Thoughts on storytelling and the world of animation. Caution! SPOILERS!

Mothers in Animation

While I realize I’ve pretty much just lost my entire readership with the end of class, I’m going to keep on until I run out of ideas or get distracted by something shinier.

With Mother’s Day right around the corner I thought this might be appropriate timing – Mothers in animation, or rather, the LACK of mothers in animation.

Many of the stories we know and love in animation are actually old fairy tales, where the mothers weren’t there in the first place.  Snow White and Cinderella NEED their evil stepmothers to get their story told.  Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel are taking away from their mothers deliberately.  The rest, well . . . who knows?  Ariel’s mother and Belle’s mother aren’t even mentioned.  We have no idea where they are or what happened to them.  Aladdin is a ‘street rat’ so we can assume she’s no longer living.  Jasmine’s mother?  Anonymous in a harem? Ran away?  Tiana and Mulan had their mothers, but they played a minor role.  And then there’s poor Bambi’s mother . . .

Yes, the mind pops immediately to Disney when thinking of animated movies, but rest assured,  there ARE mothers in animation.  Surprisingly often, the mother, if present, is generally an animal.  We certainly see an example of a mother’s love and determination in Perdita in 101 Dalmations.  Dumbo’s mother is helpless to assist her son, but still present.  The Aristocats kittens are fortunate to be with their mother.  the mouse widow, Mrs. Frisby in The Secret of Nimh, takes the lead as she tries to find a way to protect her children from the plow.  Other film makers slip mothers into their stories.  Fievel’s mother tries hard to keep her son out of trouble in An American Tail.  The mother in The Incredibles has a doubly difficult job to do, not only the work of a mother but of keeping her and her children’s super-powers hidden.

Mothers also feature prominently in animated TV shows, usually as the quintessential mother.  Marge Simpson, Wilma Flintstone, and Jane Jetson are just a few examples.  As most tv shows are about families, it only makes sense that the family be ‘whole’ in an animated show.  TV shows are more about day-to-day activities rather than life changing events that occur in movies.

Mothers pop up more frequently in Miyazaki’s works, too, but often they are the ones who need rescuing by the child.  In Spirited Away, Chihiro’s parents eat spirit food and are turned into pigs, setting the storyline as Chihiro struggles to figure out how to turn them back.  In My Neighbor Totoro, the mother is ill in the hospital, a background story as the children struggle to deal with both her absence and living in a new place.

One can argue that a Mother represents safety and protection, and in order for a person to grow and change and experience new things, they have to step away from that safety net and set out on their own, which make for the perfect movie storyline.   The storyline of Tangled actually addresses this issue as Rapunzel struggles to escape the tower and her ‘mother’s’ overprotective actions.  “Mother knows best,” the witch sings, “it’s a scary world out there.”  In An American Tail, we see that Fievel is still too young to survive on his own and needs to get back to the safety of his mother’s arms.  The Darling children actively run away from their mother to go to Neverland in Peter Pan, but soon return, acknowledging that they still need her for a few more years until they grow up.

So, yes, there are a lot of mothers missing from the lives of their children in popular Disney movies, but the animated mothers are out there, trying to keep their children safe, while their children are trying to protect them.  Now you know, if the mother’s missing, someone’s about to embark on an epic adventure.

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