Fairy tales are adapted to fit the needs of each generation, reflecting the unique challenges of that society. In the 1980s and 1990s of the United States, issues of what constituted a family circulated as divorce increased and fatherhood was debated. At this time, Disney released two animated films featuring a father and daughter: The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Both films are adaptations of fairy tales, and they incorporate changes that specifically reflect concerns of the United States in the late-twentieth century. In the original narrative of "The Little Mermaid" the heroine is primarily raised by her grandmother and wants an immortal soul more than the love of the prince. The tale ends with her death and expectation that after 300 years of service, she can obtain an immortal soul. Disney changes the story, however, by removing the grandmother and placing Triton at the head of the family. His overbearing nature pushes Ariel away as she struggles to gain her independence and win Eric's love. Before the story concludes, Triton, Ariel, and Eric work together to defeat the sea witch and achieve the film's happy ending--the creation of a traditional family. The fairy tale of "Beauty and the Beast" begins with a father who is educated, respected, and wealthy before hardship strikes. Beauty's request for a rose is what starts the adventure as she must learn to love the Beast to save him from an enchanted curse. Disney's alterations to the narrative make Maurice an ineffectual father whose inadequacies bring Belle to the Beast's castle, and the modified curse on the Beast makes both him and Belle need to fall in love, founding their relationship on equality. The tale concludes with the jubilant hope that the couple will form a family together. Both animated features proved popular with the public, suggesting that the films' resolutions are considered desirable endings. The films can then be interpreted as expressing the hope that from the single-parent homes of the late-twentieth century, a new generation of stronger nuclear families can arise if these homes base their relationships on unified efforts and equal partnerships.



College and Department

Humanities; Humanities, Classics, and Comparative Literature



Date Submitted


Document Type





Disney, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, father, daughter, single-parent family, divorce, fairy tale, late-twentieth century, United States