I really think he loses it, here... Raging at a person is not explaining to a person your personal view.
Triton is one of those dads in Disney that absolutely makes me squirm. I don’t love him, and I don’t hate him. But I do find him extremely unnerving, and on the same plane of Mother Gothel upsetting. He clearly alternates between being “nice” only sometimes, and then being really “explosively nasty” at other periods. King Triton’s rule is a patriarchy. I think his abusive tendencies, though, stem from insecurities he has within himself. Triton is afraid of the unknown. He's also afraid of not appearing “manly” enough. ( Bizarrely, this also makes me think of Prince Adam and Gaston, who are also both afraid of not “looking like men” in front of women). Anyway, Triton shares the trait of “trying to look manly” with his adviser, Sebastian, since both males tend to view females as lesser individuals, and needing “constant supervision.” Triton seems to believe that in order to be a successful ruler and father “he must maintain control of the situation” at all times.
This is something that has always bothered me about him. In fact, the very first time we are introduced to Triton in the original movie, he is wracked with anxiety about the sea concert celebration. To Triton, the celebration, and specifically Ariel singing at it matters,
because it “keeps up appearances.” Having Ariel and the rest of her sisters sing at concerts reflects well on Triton. Why? Being a man who has the daughters with “the best voices in the ocean” gives Triton a heck of a lot of high social status. Triton definitely worries about his social status. It's part of his own emotional vulnerability. That’s why he is so infuriated when Ariel misses the concert. He is thinking of his vulnerability and embarrassment, and about social mores. The social mores of Atlantica and the ocean deem mermaid princesses ( the crowning females of the ocean) to have no innate power or choices, as they belong as fixtures in the palace, a kind of “beautiful treasure collection.” Ariel upsets Triton’s expectations by making “choices” that, according to Triton’s laws, she should not be allowed to make. By being an explorer and venturing to the surface (an area where “Triton’s rule ends” because he must share this area with humans), Ariel demonstrates that she has free will. Triton does not believe Ariel “needs free will.” The very first father-daughter interaction in this movie causes me to believe this.
(Fade to the palace throne room where Ariel is being admonished.)
Triton: I just don't know what we're going to do with you, young lady.
Ariel: Daddy, I'm sorry, I just forgot, I -
Triton: As a result of your careless behavior -
Sebastian: Careless and reckless behavior!
Triton: - the entire celebration was, er -
Sebastian: Well, it was ruined! That's all. Completely destroyed! This
concert was to be the pinnacle of my distinguished career. Now thanks to
you I am the laughing stock of the entire kingdom!
Flounder: But it wasn't her fault! Ah - well - first, ahh, this shark chased us - yeah - yeah! And we tried to - but we couldn't - and - grrrrrrrrr - and - and we - whoooaaaaaa - oh, and then we were safe. But then this seagull came, and it was this is this, and that is that, and -
Triton: Seagull? What? Oh - you went up to the surface again, didn't you?
Ariel: Nothing - happened. . . .
Triton: Oh, Ariel, How many times must we go through this? You could've been seen by one of those barbarians - by - by one of those humans!
Ariel: Daddy, they're not barbarians!
Triton: They're dangerous. Do you think I want to see my youngest daughter snared by some fish-eater's hook?
Ariel: I'm sixteen years old - I'm not a child anymore -
Triton: Don't you take that tone of voice with me young lady. As long as you live under my ocean, you'll obey my rules!
Ariel: But if you would just listen -
Triton: Not another word - and I am never, NEVER to hear of you going to the surface again. Is that clear? (Ariel leaves, crying.)
Sebastian: Hm! Teenagers. . . . They think they know everything. You give them an inch, they swim all over you.
Triton: Do you, er, think I - I was too hard on her?
Sebastian: Definitely not. Why, if Ariel was my daughter, I'd show her who was boss. None of this "flitting to the surface" and other such nonsense. No,
sir - I'd keep her under tight control.
Triton: You're absolutely right, Sebastian.
Sebastian: Of course.
Triton: Ariel needs constant supervision.
Triton: Someone to watch over her - to keep her out of trouble.
Sebastian: All the time -
Triton: And YOU are just the crab to do it.
