Ever notice how Disney characters—especially Disney princesses—rarely have moms? Their moms are either dead, have gone missing, or are otherwise unaccounted for? Ariel didn’t have one:
Cinderella didn’t either (fairy godmothers and evil step-mothers don’t count):
And while recent characters like Merida and Tiana did have moms, Frozen looped it back around, with not only Elsa and Anna’s mom dying at the beginning of the movie, but their dad too.
Glamour recently had a chance to sit down with legendary producer Don Hahn, who worked on The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, as well as executive produced the Angelina Jolie version Maleficent and ask. Here’s why:
“I’ll give you two stories that are the reasons. I never talk about this, but I will. One reason is practical because 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.
“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." It’s every kid's dream to buy their parents a house and just through a strange freak of nature—through no fault of his own—the studio workers didn’t know what they were doing. 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.”
“If you dig, you can read about it. It’s not a secret within their family, but it’s just a tragedy that is so difficult to even talk about,” Don explained. “It helps to understand the man a little bit more...To me, it humanizes Walt. He was devastated by that, as anyone would be.”