October 19, 2012
Via Metafilter, where I think people are experiencing this as really sweet, because these are — presumably — fathers and the fathers are warm and fuzzy and must love their daughters. We see the man at the end singing with a little girl. That's why these men know the song, and that's why they work diligently at jobs during the day. And they really are "part of [the daughter's] world," so the longing expressed in the song has nothing to do with leaving this place, which is what the lyrics are talking about: "I wanna be where the people are... When's it my turn? Wouldn't I love, love to explore that world up above?"
That song, as presented in the movie, is a female's longing for a deeply satisfying life achieved by getting out there into the wider world. There's a very similar song in "Beauty and the Beast," another Disney movie of the same period, in which the central female character sets up her narrative arc by singing about her need to get away from all the tedious people in her "provincial town." This is an American pop culture template that applies to women. These cartoon females supposedly inspire the female dream to have it all. The Little Mermaid's song begins with the observation that she pretty much looks like "the girl who has everything." But she wants more, more, more. (Song cue.)
But men? Our culture doesn't want you saying such things anymore. There was a time when Marlon Brando and James Dean were icons, and they seemed to be all about rejection of this humdrum life in your sad little town. But they have been swallowed up into the past. In the American pop culture of today, the admirable man cannot seriously express such longings and expect love and admiration. It can only be a joke, comic dissonance with the reality of the good man's life, scrambling eggs at the kitchen table with his adorable little girl (who is, herself, permitted to internalize the female dream of getting out of this dreary, constricting place to get what she deserves — the bigger, brighter, better life).