Again, we see the emphasis from Triton and Sebastian on "showing who is boss" and keeping “Ariel under strict supervision.” We, the audience, thus surmise that Ariel is a social pariah for having her disparate views. We know nothing about Ariel’s mother in the first movie. Not a trace. But something must have clearly happened to his wife, because Triton is running scared
. He’s scared of humans. So scared is he of them, that he has forbidden any chance of ever encountering one: that’s what being forbidden to visit the surface means. Triton has no control up there, and that’s what scares him and worries him. Triton wants to protect his populace as his top priority, so he has lowered his portcullis-- meant to keep the humans out as well as confine the merpeople within. His laws/rules really make up a kind of voluntary sequestration, if you will.
Ariel hides from her father’s explosive anger. After the argument with Triton, where she is forbidden to even explain her side of the story—that’s what “Not another word!” means—Ariel tries to hide. Victims of domestic violence often withdraw and try to avoid their abusers. They tiptoe around them. They know the “triggers” that set off the “lambaste” and the “raging.” Ariel even admits in her grotto, that she knows that her father has a different view than she does.
Ariel: If only I could make him understand. I just don't see things the way he does. I don't see how a world that makes such wonderful things - could be
Now, here is the part I really don’t get. Why doesn’t Triton explain
to his daughter why she cannot venture to the surface? (Heck, even Mother Gothel shares/ scares Rapunzel into compliance, with her song about the world outside the tower, lol). But honestly, any good parent should want to champion their child’s burgeoning self-awareness and independence—and what better way to do that than by offering “some explanation or reasoning” for why you believe humans are “X, Y, and Z.” Then your child can at least acknowledge where you sit on the topic. Your child won’t have "to guess" why you believe something to be true, and your child can believe your efforts to “protect them” matter because they can see the logic and the reasoning behind it.
Does King Triton explain to Ariel why he set up these laws? No. He does not. And this is what leads them to verbally spar with each other when in the same room.
I’m skipping ahead now, to the section of the movie after Ariel saves a human’s life, Eric’s. Ariel is thrilled to have met a human for the first time. Of course, said human was 1) self-effacing, 2) saved his father figure, 3) saved his dog, and 4) did not threaten to kill a merperson.
Yes, throw in the “hot looking” factor, and if you are a pubescent girl or boy, you know that hormones make thinking quite a bit harder in adolescence. However, falling for someone is real… even if in Disney they so definitely
rush up “the how you get from friendship to romance” in 96-102 minutes.
Anyway, Ariel is on cloud nine. She’s high on dopamine from falling for Eric. Her sisters are the first to notice this, and tell Triton that “Ariel is in love.” Triton is taken aback at this for a while. Then he feels kind of happy and smiley about this event, too. He is all smiles, because, again, according to the social mores of the Altantican and ocean population…an impending marriage is great news if you are the father of the bride. Your social status goes up if your daughter marries.
Triton never suspects that Ariel has fallen for a human. And why should he? He believes that he has “made his thoughts known” and “the subject is closed.” But since Triton did not explain his reasoning for why he is so scared of humans…the subject is not as “closed” as he assumes that it is. This is the interval where Triton is closest to being “the nice, caring” father to Ariel. He does not show any opposition to his daughter finding someone and falling in love.
Just as I was getting all of these warm and fuzzy feelings for Triton…then comes the section of the movie where Triton needs to know who Ariel’s paramour is. Sebastian is summoned, and divulges who Ariel loves. And Triton does a 180-degree-characterization-shift. All of his “happiness” for his daughter dissolves into rage. In a fury he visits Ariel’s grotto, where he delivers yet another reprimand. In the admonishment, he—yet again—“talks around” why he is so scared of humans.
Triton: I consider myself a reasonable merman. I set certain rules, and I expect those rules to be obeyed.
Ariel: But Daddy!-
Triton: Is it true you rescued a human from drowning?
Ariel: Daddy, I had to-
Triton: Contact between the human world and the mer-world is strictly forbidden. Ariel, you know that! Everyone knows that!
Ariel: He would have died-
Triton: One less human to worry about!
Ariel: You don't even know him.
Triton: Know him? I don't have to know him. They're all the same. Spineless, savage, harpooning, fish-eaters, incapable of any feeling-
Ariel: Daddy, I love him!
Triton: No . . . Have you lost your senses completely? He's a human, you're a mermaid!
Ariel: I don't care.
Triton: So help me Ariel, I am going to get through to you. And if this is the only way, so be it. (Begins to blast the artifacts with his trident.)
Ariel: Daddy!. . . No . . . No, please- Daddy, stop!. . . Daddy, Nooo!!. . .
