If you are part of the camp that has watched more than one animated Disney movie in their lifetime, then chances are, you’ve at the very least wondered why so so many Disney parents get killed off?
From 2003’s Finding Nemo to 1981’s The Fox and the Hound, deceased parents have been notoriously endemic to Disney movies. But more specifically, it’s the string of Disney mothers getting killed off (think Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and Bambi) that we’d like to dive further into.
Is there more to this widespread motif than just a familiar plot line? Some conspiracy theorists might argue that the reason so many Disney characters trudge on through their stories motherless is because of Walt Disney’s own personal life.
Maleficent‘s executive director Don Hahn alluded in an interview that the tragic deaths of mother figures or in certain cases like Dumbo, their prolonged absences, might just have to do with the loss of Walt Disney’s mother.
Hahn revealed, “Walt Disney, in the early 1940s, when he was still living at this house, also bought a house for his mom and dad to move into. He had the studio guys come over and fix the furnace, but when his mom and dad moved in, the furnace leaked and his mother died. The housekeeper came in the next morning and pulled his mother and father out on the front lawn. His father was sick and went to the hospital, but his mother died. He never would talk about it, nobody ever does. He never spoke about that time because he personally felt responsible because he had become so successful that he said, ‘Let me buy you a house.’ It’s every kid’s dream to buy their parents a house.”
While Disney’s personal story is terribly tragic, it is also super telling when applied to the subsequent animated films he went on to spearhead. Both of his parents were injured, but one only fatally. If this sounds familiar, it’s because movies like Frozen, Tarzan, and Lilo & Stitch all feature two either injured or deceased parents. As far as only the father surviving, this theme is perpetuated in tons of Disney movies like Beauty and the Beast, Brother Bear, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
There’s one more part of Disney’s tragic tale that we must dissect in order to understand why absent parents are so commonplace in Disney films, his guilt.
As Hahn said, “He personally felt responsible.” Disney finally had the means to buy his parents a house and then in the end, it was the very thing that lead to his mother’s demise and his father being injured .
Films that also follow this narrative map of child-born guilt are The Lion King, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Dumbo.
There you have it! While it will likely never be proven one way or the other, it’s hard to ignore all of the parallels drawn between Disney’s own experience with his parents and the movies his name went on to make.
What’s your take on this Disney movie conspiracy theory? Do you think Walt Disney’s personal experience with his mother’s death has anything to do with the absence of mothers in his films? Let us know in the comments below!