Aladdin. Cinderella. The Little Mermaid. Beauty and The Beast. Bambi. Peter Pan. All Disney movies with something striking in common: the main character doesn’t have a mother.
It’s a narrative feature that echoed the real-life story of the animation company’s co-founder Walt Disney.
When the legendary producer was 36-years-old, his mother, Flora, died in an accident at her North Hollywood home. A home that Walt and his brother Roy had gifted their parents on the back of the success of their film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1938).
After moving in, Flora complained to her sons that there were problems with the gas. In a letter to her daughter, Ruth, she reportedly detailed that she could smell fumes.
While a repairmen was sent to the house, the problem wasn’t properly fixed, and a few days later, Flora died of asphyxiation. She was 70-years-old.
The incident plagued Walt for the remainder of his adult life — a trauma that some say leaked into the narratives of Disney movies.
The producer of Maleficent, Don Hahn, is among those who believes this incident dramatically changed Walt Disney’s film-making.
“The idea that he really contributed to his mum’s death was really tragic,” he told Glamour.
“It’s not a secret within their family, but it’s just a tragedy that is so difficult to even talk about. It helps to understand the man a little bit more.”
But it’s worth noting that it was also a feature of Disney films penned prior to Flora’s death, including Snow White. Another reason for the absence of mothers, Hahn conceded, could be that it also serves as a narrative device that quickens the growth of the protagonist.
“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,” says Don Hahn.
“It’s much quicker to have characters grow up when you bump off their parents.”