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November 28, 2005



The absence of Disney's mothers is because he lost his mother in a tragic event and he thought it was his fault so he took out his guilt on the movies.

James Thurber

Wow, do you folks really believe this is some sort of conspiracy against motherhood.

If so, what do you think that modern commercials and most modern TV shows say about fatherhood.

Dad is usually a bumbling idiot who needs a woman to do anything, this of course is when he is even shown. Whenever there is a battle of the sexes, MOM wins and kids like at Dad like he is some sort of moron.


Disney didn't actually create the stories of Cinderella, snow White, etc. They are actually old fables passed down through the years, long before Disney was even born. Many women from that time period died during child birth. That is more likely the reason there are so many absent mothers in these original stories.


In the realm of Disney Princesses, Cinderella and Snow White are motherless, but have (Wicked) step-mothers. Belle, Jasmine and Pocohantas are simply motherless. Mulan and Sleeping Beauty both have mothers, but neither figures prominently beyond expressing a desire for her daughter to sublimate her self in the name of a good match. Interstingly, none of the variations on Prince Charming have a mother in evidence, although both Sleeping Beauty's and Cinderella's future fathers-in-law play a role in the story.

Dumbo's mother is not dead, but is unable to care for him for much of his life. Bambi's mother raises her son through his early childhood, but is brutally killed, thereby kickstarting his maturation process. Nemo's mother is killed before his birth, leaving his father to muddle through as best he can. And in the case of Chicken Little, we are given to understand that at some point in the not too distance past his mother has died, leaving a bereft and disconnected father to raise the hero.

Oliver is an orphan, as is Penny from The Rescuers. So is Quasimodo, although he is given a villanous father figure. Olivia Haversham from Great Mouse Detective is searching for her kidnapped father, her mother having died long before our story begins.

Simba inverts the process by having the death of his father spur his maturation. But unlike our absent motherfigures, Mufasa remains an active and participating presence even after death.


I remember going to see Bambi as a third grader and bumping into a friend at the theater. We sat together, and I, naturally, sobbed for twenty minutes after the gun shot, while the friend gave me confused sideways glances.

I hated that movie and never got it for my kids. Let's boycott motherless movies. (I believe the princess Jasmine is also motherless)


I HATED having to answer Daphne ten million times, "The barracuda ate her, honey."

Robin P

Lillianna always cries,"Why did the mother have to die?" I have never had an answer that seemed comforting.

Along time ago I heard this discussion on a talk show and the person who was explaining the reasoning behind this said that the death of a parent makes the child stronger and that makes the drama unfold. I almost threw something at the t.v.
I was livid!!! Why can't kids just be happy kids with BOTH parents? Death is so final. I hate Disney movies that kill off a parent. I really do!!!!!!

Jason Martin

I think you're right about the absence of mothers in Disney films as a statement of the importance of mothers, but I think it may be a subtle jab at the ineptitude and/or superfluousness of fathers. It seems that fathers are either absent without a hint of inquiry about his whereabouts or he's a distant authority figure and/or a bumbling ninny. Even in "Finding Nemo", the father is a wreck and needs the motherly Dory to help him think straight enough to find Nemo. I haven't seen "Chicken Little", but when I do see it, I'll be interested to see how the fathers are portrayed, if they are even mentioned at all.

I'm a father of 2 (34-month-old boy and 7.5-month-old girl), and I'm also a family therapist and fatherhood researcher. This article in the American Journal of Family Therapy offers some interesting analysis of families in Disney films.

An Ordinary Joe

I never actually thought of it as a conspiracy against mothers, quite the contrary, I have often looked at the theme of many of these as a slight against the father (Chicken Little, which I could not stand, is truly a representative of this).

Without the mother figure, the family is immediately disadvantaged. You immediately feel sorry for the "child" figure, because the dad is almost always a complete dolt (see Chicken Little) when it comes to parenting and solving situations. Apparently in the minds of these creators, the father is rarely (Nemo), a force in keeping the family together, he (almost) always asks a picture of the wife for help and guidance, or a spiritual rememberance of the mother guides the way, or reminds the characters of some wisdom they had forgotten since her departure.

Now, getting off of my pulpit for a momment, I do not believe that as others have suggested that the use of the "mother loss" as a tool to convey the disadvantage of the characters is "lazy writing." It almost universally conveys a heartfelt loss that other themes do not convey. (In story telling terms), the loss of a father is sad, but surmountable, because ineveitably the woman is EXPECTED to be able to overcome. The father however, is usually not. He is not "equipped" to handle family, and issues. He is simply the breadwinner, and unable to think for himself.

Of course, I could be wrong.

sarah gilbert

it's really crazy - I was in the midst of composing a post on Blogging Baby about this very thing (the top six Disney movies where mom gets killed off...) when Melissa emailed me the link. obviously, I couldn't agree more!

and I was realizing that many old fairy tales, many of which Disney's made into blockbusters, also echo the dead mom theme - Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast - no mama. I think it's the ultimate fear for a child, and for his mother.


I've wondered about that myself, and I think that the loss of a mother confers instant pluckiness: the hero is already at a disadvantage relative to his peers. Lazy storytelling, essentially.

But what about George Lucas? The Star Wars saga is essentially only one story, but nearly ALL of the characters are motherless. The only one who has a mother he remembers is Darth Vader. What's up with that?


I thought I read somewhere that the mom thang was because of Walt Disney's either loss of his mother or mother issues. I'm curious to look that up again because I brought up this same issue a few years ago...


I sometimes wonder the same about Disney movies, but then I remember... I was raised on them, the classics, and I have never thought less than great things about my own mother. I think that kids are able to take the importance of the female figure from their own lives and not necessarily the unimportance from the movies.


Hmmmmmm intersting thought. I never looked at it that way. LOL. Good write and great food for thought.


Jack Zipes and Bruno Bettleheim are two great resources for what you're looking for, Sarah.


at nine that is, not none


I don't know, having lost my father at none, if the loss of a mother goes a little deeper...It would perhaps be a different type of loss altogether...?

As for Disney, this mother-thing is one reason I really don't like Disney movies. But, it is interesting to see that in the originals of some of the fairy tales there is the same tension of absentee or negligent mothers or parents so obviously Walt didn't create the problem only highlighted or emphasized it. Is there a folklorist out there who can shed light on all the parent issues in myths and fairy tales or an anthropologist or psychologist who can discuss the cultural and familial assumptions and issues found in Disney and the foundational stories? I think that perspective would be most interesting especially since I tend to just say "feh" to Disney...


Interesting thought. I believe that most children, as a whole, are closer to their mothers than their fathers. Not all, mind you. There are some fabulous dads out there. But in our household, I'm the one who comforts and kisses boo-boos, while my husband rough houses with the kids and plays with them.

I think it's safe to say that the loss of any parent would hurt a kid deeply, but I think the loss of a mother goes a little deeper.

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