Death is an unwritten rule in Disney films. It is used to bring tension and depth to a genre of films that is supposed to have a moral or a little lesson somewhere in all that excitement. Loyal fans of Disney movies are familiar with the idea of their favorite characters growing up or experiencing life and adventure, without parental figures in their lives or tragically losing loved ones. The never surprising act of characters being introduced onscreen without parents or the parents passing away within the first 20 minutes of the films, is familiar and has come to be expected, one cannot be a Disney fan expecting to form a connection with the parents. When Disney does do us the rare favor of introducing a parental figure, they usually turn out to be an evil witch (literally), someone with ill motives, a step parent or someone who is not their real parent at all, just someone for the protagonist to look up to and possibly learn from; this is shown in Frozen; Anna looks up to Elsa, Mowgali to Baloo in The Jungle Book, Ariel to her older sisters in The Little Mermaid and Lilo to Stitch in Lilo and Stitch. Although death is natural, Disney generally tries to keep it within the realm of being either tragic, devastating, a life lesson and the best one yet, totally unnecessary. Below is a list of 12 of the most tragic parental deaths in Disney films.
12 Quasimodo’s Mom – The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Mercilessly run down and accused of stealing goods, Quasimodo’s mother desperately tries to save the life of her disfigured child, by seeking sanctuary in a church. However when no one answers her call for help as she bangs down the door, she is hunted by an officer who snatches Quasi from her arms. She bangs her head on the church steps and dies instantly, as for motherless Quasi, he is thrown into a well and abandoned; Quasi’s mother’s desperate attempt to save herself and her child is painful to watch, not only is she homeless running the streets basically barefoot, when she dies, no one is left to take care of her son. A mother’s love is one hell of thing.
11 Tarzan’s Parent’s – Tarzan (1999)
Tarzan’s parent’s death came as no surprise; if you are a Disney fan, you know that death is an unofficial requirement. What was actually surprising was how long they took to get to their death; there are several points where the viewer assumes that the parents are going to die, like when their ship goes down, when rough waters threaten to overturn their small boat and while they are building their tree house. Yet, they manage to stay alive and at all costs to protect Tarzan. However, when their death finally does take place, it is horrible. It is alluded to that they are mauled to death by Sabor, the local bully and vicious tiger.
10 Athena – The Little Mermaid: A New Beginning (2008)
In the original film The Little Mermaid, main character Ariel’s mother is never spoken of in depth, she is only a passing reminder. When the sequel was made, it focused on the relationship between Athena and Ariel’s father King Triton, but it also focused on the death of Ariel’s mother and how it affected Ariel and her sisters. The scene is treacherous and rough to watch, as she essentially gets crushed by a ship and it is a common assumption that her spine is crushed by the rocks she is pinned against. Disney can be so brutal sometimes, whatever happened to dying of old age?
9 King & Queen of Arendelle – Frozen (2013)
The Frozen craze has swept the nation and like most Disney films, it is not immune to tragedy. Anna and Elsa are reliant on their parents; Anna because she is lonely and Elsa because she needs her parents to help her control her power. As the parents go on a voyage (presumably to find a cure to Elsa’s “curse”), their boat is capsized while caught in a storm and the viewer can only assume that they are dead. Many Disney films' first mission includes getting rid of the parents and most of them seem to use the water as a tool for death.
8 James – The Princess & The Frog (2009)
Not much information is known about the death of Tiana’s father, James. The most that the viewer gets is a montage that briefly tells us Tiana’s story from childhood to the present day. We know that he is dead and she is still heartbroken about that, and we are given glimpses into some of the fond things they did together before his death. The viewer also sees a picture of James in a uniform, which leads us to assume he was in the war and lost his life in battle. However, the real heartbreak is the montage and the connection we get to see between Tiana and James, especially the dreams they had of opening a bakery together, which we later see Tiana trying to pursue.
