel does decide to become human and follow her true love, he does accept her choice. That's a really positive depiction of a father-daughter relationship where even though he doesn't agree with it or understand it, the father makes this ultimate sacrifice to allow his little girl to be happy."

    So how would Ariel and Triton be able to repair their relationship going forward, if she weren't leaving him for legs and a new boyfriend? "If I was seeing King Triton and Ariel in family therapy, I would probably recommend to try take more interest in her hobbies -- find out what it is she likes about human objects, why she's so fascinated by them. Maybe even find a way to explore new things together, which would bring them together rather than pulling them apart."

  • The Sultan of Abgrabah, "Aladdin"
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    "He obviously really wants the best for Jasmine and initially wants her to marry a prince," Scarlet said. "But at the same time, once he sees how happy she is with Aladdin, he quickly accepts him. I think that says a lot about his love for her. On numerous occasion he makes sacrifices for her happiness. In the Disney TV series, there were even times when he risked his life to make sure she was safe, and she did the same for him. I think that illustrates a beautiful element of father-daughter love."

    "If anything, I would encourage Jasmine to be a little more open with her dad," she added. "I think she sees him as someone kind of fragile and a little bit older, and I would encourage her to give him the benefit of the doubt. I think he could handle it."

  • Goofy, "A Goofy Movie"
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    Goofy's a bit of an outlier on this list because he's not the father to a princess -- at least, not unless that's secretly on Max's list of goals. But Goofy wouldn't know, which is kind of the problem.

    "Goofy tries so hard to spend time with Max, and I think he doesn't fully get what Max is trying to do, what Max wants. I think he's a wonderful dad," said Scarlet. "If I had the two of them in the room I would maybe encourage them to try to spend more time together and find out what the other one really wants to do. I think Goofy kind of assumes that Max will like the same things he liked as a child, and Max is grown up. At the same time, Max doesn't give his dad the same kind of attention -- now he is growing up, he has other . So they should talk about what their interests are now and share some common activities to share together."

    Maaaybe a fishing trip to Lake Destiny, Idaho, perhaps?

  • The King of Arendelle, "Frozen"
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    "The father's role is, in my opinion, ultimately what drove Elsa to become who she is. His lack of acceptance of her powers kind of made her ashamed of who she is," Scarlet said. "He meant well and meant to protect her and Anna, but by telling her to 'conceal, not feel,' and he made her ashamed of who she was. I think we can almost draw parallels between that and someone's sexuality or other piece of identity, where the person might feel that their family is not going to accept them, and as a result they might become embarrassed of who they are and try to hide it. In the end, it doesn't usually work out that well."

    Of course, the king died before he could reconcile with Elsa, but if he hadn't? "I would advise for both parents to practice acceptance with her and work with her towards exploring her powers, practicing more compassion and understanding. I think that's what she really needed, instead of being made to feel like she's some kind of a monster or freak. What she really needed was that ultimate love and acceptance."

  • The King of Corona, "Tangled"
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    Rapunzel grew up without a father for most of her life -- and so did Sleeping Beauty before her, and Hercules. Later all of these heroes got the chance to reconnect with their biological fathers, but what's the best way to go about fostering that kind of relationship?

    "I would imagine it would be good for them to start slow, maybe start with finding out about their daughter's passion and hobbies, just trying to partake in that and taking an open curious interest in their child's life," Scarlet said. Well, that shouldn't be hard to do with Rapunzel -- she has a LOT of hobbies.

  • Fa Zhou, "Mulan"
    Disney

    "I really like that relationship they have because it's kind of a nontraditional one," Scarlet said. "He's still trying to protect her, but at the same time, he's kind of frail and he's gone through some physical challenges. It's something that we do see in adult daughters trying to support their aging fathers. Here, Mulan comes to her father's rescue, and it's stereotypically the other way around."

    "Something that her father can do to to support her is give her more of the benefit of the doubt. It makes sense that he would be worried about her, but I think what she really needed was encouragement and knowing that she's doing a good job and being a good daughter. One of the things I like to do when I work with families is to encourage practicing gratitude. Perhaps every day, each member of the family can tell one another what they're grateful for, in terms of what that other person has done for them."

  • Disney

    "Maurice is my favorite dad. I love his relationship with Belle. He's unique, he's a scientist, and he's kind of adorably strange. He's someone that a lot of people don't fully understand, and encourages Belle too read -- he's the reason Belle becomes a reader and is someone who explores what she likes rather than just being all about the traditional male-female relationship, which is why she rejects Gaston. They have this beautiful relationship where they both sacrifice for one another and accept one another with a complete lack of judgement and lots and lots of support and compassion."

    In fact, Scarlet loves Maurice and Belle so much that she doesn't see any way their family needs work. "I think it's perfect. Keep doing what you're doing!"