Disney Films and the Orphaned Protagonist

“Deep in the woods Cinderella had planted a branch at the grave of her mother. And she visited there so often and wept so much that her tears watered it until it had become a magnificent tree.” – Into the Woods (2014)

Many people have critiqued Disney’s common trope of the parentless child. The orphan. It’s common in early films like Aladdin (1992) or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) where it opens to both of their parents having died already or in The Little Mermaid (1989) where only her mother has died before the start. In films like Lilo & Stitch (2002) the parents death is actually mentioned (“it was raining and they went for a drive”), in Bambi (1942) it is shown off-screen.


While it is fairly common for one or both parents to be missing or dead in many of their films there are just as many with both parents shown or suggested. Peter Pan (1953) has both parents of the Darling children shown on-screen, while Alice in Wonderland (1951) suggest them off screen. Both of Aurora’s parents in Sleeping Beauty (1959) are alive, though she is raised by three fairies. Tangled (2010) has a similar concept where she was kidnapped and later returned to both her parents.

So I get a little irritated I guess by how often people rag on Disney films for presenting us with stories that portray loss, orphaned children, single parent house-holds or alternate legal guardians. For some strange reason people have decided that this is bad to show and/or funny, as depicted in the common tumblr meme below:

Meme from tumblr using clips from Disney films

As a child who grew up parentless and raised with my grandparents as my legal guardians I find myself kind of insulted. Many Disney films I found I connected to because of this reason. Beyond their catchy musical numbers and underdog storylines I found myself enjoying the films because they were one of the few things I could relate to.

Not all children have moms and dads. In fact, many don’t. I know this is hard to believe for people who grew up in households with both parents, but it’s actually fairly common. So Disney, depicting a mom or a dad with a child on their own, or grandparents or an aunt raising a child is just showing a different kind of family.

Big Hero 6 (2014) ©Walt Disney Animation Studios

Growing up is hard enough already without having kids pick on you for not having a family or your birth parents. I mean, they’re probably already picking on you for some other dumb little thing that they have way too much time to focus on. Disney movies offer a safe space not many kids get in their own lives.

Until next time!

damian alexander



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s