Fairy godmothers. Glowing hair. Handsome princes. Magical powers. Oh, and gory horrific death.
Welcome to pretty much every Disney film ever made.
Have you ever noticed that Disney has a strange obsession with killing off the main characters’ parents? Sure, not every single one of Disney’s movies start with a gory death scene, but many do. In fact, 56 out of 104 total animated feature films distributed by Disney since 1937 have a main character with a dead, missing or single parent.
Although it seems like a bit of a terrible way to start a movie that’s meant to be happy, the idea of having the main character face a terrible loss makes sense. It gives the character a sense of humility. It gives the audience a reason to root for them. And it teaches children about grief, strength, acceptance and resilience.
Disney’s parents have died in a number of horrific accidents. Shall we count the ways? I think so!
Death by gunshot
Poor Bambi’s mum. She never saw that hunter coming. This is also the case for The Fox and the Hound with young Todd’s mother carking it via gunshot too.
Death by massive evil fish
And what about Nemo’s mum? She was eaten by a monster barracuda. No biggie.
Death by leopard
Clearly the ocean isn’t safe. And neither is the jungle. After Tarzan’s ship crashed on the shore, Tarzan’s parents were attacked and dragged off by a leopard.
Death by tiger
Although technically not his real mum, Mowgli’s mother Raksha is killed by Shere Khan the tiger in The Jungle Book.
So what have we learned so far? Stay away from the forest, the ocean and the jungle.
Death by violent murder
In the Hunchback of Notre Dame, kids learn another lesson about death as Quasimodo’s mother is kicked down a flight of stairs by Judge Frollo. Nope. Nothing scarring about that.
Death by disease
In Cinderella, Cinderella’s mum dies of a mysterious illness when she is very young. Then her father dies while away for work.
Snow White’s mother also dies when she is very young.
Death by fire
In Big Hero 6 we discover Hiro and Tadashi’s parents both died when Hiro was three. But then Tadashi, who raises young Hiro, also meets a tragic end, burning in a massive building fire. Talk about heartbreak!
Death by car accident
Although we never meet Lilo and Nani’s parents in Lilo and Stitch, we do know that they both died in a car accident, leaving Nani to raise her little sister.
Death by corrupt family member
Then there’s the heartbreaking death scene in The Lion King where Scar kills Mufasa, leaving young Simba to find his dad. Sniff sniff.
Death by shipwreck
Elsa and Anna’s parents are also killed off early in the Frozen film, supposedly drowning during a bad storm at sea. Of course, there’s always the chance they actually made it to shore, gave birth to a little boy and then were eaten by a violent leopard. See Tarzan, above.
Death by war
In The Princess and the Frog we learn that Tiana’s father, James, was killed in World War I.
Single and blended families
Plenty of parents in Disney film are simply not mentioned. Andy’s mum in Toy Story is a single mum as is Mrs Potts in Beauty and the Beast.
Single dads include Jasmine’s dad in Aladdin, Chief Pocahontas in Pocahontas, Django in Ratatouille and Maurice in Beauty and the Beast.
There are also plenty of blended and adoptive families moulded into Disney films. While many of the human step mums and adoptive mums turn out ridiculously evil (I’m looking at you Mother Gothel, Lady Tremaine, Queen Grimhilde and Queen Narissa), this isn’t always the case. Just look at Perdita in 101 Dalmations, Kala in Tarzan and Mena in Bambi.
Animal mums are nice. Human mums, not so much.
So, what have we learned today, kids? Bad things happen to parents. But our pixilated heroes keep strong and go on to do great things. Perhaps killing off the parents seems a bit cruel, but it’s also necessary to help children understand this important lesson.
Want some Disney that’s not so dark and twisted? These real-life Disney baby princesses are just the ticket. We’ll take all six!