Parents are a big deal in Disney films, usually because they’re already deceased, or they’re killed while we watch. They’re obvious because of their absence.
An interesting point is how little screen and speaking time female characters get in general in Disney films, even the princess ones. Having your one parent be your dad helps the guys get all the lines, and apart from Tiana, who do we have who only has a mom?*
Another theory for this is that a lot of the stories are about our hero or heroine growing up, and killing off one or both of their parents forces this to happen. The average Disney film is only 90 minutes long, which doesn’t give writers a lot of scope to make things happen. A timely death is a quick way for them to move the story along.
Googling “Disney parents” brings up a story about Walt’s life, in which he bought his parents a house, but the furnace was leaky and his mother died as a result. Apparently he never spoke about it, and it is generally believed that he never got over it. The lack of mothers in his films was a way to express that.
This post is kind of a downer. My next one will be more fun: on the 25th I am writing about villains and all the campy fabulousness (and thumb-sucking) that entails.
*Quick stats: Female characters get just 32% of the lines in The Little Mermaid (although having Ariel lose her voice for the majority helps this particular percentage stay low). In Mulan females speak just 23% of the dialogue. Need we be reminded that this is a film about a woman saving an entire country?! In Aladdin, women speak only 10% of the lines. Whaaaaaat?! And it isn’t exactly improving. With the exception of Brave and Tangled, most of the modern films have women speaking less than half the lines.