Update on Disney’s Missing Mom Theory

The Myth of the Missing Mom – Disney’s (and Pixar’s) Canon (1937-2017)

The biggest thing that I have noticed about this myth in the past three years is how much Disney is not following it in its recent films. It definitely seems that they are making an effort to ensure that mothers are only portrayed as lost if the main character is an orphan. Remakes of Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast still feature the lost mothers that their predecessors (and source material) did, while newcomer Big Hero 6 also features an orphaned main character. Three of these films feature a lost father as well, while newcomer The Good Dinosaur features a lost father with the main character’s mother still surviving. So as far as new films go, we’re tied at four apiece for lost parents.

Meanwhile, four of Disney/Pixar’s newest films feature protagonists with both living parents, seemingly bucking a trend. In total, only 15.5 Disney/Pixar films portray both living parents, whether or not said parents had any real bearing on the story.

But it has been said that Walt Disney had issues with his mother.  It has been said that writers could not adequately animate adult women.  It has been said that fairy tales are inherently misogynistic.  It has been said that if mothers were present in Disney movies, the heroes would not get much beyond the front door and never go on their adventure.

Regardless of the reason, it is still almost universally acknowledged that in nearly all of the films in the Disney/Pixar animated canon, the hero’s mother is missing.

However, time and again, only a few movies were cited: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Cinderella (1950), Bambi (1942), The Little Mermaid (1989), and Beauty and the Beast (1991).  That’s only five of the more than fifty movies considered part of the Disney canon.  Why only the above five?

Back in 2014, I decided to test the theory of the missing mom on the entire list of the Disney Animated Canon (as per Wikipedia), as well as some associate films and the Pixar Animated Canon.

My conclusion?  See the title of this post: the “missing mom” is a mere myth, perpetuated by a few movies that support it and disregarding the rest of the family.

Check out the rest of my post from 2014 for the reasons why.

Updated numbers:

  • The number of films featuring dead mothers, including those that die during the story? 29.5 [There are really two protagonists in Tangled (2010), and only one of them is an orphan.]
  • The number of films featuring dead fathers, including those that die during the story? 31.5
  • Of the above, the number of films featuring orphaned protagonists? 20.5 (This includes such off-cited “dead mother” examples as Snow White and Cinderella.)
  • Thus, nine stories feature lost mothers alone, while eleven stories feature lost fathers alone.

With updates in bold, here is a list of the Disney and Pixar Animated Canons (excluding those wherein parents are basically irrelevant) and how they portray the heroes’ parents:

 

Film Mother Father Other Parental Figure(s) Reasoning Result
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) Stepmother (antagonist) Source material Orphan

 

Pinocchio (1940) None (hero is a puppet) Alive Blue Fairy, Jiminy Cricket Source material No mother

 

Dumbo (1941) Alive Dead (backstory) n/a Source material; Elephants don’t marry Lost father
Bambi (1942) Dies in story Alive n/a Source material Lost mother
Cinderella (1950) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) Stepmother (antagonist) Source material Orphan
Alice in Wonderland (1951) Alive Alive n/a Source material
Peter Pan (1953) Alive Alive n/a Source material; Peter Pan is orphaned by choice
Lady and the Tramp (1955) Alive (adoptive) Alive (adoptive) n/a Source material; main character is a pet
Sleeping Beauty (1959) Alive Alive Father-in-law; Good Fairies Source material; Prince Philip’s missing mother is also true to setting Aurora has both parents; lost mother for Philip
101 Dalmatians (1961) Alive (Pongo) Alive (Perdita) Roger & Anita (dog owners) Source material; other puppies may have been orphans
The Sword in the Stone (1963) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) Stepfather (antagonist) Source material Orphan
The Jungle Book (1967) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) Adoptive animal parents Source material Orphan
The Aristocats (1970) Alive (adoptive) Unknown Heroine also a mother Source material; main character is a pet Lost father
Robin Hood (1973) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) Nursemaid (ally) Source material; main character adult Orphan
The Fox and the Hound (1981) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) Adoptive Source material; main character is a pet Orphan
The Great Mouse Detective (1986) Dead (backstory) Alive n/a Source material; missing mother true to setting Lost mother
Oliver & Company (1988) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) Adoptive owner Source material; main character is a pet Orphan
The Little Mermaid Dead (backstory) Alive n/a Source material Lost mother
Beauty and the Beast Dead (backstory) Alive n/a Source material Lost mother
Aladdin (1992) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) Father-in-law True to setting Aladdin is an orphan; lost mother for Jasmine
The Lion King (1994) Alive Dies in story Adoptive parents Main characters are animals Lost father
Pocahontas (1995) Dead (backstory) Alive n/a Source material Lost mother
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) Dies in story Dead (backstory) Stepfather (antagonist) Source material Orphan
Hercules (1997) Alive Alive n/a Departed from source material
Mulan (1998) Alive Alive n/a Source material
Tarzan (1999) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) Adoptive mother Source material Orphan
Dinosaur (2000) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) Adoptive parents Orphan
The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) Secondary protagonist & his wife True to setting; main characters are adults Orphan
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) Dead (backstory) Alive n/a Main characters are adults Lost mother
Lilo & Stitch (2002) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory Older sister True to setting Orphan
Treasure Planet (2002) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) n/a Source material Orphan
Brother Bear (2003) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) n/a Source material Orphan
Chicken Little (2005) Alive Alive n/a
Meet the Robinsons (2007) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) Adoptive family Orphan
The Princess and the Frog (2009) Alive Dies in story n/a Source material; true to setting Lost father
Tangled Mixed Mixed Adoptive mother (antagonist) Source material; true to setting Rapunzel has both parents; Flynn is an orphan
Frozen (2013) Dies in story Dies in story n/a Source material; true to setting Orphans
Big Hero 6 (2014) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) Aunt; older brother; robot Source material Orphan
Zootopia (2016) Alive Alive n/a Main character is an adult  
Moana (2016) Alive Alive Grandmother    
Mary Poppins (1964) Alive Alive Nanny Source material
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) Adoptive mother Source material Orphans
Enchanted (2007) Dead (backstory) Alive Stepmother; potential stepmother Lost mother
Saving Mr. Banks (2013) Alive Dies in story n/a Main character is an adult Lost father
Cinderella (2015) Dies in backstory Dies in backstory Stepmother Source material Orphan
The Jungle Book (2016) Dead (backstory) Dead (backstory) Animals Source material Orphan
Beauty and the Beast (2017) Dead (backstory) Alive   Source material Lost mother
Toy Story (1995) Alive Dead/Missing (backstory) n/a Lost father
A Bug’s Life (1998) Alive Dead (backstory) n/a Main characters are insects Lost father
Toy Story 2 (1999) Alive Dead/Missing (backstory) n/a Lost father
Finding Nemo (2003) Dies in story Alive n/a Main characters are animals Lost mother
The Incredibles (2004) Alive Alive n/a
Up (2009) Alive Dead/Missing (backstory) Adoptive grandfather Main character is an adult Carl is orphaned due to age; lost father for Russell
Toy Story 3 (2010) Alive Dead/Missing (backstory) n/a Lost father
Brave (2012) Alive Alive n/a
Inside Out (2015) Alive Alive n/a    
The Good Dinosaur (2015) Alive Dies in story   Main characters are dinosaurs Lost father
Finding Dory (2016) Alive Alive Foster father (Marlin) Main characters are animals Sorry to spoil the film!
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