This week I took my boys, aged six and eight to the movies to see Disney’s latest film, Pete’s Dragon. We met up with some of their friends to kick start school holidays, and shared some popcorn and lemonade in our bubble of early school holiday bliss. I watched on as their big eyes stared at the screen with such wonder and enjoyment, it made me smile from the inside out.
But one part disturbed me
It was the very first scene. I don’t want to go spoiling the movie for anyone, but let’s just say that Disney held true to form by disposing of the parents very early on in the story.
This got me thinking
How many Disney films HAVEN’T killed off mum and dad? I recall being equally troubled when Elsa and Anna’s parents’ ship gracefully bowed behind the waves and never resurfaced.
Elsa struggles to contain her emotions following the death of her parents. Source: Walt Disney Productions
I experienced similar emotions when Nemo’s mother was killed by the Barracuda a mere four minutes and three seconds into the film.
The devastating slaughter of his wife, Coral and all but one of their eggs turns Marlin into a fumbling, overprotective dad. Source: Walt Disney Productions
Koda’s mother in Brother Bear was speared to death.
The spirit of Koda’s mother embraces him after she has been speared to death by Kenai. Source: Walt Disney Productions
Lilo and Nani’s parents in Lilo and Stitch were killed in a car crash before the movie began, leaving the pair orphaned.
Lilo sleeps with a photograph of her family under her pillow. Source: Walt Disney Productions
Do you remember the third Little Mermaid film where her mother made a brief appearance only to then be crushed to death by a pirate ship?
Ariel’s mother, Queen Athena is crushed to death by a pirate ship. Source: Walt Disney Productions
I could go on…
Bambi, another orphaned young protagonist. Source: Walt Disney Productions
And we all know how this one goes. Source: Walt Disney Productions
You get the picture.
As I sat and watched the rest of the film I pondered the reasons why (I may have since done some reading up on the topic too).
By killing off one or both parents, the child protagonist experiences accelerated growth and personal change. It can also provide a kind of short cut to get to the meat of the story. By providing one pivotal moment, the audience can see a kind of cause and effect and understand why the orphaned child does certain things and acts a certain way.
An odd theory
Another interesting theory is that Walt Disney blames himself for the death of his own mother. Back in the 1940s, he purchased a house for his parents. He sent around some of the guys from the studios to fix the furnace, and once they moved in the furnace leaked, killing his mother. Now I’m not buying into this theory, but it’s interesting all the same.
I think the reasons behind the dead parents are probably a combination of all of these. How interesting would Frozen be if mum and dad were still in the picture? The distance between the two sisters wouldn’t have been half as dramatic had they not been orphaned too. And Marlin wouldn’t have been half as entertaining had he not had to step into the role of mother and over-protective caretaker in Finding Nemo.
It’s not all dismal, Pete does get his happy ending. Source: Walt Disney Productions
While I am shocked at the opening scene of Pete’s Dragon, I get it. And even though some may disagree with me, I think that it presents an important life lesson about death. One that they may as well learn through a pleasant movie with a happy ending before they have to deal with it in real life.