When you think of Disney, images of princesses and catchy songs may pop in your head. What may not come to memory, however, is the odd fact that many of the Disney princesses we have come to know and love don't have mothers.
In a recent Glamour article, Jessica Radloff spoke with Don Hahn, executive producer of Maleficent, about some of the mysteries behind the magic that is Disney, including why the dames of Disney films rarely have moms.
One explanation Hahn gives refers to a tragedy that hit the Disney family in the 1930s. Walt Disney’s biography on JustDisney.com chronicles the accidental death of his parents, stating, "After the great success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt and Roy bought their parents, Elias and Flora Disney, a home close to the studios. Less than a month later, Flora died of asphyxiation caused by a faulty furnace in the new home."
This hardship faced by the company's founder may be attributed to the lack of mothers in the majority of Disney flicks, according to Hahn.
"He never spoke about that time because he personally felt responsible. … There’s a theory, and I’m not a psychologist, but he was really haunted by that. That idea that he really contributed to his mom’s death was really tragic." says Hahn.
The other theory, more lighthearted and even calculated, has to do with timing. Hahn notes that a Disney character has a lot of growing up and coming of age to do in a short 90-minute film, so it is often easier to exclude the parental figures than include them in the story arch, which would require much more detail.
"[Disney movies] are 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," says Hahn.
A number of Disney movies have underlying issues of responsibility that spawn out of the characters losing their mothers. In the hugely successful film "Frozen," the two main characters lose both parents and are forced to step up as the village's leaders. Similarly, Pocahontas is urged continuously by her father to marry and become a new female leader in her tribe like her mother once was.
Child behavioral therapist James Lehman's article on Empoweringparents.com discusses several ways that parents can teach responsibility and accountability, one being through example, whether that be through parental example or the things that children are exposed to on a day-to-day basis.
This idea of accepting responsibility is a positive result to come out of this unique motherless trait among Disney films, but often Disney movies are criticized, or at least questioned, for the kind of example these princesses are setting for their young female audiences.
Anna Mussman, author of "How Disney Princesses Lead Young Women to Dystopic Fiction" on The Federalist, notes that there is a common thread in all of these leading ladies that is particularly disconcerting.
"The princess fantasy actually weighs girls down with a pressure that will feel heavier and heavier as they realize their own imperfections," says Mussman.
She notes that Disney's princesses often sustain ideas of commercialism, consumption and quick romances that can lead to challenging behavioral traits later in life.
Whether this is actually true, however, is up to you.
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