Disney Princesses obsessed with mothers, missing mothers, and evil step-mothers
Star Wars is all about Daddy Issues. Yet Disney has a thing for moms: missing, crazy, obsessed, or just plain evil mother figures. What’s the endless deal with parental problems? Why does this speak to us in this day and age, to the point where we no longer even notice a missing parent in the heroic journey? Surely a missing parent or lack of romantic male interest doesn’t have to dominate the plot — with animation, any narrative is possible! Look at Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to see how great stories can be with the right imagination. Spider-Verse has a (somewhat) evil family member, but his parents are totally cool, whether Miles Morales realizes it yet or not. (Damn. I just realized Peter Parker is an orphan with traumatic Uncle issues to boot…why why why? SIGH.)
Let’s take a trip through all the Princess movies and see where mother issues are…well, an issue…
Disney Princesses with missing or troublesome mothers
- Snow White – Evil Stepmother.
- Sleeping Beauty – Evil stepmother.
- Cinderella – Abusive Stepmother.
- The Little Mermaid – Tons of non-supportive sisters, no mother, and an overprotective father. No wonder the Sea Witch Ursula stepped into the motherless void as a surrogate mum.
- Jasmine in Aladdin – Where’s her mom? Dead. We only have the Sultan. Poor Sultan. Poor Jasmine. (To be fair, Aladdin has no one at all.)
- Beauty and the Beast – We only see a father. And he’s kind of an absent-minded professor type.
- Tangled – Kidnapping Crazy Person/Overprotective Foster Mother.
- Merida from Brave – She turns her mother into a bear for the parental sin of being overprotective. (They get over it…)
- Pocahontas…also, sadly, no mother.
And a few problematic Princesses
- Anna and Elsa from Frozen 1 and 2 – Dead mother (and dead father…poor kiddos). The Frozen universe is considered a world apart from the other Disney Princesses — which is only for out-of-universe nonsensical marketing reasons we will ignore here.
- Vanellope in the Ralph movies – As a videogame Princess, we’re not sure if having a mother is even an option for her. But she sings her official “Princess I Wish” song to a puddle of water regardless, on the recommendation of the legit licenced princesses. (Food for thought: Is Ralph a mentally-challenged father-figure to her, or more like a loopy older brother?)
Some more Disney Princesses that are aren’t officially in the lineup
- Princess Leia in Star Wars may was well count now, as her character is owned by Disney and she has TWO royal lineages: one from her mother, and and the other via Alderaan adoption. We all know Leia had Death Star sized mommy and daddy issues throughout the Skywalker saga. At least she was loved by her adoptive parents — while she had them. Leia was also a Senator and a General…but what is that line? “To me, she will always be royalty.”
- Is it too soon to include Ukandan Princess Shuri from the MCU‘s Black Panther as a Disney Princess? Her father, though dead, was to all appearances a great parent. Also, the Queen Mum is awesome. I’d put this under princesses with happy mother issues, but the word is unclear about her ‘Disney’ role.
- Lastly, Nala in The Lion King is a freaking Disney Princess. I don’t care that she’s a lion. She mates with Simba and becomes royal. The problematic issue isn’t her feline nature. The elephant (lion?) in the room is this: all the pride’s lionesses are either daughters of Mufasa, or were surreptitiously ‘raped’ by Uncle Scar. This is lion fact. Look it up.
So. Which princesses DON’T have mommy issues?
All of three. Yay?
WHY, Disney? What is your fetish with mommas? Anyway, here’s the short list:
- Tiana (in The Princess and the Frog) – Her mother is alive and well, and supportive of Tiana’s modest dreams of owning a club. I think the father is dead, though she doesn’t seem to have a lot of baggage over it. Am I right? I only saw this once.
- Mulan – It’s been a while. Someone tell me. She has both parents, right?
- Moana – Her mother and father are loving, supportive, and present. (With one firm rule that Moana, like any child, felt compelled to break. This is normal dynamics in families.) What a nice change to have a functional royal household in a Disney film. And there are several named female characters that discuss things other than men, passing the Bechdel test with flying colors.
(It’s notable that none of these princesses are finding a Prince to marry in the end, as well as some of the other modern entries above… But that’s a topic for another post.)
Disney even spoofed their “mother stuff” in Ralph Breaks The Internet. This is the priceless princess scene in the movie that you may or may not want spoiled:
PS: Just more mommy issues because Disney wants to make you cry
- Finding Nemo — I shouldn’t even mention this since there is no princess to be found, but Clownfish Nemo loses his mother to a barracuda in the first three minutes of this otherwise stellar movie. It’s so traumatic I skip over this early scene every time. For a matter of fact, I have the same problem with Bambi. And don’t make me get started about Dumbo and his mother (the song Baby Mine slays me; Mrs. Jumbo is “only” abused and enslaved, not dead. Which is actually worse. Ouch). Also, none of these are humans, but HONESTLY human-centric storylines in fantasy should not be an issue in animation. (See Nala, above.) In somewhat better news, female Dory (a Blue Tang) has loving parents, but losing them caused her lifelong trauma. Just go watch Moana again for a really, oddly, pleasant premise and final resolution between females…
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