7 Tod’s Mother – The Fox and The Hound (1981)
The Fox and the Hound is an oldie but a goodie. It has everything; adventure, misery, love, friendship etc. Still, like Bambi’s mother, Tod’s mother is hunted down and relentlessly shot, but not before she is able to get her baby to safety. The viewer does not see Tod’s mother get shot; we do however, hear the gunshot and faintly we hear her cry out. What makes this scene tragic is knowing that Tod, already fatherless, is now motherless. Additionally, although he is young, he most likely heard the gun shot like the viewer and subconsciously, knows as life goes on that his mother was murdered (am I reading too much into this tragedy?).
6 Ellie - UP (2009)
So, while technically not a parent, Ellie’s death is one to be mentioned simply because it was also the death of Carl. So much of his life was devoted to her happiness, and you can see that she was responsible for his light-hearted, playful nature. The montage that shows their life is what makes Ellie’s death so heart breaking for the viewer. When the shot transitions from Carl sitting alone in the church after the funeral, walking up his porch holding one lonely balloon, you can see immediately how the life has been sucked out of him. The viewer is unaware of how Ellie dies, we only get a glimpse of her laying in a hospital bed, with a devoted Carl by her side.
5 Lilo’s Parent’s – Lilo and Stitch (2002)
Lilo is clearly a lonely child; she does not fit in with the other children, especially the girls on her hula team. She is already an outcast because she is being raised by her sister and she, at such a young age, has experienced devastation. When the viewer learns that Lilo’s parents died in a car crash, there is a slight sense of relief, only because it was a car crash and it could happen to anyone. However, as the viewer learns the details of the crash (yes another horrific water incident), we begin to understand the depths of what the crash actually took away. Keep in mind that Lilo is only six-years old in the film, meaning that her parents died before Lilo really knew who they were.
4 Coral – Finding Nemo (2003)
Nemo’s mother is basically a mystery. We see a little bit of her personality in the very beginning of the film, as she jokes around with Nemo’s dad and they play a friendly game of hide and seek. Eventually all good things must come to an end (I am assuming this is a rule for Disney since they love to ruthlessly kill off characters). Nemo’s mother is quickly gulped up and eaten by a hungry shark (this is why Nemo’s dad is so protective) but before she is eaten, she lays a single, lonely egg that Nemo’s father finds and guards with his life. What makes this death so depressing is knowing that Nemo’s mother died way before he even got to form a connection with her. It’s also ridiculously tragic to watch this big shark hunt a tiny little fish.
3 Mowgli’s Parents – The Jungle Book (1967)
The Jungle book is a film that starts off with an already orphaned boy being raised by a pack of wolves, but when the viewer finds out what happened to main character Mowgli’s parents, it is even more devastating. Mowgli’s human parents are said to have been mauled by tigers, there is not much detail surrounding what happened but in true Disney fashion, we can assume they were mauled trying to run away and eventually focusing on protecting Mowgali (who is a baby at the time). The only family that Mowgali knows is the pack of wolves and Baloo, a bear and his best friend.
2 Bambi – Bambi’s Mom (1942)
This movie might be every child’s first experience with death; while running for their lives, Bambi’s mother is mercilessly shot. Although it is not shown on screen, the viewer hears the gun shot and we see the panic in Bambi’s eye’s when he turns around and realizes that his mother is no longer running behind him. Can anyone forget how he sounded when he yells out “moootthhhheeerrr” as he anxiously retraces his steps to find his mom; true tragedy is when you have the opportunity to build a relationship with someone, only to lose them. This is the case with Bambi, who has several memories with his mother.
1 Mufasa – The Lion King (1994)
Oh my gosh, The Lion King is a traumatic experience for every child that has had the opportunity to see it. If Mufasa being trampled by a herd of Wildebeest isn't depressing enough, Simba’s childlike reaction is even more gut wrenching. As Simba nudges his father’s lifeless body with his nose, he begs for him to get up “it’s time to go home dad” he claims. When Simba realizes that his father is not moving, he won’t be getting up and going home, his tears confirm what the viewer always suspected. Simba screaming for help and unaware of what to do makes the experience even more heart-rending; when he wraps himself in his father’s arms, it’s devastating.