The Top (?) 5 Love Stories in Disney Films

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By: Francesco Yepez-Coello

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I thought it may be fun to talk about love.You may be surprised to learn that the concept of love has stirred much debate among psychologists. Psychologist Robert Sternberg formulated a triangular theory of love and argued that love has three different components: intimacy, commitment, and passion. All forms of love are viewed as varying combinations of these three components, some such as ‘companionate’ love, ’empty’ love, and ‘consummate’ love.American psychologist Zick Rubin sought to define love with statistical methods, and states that exactly three factors constitute love: attachment, caring, and intimacy.

While psychology is a science and therefore could reasonably attempt to categorize love through standardized methods, I respectfully disagree with the above theories. I find the psychoanalytic definition of love most fitting, which is summed up nicely by French psychologist Jacques Lacan. That “ to give one’s love, is essentially to give as such nothing of what one has, because it is precisely in so far as one does not have it that there is a question of love.” What he means is, that to love is to give something important to your beloved before you give it to yourself.

I rather like that, but it is not a popular opinion, for the aforementioned debate between psychologists about the nature of love reflects modern society’s secular and hollow longing for this elusive force. A longing that I find more evident still in the modern american folktale: The Disney Movie. With Lacan’s theory in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best, and some of the worst, love stories in Disney films from the last twenty five years.

The Little Mermaid 1989

Credited with beginning what came to be known as “The Disney Renaissance,” this film is a classic that sculpted the mold for animated musicals. It’s got a catchy score and a female lead who breaks the mold of stereotyped expectations of women, which is a pattern in all the films I will discuss in this article. But its love story is convoluted and ultimately shallow.

Ariel, who longs to live in the human world, falls in love with the first human man she spies on, Prince Eric, presumably because he is handsome and has legs. In fact, other than this he does not have much personality, and is nearly interchangable with all the ‘prince charmings’ in the Disney movies of old. Even when she finally walks amongst humans, Ariel is mute, and so their relationship is based mostly on apperance. He did not care that Ariel had nothing to say, he was satisfied with the carnal pleasure of oogling at her looks. Is our idea of love so lacking that it must be portrayed as little more than physical attraction, which is ultimately just a selfish fulfilment of one’s desire, and not a gift one gives to our partner? F

The Beauty and the Beast 1991

This film is regared as one of the greatest love stories of all time. It won an oscar for its achievement in sound, and is applauded for its message about true beauty and superficiality. It’s a great film, but just a mess in how it portrays romance. The protagonist Belle spends five minutes singing about her passion for learning, discovery, and her yearning for adventure. You’re telling me she’s going to fall in love with a monster who locks her up and makes her his prisoner? The Beast is essentially the same as Gaston; she despised the latter for trying to imprison her within society’s standards, but The Beast imprisoned her too, in a literal sense. This love story is worse than the last one. F-

Aladdin 1992

I have a soft spot for this film, given it’s outrageously romantic musical number midway through the film, which manages to build a meaningful relationship between the two protagonists. However, Aladdin and Jasmine’s romance is not quite perfect. Sure, Jasmine falls for Aladdin because he opens her eyes to the world outside the palace, and he does not try to shelter or censor her the way all men have tried in her life; a beautiful gift to Jasmine indeed. Yet Aladdin could have fallen for any rich, beautiful, princess. There is little that indicates that Jasmine in particular was special for Aladdin, given that at first, he attempts to woo her by lying and putting on a ruse of having equal wealth and beauty. The fact that he thought Jasmine would value this above chivalry and valor proves he did not know her that well after all. C+

Hercules 1997

Hercules is one of the most under-rated animated films of all time. It was released during the decline of the Renaissance as a result of the advent of computer animation, so its love story is not credited with its true worth. Hercules struggles with feeling out of place on Earth, caught in the ambivalence of semi belonging to two opposite homes. He finds that the place where he belongs is anywhere as long as he is with Meg, who makes him feel at home. Meg on the other hand, falls in love with Herc because he does not treat her at all as shallow as all other bulked up heroes presumably have done in her past. Their romance stems from giving each other the kind of affection that was missing in their respective lives until they met. Solid B

The Princess and the Frog 2009

Skip more than a decade into the future, and our idea of love has matured nicely. In this gem of a movie, the female lead, Tiana, has worked tirelessly all her life to make her dreams of owning a restaurant come true. But avarice and circumstance tear her dream away nonetheless. Enter Prince Naveen who, though a hedonistic, lecherous fool in the beginning, learns from Tiana the value of hard work throughout their journey to become human again. As he begins to value the intangible over the material, he wishes not simply to fulfill his own desires, but to make Tiana’s dream manifested into reality. Tiana, on the other hand, attempts to bring Naveen back down to Earth out of spite originally, but ultimately teaches him about the real world out of love, for she wishes to see him thrive, knowing his good looks will only get him so far. By the end, they each thought about the other’s needs before they thought about their own. A+

Love is ostensibly a vague concept. Upon a little inspection, however, it appears love is a concrete idea: to care more about another’s well being more than one does his own. What varies is how you express love, but not the type of love itself. So this Valentine’s day, and every day really, remember to show your loved ones, in whichever way you choose, that they are important.

Sternberg, R.J. (1986). “A triangular theory of love”. Psychological Review 93 (2): 119–135. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.93.2.

Jacques Lacan, Seminar V, The Formations of the Unconscious, Seminar of 07.05.1958