Why do parents always die in Disney films? From Bambi’s mother to Elsa and Anna being left alone in Frozen, this tragic event seems to happen in quite a lot of the Disney films involving main characters having to grow up.
According to Don Hahn, the producer of films such as ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and is still a producer on several Disney projects, it’s simply part of the genre. It’s about growing up within a certain time frame, and the easiest way to do it is bumping off the parents.
The movies are 80 or 90 minutes long, and Disney films are about growing up. They’re about that day in your life when you have to accept responsibility. Simba ran away from home but had to come back. In shorthand, it’s much quicker to have characters grow up when you bump off their parents. Bambi’s mother gets killed, so he has to grow up. Belle only has a father, but he gets lost, so she has to step into that position. It’s a story shorthand.
But there is another theory as to why Disney films are notorious for the hero’s parents dying off very early in the films. It might be less about the story telling, and more about Walt Disney’s own tragedy with his parents.
The other reason—and this is really odd—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.’
This story does appear in Disney’s own biography, which he collaborated on. So is all this parental death coming from his own personal tragedy, influencing years of Disney features years after his own death?
It’s worth remembering that in the 1938 film, Dumbo also loses his mother during the movie. That occurred before the death of Disney’s parents, so this might all be a storytelling device, and a very effective one at that.
If you’re in a brooding kind of mood, check out excellent artwork of Superheroes when they’re feeling down.