Roles of mothers in Disney media

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The heroes and heroines of most Disney movies come from unstable family backgrounds;[1] most are either orphaned or have no mothers.[2] Few, if any, have only single-parent mothers. In other instances, mothers are presented as "bad surrogates" eventually "punished for their misdeeds."[3] There is much debate about the reasoning behind this phenomenon.[4] It is notable that the phenomenon, while present since the beginning of the Disney canon in the presence of the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, became more prevalent upon the death of Walt Disney's mother Flora in a tragic accident where she asphyxiated in the home that her son had bought her. Two of the most remembered and notable examples occurred directly after she died, these being the long imprisonment of Mrs. Jumbo in Dumbo and the dramatic death of Bambi's mother in Bambi.

Some feminists (such as Amy Richards) believe it is to create dramatic interest in the main characters; if mothers were present to guide them, they argue, there would not be much of a plot.[5] Some entertainment journalists (such as G. Shearer) believe that it is to show that a happy family does not have to consist of a mother, father and a child and that a family can be one parent and one child, or one parent and many siblings.[6] Below is a list of some notable examples of this aspect of Disney movies and television series.[7]

Categories of mothers[edit]

No (or 'absent') parents[edit]

  • Pinocchio: Pinocchio – no mother.[8] The Blue Fairy acts as a mother to Pinocchio.
  • Peter Pan: The Lost Boys – no mother,[9] so they appoint Wendy as their mother.
  • The Sword in the Stone: Arthur, or "Wart", has no parents.[10]
  • The Rescuers: Penny - no parents, but gets adopted parents by the end.
  • The Great Mouse Detective: Olivia Flaversham - no mother.
  • Oliver & Company: Jenny Foxworth - her mother is mentioned to arrive in time for her birthday, but is not shown.
  • A Goofy Movie: Goofy is a single father to his son Max. Max's mother has died and Goofy tells Max "she's up there with the stars". Her death is not explained.
  • The Little Mermaid: Ariel and her 6 sisters – no mother. In the direct-to-DVD prequel The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning, their mother appears early in the movie but gets killed by a pirate ship.
  • Beauty and the Beast: Belle – no mother, died from the plague in the 2017 release.
  • Aladdin: Jasmine – no mother;[8] a mother character was originally written for Aladdin's character, but was ultimately cut so he has no parents, although he finds his father in Aladdin and the King of Thieves.
  • Pocahontas: Pocahontas – no mother[8] (mentioned only; revealed to have been dead for years).
  • The Emperor's New Groove: Emperor Kuzco – no parents present, assumed dead (since "Emperor" is a hereditary role).
  • Lilo & Stitch: Lilo and Nani Pelekai – parents dead prior the beginning of the movie.
  • Finding Nemo: Nemo – no mother. In the beginning of the movie Nemo's mother Coral and his siblings were killed and eaten by a barracuda.
  • Brother Bear: Kenai, Koda and Denahi – no mother and father. – Koda's mother was killed by Kenai and Sitka fell to his death in the ice.
  • Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!: Chiro – no mother and father.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (film series): Elizabeth, Jack – mother referenced as dead (Elizabeth's mother is noted by her father's ghost but never seen), Will – mother mentioned having died, father is "Bootstrap" Bill Turner.
  • Ratatouille: Remy – no mother. Had a father. Linguini – mother was not shown on screen and is mentioned to have died. His father was the late master chef Auguste Gusteau.
  • Pucca: Pucca – no mother and father.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Ferb Fletcher – biological mother not mentioned. Had a father Lawrence and step-mother Linda.
  • Tron: Legacy: Sam Flynn – no mother. No father for the majority of his life as well.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Ralph – mother was mentioned.
  • Big Hero 6: Hiro Hamada – Both parents dead prior to the film. His brother Tadashi was killed from a fire at the start of the film. Adoptive mother figure "aunt" Aunt Cass.

Wicked stepmother[edit]

Mother killed, died and/or captured[edit]

  • Dumbo: Mrs. Jumbo is locked up for the majority of the movie, but is not killed.
  • Bambi: Bambi – mother killed by a hunter.
  • The Jungle Book: Mowgli – his mother Raksha, killed by Shere Khan.
  • The Fox and the Hound: Tod – mother killed by a gunshot.
  • The Little Mermaid: Ariel, Attina, Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Adella and Alana – their mother Athena, killed by pirates.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Quasimodo – mother killed by Frollo.[8]
  • Tarzan: Tarzan – mother, (and as well as father), killed by Sabor.
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire: Princess Kida – mother killed while trying to save Atlantis from its first fate. Father dies of internal bleeding in the movie.
  • Lilo & Stitch: Lilo and Nani Pelekai – parents died in a car accident some time before the events of the film.
  • Finding Nemo: Nemo – his mother Coral got killed and eaten by a barracuda which also ate Nemo's brothers and sisters.
  • Brother Bear: Koda – mother killed by Kenai.
  • Frozen: Elsa and Anna – mother (as well as father) killed in a shipwreck, leaving Elsa devastated. Kristoff – revealed to be an orphan.
  • Big Hero 6: Hiro Hamada – mother (as well as father) died when he was 3 years old and his brother Tadashi got killed in a fire.

Biological mothers[edit]

Adoptive mothers and legal guardians[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Henry A. Giroux, Fugitive Cultures: Race, Violence, and Youth (Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 1996).
  2. ^ Lynn H. Collins, Joan C. Chrisler, and Michelle R. Dunlap, Charting a New Course for Feminist Psychology (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002), 94.
  3. ^ Stephen M. Fjellman, Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America (Westview Press, 1992), 263.
  4. ^, Disney Movie Mothers – Walt Disney – My Mother The Scar.
  5. ^ Ask Amy
  6. ^ Geoff Shearer, "Disney keeps killing movie mothers: DISNEY is continuing its tradition of being G-rated entertainment's biggest mother flickers," Courier Mail (March 07, 2008).
  7. ^ Paul Loukides and Linda K. Fuller, Beyond the Stars: Themes and Ideologies in American Popular Film (Popular Press, 1993), 8.
  8. ^ a b c d Sara Munson Deats and Lagretta Tallent Lenker, Aging and Identity: A Humanities Perspective (Greenwood Publishing Group), 210.
  9. ^ Geronimi, Clyde; Jackson, Wilfred; Luske, Hamilton; Kinney, Jack (1953-02-05), Peter Pan, retrieved 2016-04-05
  10. ^ Stock, Lorraine K. (2015-01-01). "Reinventing an Iconic Arthurian Moment: The Sword in the Stone in Films and Television". Arthuriana. 25 (4): 66–83. doi:10.1353/art.2015.0047. ISSN 1934-1539.