The wonderful world of Disney is a magical place, but it suffers from a unique tragedy: a severe shortage of mothers.
Think about it. From Bambi to Frozen, the young protagonist is often totally orphaned or left motherless...but why did Disney insist on bringing up his characters without a loving mom to care for them?
According to the producer of The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, Don Hahn, a horrible personal tragedy from Walt Disney's past holds the answer.
But firstly, Hahn acknowledges there's a practical reason for those motherless characters:
"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.
Simba ran away from home but had to come back. In shorthand, it’s much quicker to have characters grow up when you bump off their parents.
Bambi’s mother gets killed, so he has to grow up. Belle only has a father, but he gets lost, so she has to step into that position. It’s a story shorthand."
But, the other reason Hahn gives is much more intriguing, and, profoundly tragic. The veteran animator explained that;
"The other reason—and this is really odd—Walt Disney, in the early 1940s, when he was still living at this house, also bought a house for his mom and dad to move into. He had the studio guys come over and fix the furnace, but when his mom and dad moved in, the furnace leaked and his mother died.
The housekeeper came in the next morning and pulled his mother and father out on the front lawn. His father was sick and went to the hospital, but his mother died. He never would talk about it, nobody ever does. He never spoke about that time because he personally felt responsible
because he had become so successful that he said, 'Let me buy you a house."
According to Hahn, one of the theories behind lost, motherless characters such as Snow White, Cinderella and Dumbo is that Disney was reliving his deep emotional pain through his art.
"There’s a theory, and I’m not a psychologist, but he was really haunted by that. That idea that he really contributed to his mom’s death was really tragic.
If you dig, you can read about it. 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. ... To me, it humanizes Walt. He was devastated by that, as anyone would be."
Of course, Walt Disney was only involved with productions until his death in 1966, but by then the trope of the dead mother had became a signature of the Disney brand.
I had no idea something that happened over half a century ago could make me feel so sad.
Do you think the tragic loss of Walt's mother really altered the path of Disney so greatly?