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Disney princesses and their mothers

We went out for dinner with some friends last night (mmmm, seared ahi tuna...) and while yakking about this and that, B. pointed out something I'd never noticed before. Not one of the Disney princesses has a mother. She said that that's why, in the new live-action Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson, they added a sort of "vision" of the past where Belle has a chance to see her mother and learn what happened to her.

Of course, given that the Disney princess stories generally draw on fairy tales, and girls don't often have mothers in the fairy tales either, perhaps it's not so weird. But even the non-fairy tale ones -- Ariel (The Little Mermaid), Pocahontas, Jasmine (Aladdin), Elsa and Anna (Frozen) -- don't have mothers.

The only two exceptions I could think of are Merida (the red-haired Irish Scottish girl who wins her own hand at the archery tournament) and Mulan (the Chinese girl who learns fighting from her father and goes off to war). So basically the only ones that have mothers are the ones who apparently don't need mothers because they're off doing "boy" things.

Isn't that weird?

Comments

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mimimanderly
Apr. 3rd, 2017 12:18 am (UTC)
Rather than the problem being with Disney, perhaps Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm had mother issues....
delphipsmith
Apr. 4th, 2017 02:26 am (UTC)
That's what I thought too, at first, but then I looked at the non-fairy-tale ones and they also seem to have this pattern.
mundungus42
Apr. 3rd, 2017 04:00 am (UTC)
The absence is definitely noticeable.

I guess for a long time (arguably still now) it's easy shorthand to make you sympathize with a character to write him or her as an orphan (Aladdin, Bambi, Quasimodo, Mowgli, Lilo), and doubly so if there is an adult figure out to oppress/control him/her (Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel). But far more troubling to me are the mothers who may be there or may not, but we (almost) never see them, especially compared to the fathers (Triton, Mufasa, King Stephen).

Sleeping Beauty/Briar Rose has a mother, as do Simba and Tiana, but those mothers have precious few moments of screen time. Jasmine presumably has a mother, but they likely didn't want to go into detail because of the whole sultans having multiple wives thing. Ariel is the same way--we know Triton has a shit-ton of daughters but people don't wanna think about fish sex (and in the original tale, the Little Mermaid has a grandmother who plays an important role in her coming of age). Also, where the hell are Prince Eric's parents? I mean, seriously, his taste in women is kinda suspect, TBH, and all he has is his butler Grimsbey to sputter in protest.

Moana, who not only has both parents but also a kick-ass grandmother and deep family history, was a breath of fresh air. And I'm quite fond of Mulan who also has important ancestors, who shows a similar self-determination without the weird sterility of world in Frozen.

Mostly: Disney is aware it needs to up its game as far as equal screen time for the ladies (including mothers), but progress is slowed by its (in)famous formula. And Pixar seems to be having a really hard time telling a female-centric narrative while still being entertaining (Brave, Inside Out), which don't compare to the breezy whimsy of the stories where they aren't actively trying to include women (usually to the detriment of the male:female ratio onscreen). It's annoying, but again, they're aware it's a problem.

Here's hoping they eventually figure it out.
mimimanderly
Apr. 3rd, 2017 10:38 am (UTC)
Maybe they'd figure it out faster if they had more women in their creative ranks.
mundungus42
Apr. 3rd, 2017 02:29 pm (UTC)
This would certainly help. I'm hoping some of the talented women working on the TV side of Disney get recruited by the animated film side.
lady_of_clunn
Apr. 3rd, 2017 01:13 pm (UTC)
Disney has completely butchered the original fairy tales but most often, girls in fairy tales don't have mothers because this makes it possible for the evil stepmother (who is more often than not a witch) to enter the story and take control over the girl.

Also, death during childbirth was very, very common until quite recently, so maybe the fairy tales just reflect people's reality at the time?

One of my mum's friends has written a long, thorough and interesting book about how the fairy tales can be traced back to the stone ages and how a lot of the symbolism can be attributed to the transition from matriarchy to patriarchy, so killing off mothers = killing off the Goddess or strong females in general? I'll have to re-read the book when I go to Berlin this summer.

(Pssst, Merida is Scottish, aye!)



Edited at 2017-04-03 01:15 pm (UTC)
delphipsmith
Apr. 4th, 2017 02:27 am (UTC)
Ooh, ooh, name of book please?? I want to read it. (Also thanks for the correction about Merida. That red hair fooled me lol)
lady_of_clunn
Apr. 4th, 2017 06:56 pm (UTC)
I think it's only available in German:

"Vom Märchen zur Mär oder "Drei mal Drei ist Neune -- ihr wisst ja wie ich's meine": Strukturale Märchenanalysen"

by Peter Jörg Plath

One example he used was Sleeping Beauty. I remember that he said that the king with his twelve golden plates (12 months, sun calendar) was representing patriarchy taking over from matriarchy (13 fairies = moon calendar). There was a lot more to it but I will really have to read it again when I visit my parents. (Personally, I also like the class struggle aspect of that particular story, sadly, he didn't seem to see it/find it important.)
drinkingcocoa
Apr. 4th, 2017 03:07 am (UTC)
Also, death during childbirth was very, very common until quite recently, so maybe the fairy tales just reflect people's reality at the time?

I believe this did have something to do with it.
drinkingcocoa
Apr. 4th, 2017 03:13 am (UTC)
The more recent Disney films have corrected a lot of sexist imbalances because women have been involved as the writers and directors. The mothers have been more present, the girls have been self-determining, active, and not focused on winning a prince, and the films have passed the Bechdel test. It's been a conscious update.

(When the Niffler turned 4, she shared the storybook version of My Neighbor Totoro with her preschool class. Partway through, one of the teachers had a sudden worry and whispered to me, "The mother doesn't die, does she?" I could not resist whispering back, "No, the mother gets better! This isn't Disney!")
lady_of_clunn
Apr. 4th, 2017 07:09 pm (UTC)
I really, really hate how Disney stripped down the fairy tales to 'love conquers all' while the original stories hardly ever even mention love, never mind make it a central theme.

It's also quite sad that a lot of very good fairy tales with strong women as their main characters don't seem to have been translated into English or are at least not common in English Grimms Fairy Tale book collections.

Germany has awesome fairy tale movies. I like the classic ones - even our 1970s movies tend to not have shrinking violets as princesses - but there have been many many remakes in the last decade that feature particularly strong female princesses/characters.

I wish America would invest a little bit of money into dubbing foreign films, especially for children.
haruhi_fan
Apr. 5th, 2017 10:56 pm (UTC)
An interesting observation. If I may another good one from a friend who does YouTube stuff too has one about the evolution of the protagonist/antagonist in Disney movies at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiQNWp-fHwA Take care!
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