Don’t get me wrong, it’s clear that in some ways Disney must LOVE parents (and their disposable incomes) as they keep creating wonderful child-entrancing animations that keep the little darlings occupied when I can’t be bothered to otherwise engage with them. On a bad day, we’ve already watched two Disney offerings by 9am, and I’m thanking God for their existence.
But on other days, I’m comforting a sensitive small person who is simply distraught a character she identifies with hasn’t got a mummy or daddy. When you are small and your world consists mostly of your mummy and daddy, this is BIG STUFF.
There are some children I’m sure who take these absences and even horrific deaths in good part. Mine are not among them. And actually, this isn’t that uncommon. In fact it runs in my family because as a small child I was (apparently) similarly afflicted with a morbid interest in the immediate lineage of, well, pretty much anything I came across. ‘Where’s its Muzzer?’ is in fact part of our family dialect, as a question I would ask upon seeing anything, animal, vegetable or mineral, not accompanied by a bigger version of itself.
So perhaps, given this experience, I should have been a wee bit more cautious about what my small person was introduced to. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not stupid. I didn’t sit her down in front of Bambi. I’m not mean. But I admit that I thought The Little Mermaid would be fairly innocuous (give or take the un-feminist undercurrents [boom boom]). Not so. Immediately on meeting Ariel’s elderly father, Triton, the small person wanted to know where her mummy had gone. Obviously, I went with ‘the shops’. It seemed as likely an explanation as any other. Several years down the line, the question of the whereabouts of said mother, and what shops she’s gone to, for how long, and what she was buying, have somewhat tarnished our Little Mermaid viewing pleasure.
I completely understand the narrative justification, in that removing caregivers and authoritarians from the equation creates more space for adventure. I also understand that not every family has two parents. But this really is an epidemic! Surely there are other storytelling devices that could be used, sometimes? Come on Disney, get more creative! And less murdery. Why not, for instance, invent a spurious reason for a princess to be removed from her parents and bought up in the woods by three spinsters/fairies? Or, say, in a tower by a youth-obsessed narcissist? Or maybe she could run away from home and join the army as a cross-dresser? What? Oh yeah. Well, keep it up.
It is not necessarily that I want to protect my children from all exposure to death, thereby leaving them wholly unprepared for the horrors and traumas of real life. It’s more that I’d like 90 minutes of peace without parent-loss-induced wailing, and without deep conversations about the meaning/futility of life, ok?
Anyhoo, I have gathered below my evidence for Disney hating parents.
Nuff said. This film has been traumatising the young for decades.
The Lion King
I saw this after the age of 15 and I still cry when Mufasa dies. No worries? When a parent has just been trampled to death in front of you and you believe it to be your fault??? Wow. This has caused innumerable tough conversations/teary convulsions across the small person world. At nursery they just wind right through to the Pumba and Timon bit.
The Little Mermaid
Where IS her mother? Has this shopping trip lasted all 16 of her years? I think probably yes. This, in combination with Ariel’s much older and seriously neglectful father, has left her with an obvious need for love which leads her to give up pretty much everything for a pretty face she’s glimpsed once in the romantic light of fireworks. (We’ve all been there, sister, and it doesn’t end well). Who does she turn to? The ample and maternal bosom of the Sea-witch… It just goes to show that a rasta-crab babysitter is no substitute for attentive and loving parenting. Dammit.
Personally, I’d rather read ‘The Rabbit Who Wanted To Go To Sleep’ – the world’s most BORING book (the secret to its effectiveness) – 15 times end to end, rather than watch Snow White. But sometimes (perhaps thrice in living memory) I do have to give in and let the small person have its way. Inevitably, she wants to know what has happened to the original mother, and why she’s been replaced by the Wicked Stepmother. (Personally, I believe the Stepmother is a perfectly rational woman who has only been driven to murderous rage because SW is so fucking irritating).
Even in the introduction to the cartoon the narrator identifies Cinderella’s daddy as a pretty indifferent, if not downright shitty father. We’re not certain what happened to the dead mother, but the father follows her example within the first few seconds. Very wise. This leaves an engagingly vulnerable orphan to be entertainingly abused. Another classic!
Beauty and the Beast
Where is Belle’s mum? This is presumably where she got her looks from. Just like Ariel, she’s so love starved she’s a Stockholm Syndrome waiting to happen. So perhaps this one is a necessary plot device. Not that I think kids are minutely examining the accuracy of the character’s psychological motivations, but hey.
(Btw, does anyone else out there fancy the Beast waaaaay more than the Prince he turns into? Just me? Feel free to examine my psychological motivations at your leisure…)
[Disclaimer: I do understand, by the way, that none of the films so far were originally authored by Disney (inc Lion King’s Hamlet roots). I don’t care. I need someone to blame].
The Frozen parents, who have obviously NOT read a manual on the raising of healthy, well-adjusted gifted children, are disposed of by means of a 40 foot wave on a spurious trip abroad (probably their first holiday without the kids), in order for Elsa to become Queen. Also, why was poor Kristoff raised by Trolls? Is this strictly necessary to the plot? Anyway, in our house, the parents are euphemistically ‘lost at sea’. I like to think that their slightly awkward return is actually the plot for Frozen 2. Let’s see.
The Princess and the Frog
Beloved father dies early on, in order to inspire a mental work-ethic that leads to froggy voo-doo shenanigans. What fun!
Parents eaten by Tigers in the first four minutes.
Another missing mother, older father. This mother handily bequeaths her daughter a necklace to be symbolically/incriminatingly ripped from her neck towards the end of the film.
The Jungle Book
Who cares? No one’s ever watched it. See also The Hunchback of Notre Dame. If I did watch them I’m pretty sure they would hate parents too.
Where is Jasmine’s mother? Where are both of Aladdin’s parents?? These two look so remarkably similar I have incest worries… You can see it in the eyebrows. Maybe one day I’ll write the back story.
Mother is horribly killed by a Bad Fish at the very beginning. Along with all Nemo’s brothers and sisters. Basically it’s a massacre. Classified U. (??????)
No daddy here, folks. This leaves Sophia’s mother free to seduce King Roland over his sweaty stockinged foot in a ‘witty’ Cinderella role reversal, making Sophia a Princess, who after all are the only girls truly entitled to adventure.
Yes, I know this isn’t Disney, but I rarely require consistency or logic in the evidence I use to build any particular thesis. Drowning mother nobly hands baby to big, hairy, tusky mammoth. Responsible parenting in a nutshell. I told the big kid she was just going for a swim and would meet up with them later.
Look, I could probably go on, but this is becoming a fairly long blog post and you’ve probably stopped reading it by now.
For my part the one saving grace for Disney and their now poorly-documented penchant for matricide/patricide is the inexplicably underrated Brave. Here the parental relationship is actually central to the plot, even if the mother is a control-freak bint who spends most of the film as a bear. At the end she and Merida gallop their horses through the highlands, hair flying, bonds tying. It’s a beautiful thing, and me and my girls’ favourite part. More please, Disney!