(He blasts the statue. Ariel begins crying and he leaves, ashamed.)
When Ariel mentions that Eric would have died, Triton says coldly, “One less human to worry about!” Okay. That was completely unnecessary. Humans have just as much a right to live as the merpeople do. And claiming that you don’t have to know the human in question to “pass judgement” on him is rather prejudicial. You just speak out of a lack of knowledge, Triton.
Furthermore, what happened to your wife, Triton? Why don’t you address that, instead of calling all humans “Spineless, savage, harpooning, fish-eaters.” That would actually help me believe
your criticism towards humans is well-founded.
But, Triton is ASSUMING that all humans are “incapable of any feeling.” Really? He doesn’t know that for a fact, because he is a recluse. Triton has not gone and spied on multiple humans for an extended period of time to see how their emotions play out. (Triton, you don’t get out much, so you can’t realistically back up that argument, can you?) In fact, Triton proceeds to tell his daughter to her face that she:
1) Does not have the freedom to make any choices for herself.
2) Has lost her mind.
Triton implies that his own daughter is insane! Ouch.
I have forever wondered at what Triton does next, though. It’s not enough to belittle his daughter’s arguments. Triton proceeds to DESTROY all of the things that his daughter loves. I don’t feel warm and fuzzy toward Triton after this incident. I don’t feel “under King Triton’s protection” at that moment. What I feel is that Ariel has just been severely bullied. And Triton is like most domestic violence abusers. He waffles back and forth being “nice” occasionally, and then “flies into a rage” when he is upset. Then he looks embarrassed about it afterward.
Having taken a domestic violence class in my own life, I can identify that the victims of domestic violence so often have to walk around on eggshells, desperately trying to keep the fragile peace alive. Victims usually “worry” about upsetting the abuser. Why do you think Ariel hid her grotto and never told her dad about its location? Of course, she did. Ariel knew it would upset him and make him “enraged.” Ariel knew her dad would never listen to her, and was trying to have a “small area of reprieve” from the abuse. Ariel knew that hiding her collection would not last, though.
After the destruction of all of her items, Ariel goes off and makes a deal with the manipulative sea witch. This is the deal, that everyone blames Ariel for making, because it jeopardizes Atlantica. But I consider Atlantica as being already jeopardized,
from the very moment the family dynamic between father and daughter deteriorated into domestic violence. I actually blame Triton for emotionally bullying Ariel until she dissolved into tears and sought Ursula’s help. If Triton had been able to listen to his daughter and had been willing compromise with her, Ariel would definitely have gone to him first about her “wish” to be a human.
There are consistent arguments that vilify Ariel, and claim that she made all the wrong choices in the movie. But the movie itself actually shows that Triton was the major “force” that drove Ariel to Ursula's lair. If the truth at the very heart of this movie is to be told…both daughter and father share an equal amount of the blame,
since they both created the mess that almost swamped Atlantica.
To wrap up, one of my favorite parts of this movie is the moment when both Sebastian and King Triton acknowledge that they were WRONG to “prevent Ariel from having free will” and to prevent Ariel “from growing up.” Everybody makes mistakes in this movie. Ariel made the mistake of taking Ursula's deal. Triton made the mistake of breaking his daughter's spirit. I believe that King Triton’s kindest act was to accept that all humans weren’t completely awful. His second kindest act was to give his daughter her legs.
(Fade to morning with Eric on beach and Ariel watching from a distance.
Triton and Sebastion look on.)
Triton: She really does love him, doesn't she, Sebastian?
Sebastian: Well, it's like I always say, Your Majesty. Children got to be free to lead their own lives.
Triton: You - always say that? (sighs) Then I guess there's just one problem left.
Sebastian: And what's that, Your Majesty?
Triton: How much I'm going to miss her.
At some point, children cease to be “children.” They need to make their own mistakes, and they need to have the freedom to lead their own lives. Yes, I do feel that Triton was overreaching, and not the best father, because he did abuse his daughter at the beginning and at the middle of the movie. However, I do consider King Triton “redeemed” at the end, because “he began communicating with his daughter” and “began seeking to understand her view to which he was formerly so opposed.” The ability to listen is so important. That is a large part of why I tear up at the end of this film.
For a slightly different view than mine, on why someone would find King Triton abusive… here is another article. link
I know this is a touchy subject, so many thanks for reading.
One of King Triton's redeeming acts.