There's a long history of Disney animated movies in which young protagonists grow up without a mother and sometimes without any parents.
Consider these classics, where a character has either lost their mother or there is no mention of them at all:
"The Jungle Book"
"The Fox and the Hound"
"The Great Mouse Detective"
"The Little Mermaid"
"Beauty and the Beast"
"The Hunchback of Notre Dame"
"The Emperor's New Groove"
Why is that?
In a recent interview with Glamour, "Maleficent" executive producer Don Hahn, who also worked on Disney classics including "The Lion King" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas," gave two explanations.
"One reason is practical because the movies are 80 or 90 minutes long, and Disney films are about growing up," explained Hahn. "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."
The other reason Hahn gave is a lot darker.
According to biography "How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life," Walt and his brother Ray both purchased a home for his parents in Los Angeles in 1937. After about a year, Walt's mother called up one morning in November asking if the gas furnace leaking in the house could be fixed.
"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," said Hahn. "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.' It's every kid's dream to buy their parents a house and just through a strange freak of nature—though no fault of his own—the studio workers didn't know what they were doing."
Walt's mother Flora passed away November 26, 1938, after the success of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" and while "Pinocchio," which was a theatrical failure, was still in production.
Hahn suggested the theory was that Disney was haunted by his mother's loss.
"The idea that he really contributed to his mom's death was really tragic. If you dig, you can read about it," he added. "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."
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