Every so often, I see someone ask, “Where are the mothers in Disney films?“. Or someone will assert that Walt Disney liked to kill off the moms in his movies.
Huh? Surely I’m not the only movie-watching father who has read real fairy tales to his children! No way!
But, unfortunately, I can only assume these people had parents who read neither Grimm’s Fairy Tales nor any of the other old classics that provided the storylines for films like Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and so on.
But where, you ask, are the mothers in these old tales and in the Disney films adapted from them? They’re right in front of you, if you care to look. You say the missing ones are glaringly absent? Excellent observation! Yes, their absence is critically important. Everyone needs a mom, but not everyone has one in their life or even remembers having one, which can be one of the greatest adversities a young person can face. For this reason, the most convincing heroines and heroes were often orphaned or exiled or cursed.
Walt Disney loved to tell stories about young people overcoming great adversity. He had seen plenty of it himself as a child, and he was convinced that almost any story, including his own, could end in triumph. He wanted others to understand this, too, and he was serious about it.
Mothers, whether present or absent, figure prominently in many of the movies Walt personally produced. The most remarkable thing to me is the way Walt drew his mothers (and fathers) with very real struggles, dilemmas, flaws, and strengths. In fact, one of the greatest gifts to all of us are those human shortcomings that Walt portrayed in family dynamics. They represent the struggles we all face as parents, reflecting our best motives and intentions. They encourage us to keep striving for our best when we’re up against any kind of adversity.
And wouldn’t you know it? Disney continues to make films featuring all kinds of noteworthy moms. These movies are every bit as good as the ones Walt made 50 years ago, and sometimes they’re even better. Here is just a handful of my favorite ferocious and flexible, formidable and friendly Disney movie moms:
Queen Elinor from Brave 1 of 8
Merida's mother is a spot-on example of an admirable modern-day mom. She loves, nurtures, and protects her children, frequently locking horns with them in the process. We have to admire Elinor's commitment to Merida's well being, even if she's not as flexible as we'd like.
Sky from Disneynature’s Bears 2 of 8
When you see everything Sky does for her children, it makes perfect sense that she'll be the world's most popular mom for a good time to come (as well as the world's most popular grizzly bear). It's hard to compete with a mom who looks after her children by catching fish in her teeth and fighting off carnivorous megafauna.
Helen Parr (a.k.a. Elastigirl) from The Incredibles 3 of 8
Strong and benevolently assertive, Helen Parr cares deeply for her children and performs truly amazing feats on their behalf. Also, she is flexible.
Vera Miles as Doris McIver in One Little Indian 4 of 8
Vera Miles was the perfect balance of strong, flexible, ferocious, and charming in a string of fantastic Disney live-action movies from the '60s and '70s, including One Little Indian (with James Garner and Jodie Foster), The Castaway Cowboy (also with James Garner), Follow Me, Boys! (with Fred MacMurray and Kurt Russell), Those Calloways (with Brian Keith), and The Wild Country (with Ron Howard).
Queen Miranda from Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess 5 of 8
When Sofia's mom marries a King, she and her daughter become royalty. Her support for Sofia is unwavering, but more importantly, Miranda falls gracefully into the role of loving stepmother to Princess Amber and Prince James, which makes her an even more admirable queen.
Sarah Hawkins from Treasure Planet 6 of 8
Jim, being fatherless, depends greatly on his mother Sarah. Despite Jim's sullen teen attitude and lack of real appreciation for her, she works tirelessly running an inn to support them, and she ultimately wants her son to have the life he truly wants.
Mrs. Jumbo from Dumbo 7 of 8
There's no more ferociously protective mother than Mrs. Jumbo. When her son is ridiculed for his enormous ears, she becomes a force to be reckoned with and winds up separated from him. Her love for him is bigger than his ears.
Mrs. Davis from Toy Story 8 of 8
Andy's mom is an amazing and steady presence as he comes of age. Laurie Metcalf voiced Mrs. Davis' character (as well as that of Jim Hawkins' mom in Treasure Planet.)
You can find all of these great moms, and more, at the Disney Store.