Dead Disney Parents
Exploring the high rate of parental demise and unexplained absence in Disney's animated films
A visual essay by
Jasmine Mithani
“Disney taught us that, ‘when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.’ Unfortunately, if your dream is to have both of your parents live to see you succeed, you're sheer out of luck.
— Marc Oromaner

Bambi's mom, heartlessly shot by a hunter. Marlin watching his wife and all but one of their fish eggs be eaten by a barracuda. Disney movies tug at the heartstrings, but not just because they end with a warming happily ever after. The animation studio continues to traumatize each generation with tales of parental absence. Many of Disney's animated films hinge on the premise of a missing parent -- either mysteriously missing from the protagonist's life, confirmed to have passed away, or in 14 cases, actually killed on screen.

Previous articles have explored the abundance of Disney's child protagonists lacking one or more parents, but there hasn't been a comprehensive breakdown of which films are missing parents. Starting from a corpus of Walt Disney Animation Studio's theatrical releases, I sought to answer once and for all to what extent the stereotype of missing parents applied.

films are missing at least one parent out of 59 total

Out of 57 missing parents from 34 movies, 29 are confirmed deceased and 28 have no specific explanation for their absence. Those 28 are a mix of characters where one parent is prominently featured while the other is absent (Remy, Ratatouille, 2007) or where the character is presented as an orphan (Taran, The Black Cauldron, 1985). The exceptions are Jim's father in Treasure Planet (2002), who is said to have left the family many years prior to the start of the film, and Aladar's mother in Dinosaur (2000), who was forced to abandon her eggs after a vicious attack from a local carnivore.

So, how did they die?

A naive analysis comparing the gender of characters to which parent they are missing shows, first of all, that many more male characters are without parents. However, these need to be normalized by how many films featured a main male or female character; it's possible that the numbers for female characters could be so low because there are few films with female main characters overall. For now, here is a raw aggregation of parent death sorted by gender of the child.

This was initiated as my intern project for the summer of 2017 at Graphicacy, a creative analytic design firm, and is a work in progress. Stay tuned for notes on methodology, a showcase of onscreen parent deaths, and concluding thoughts.