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The Reason Why So Many Disney Characters Are Orphans Is So Sad

There's a real-life story behind all those absent parents.

One of the things that makes Disney films so sad, is that there is a lot of death, loneliness and general misery involved in those heartwarming family films, which often revolves around children being separated from parents.

In case you hadn't really paid it any thought, there really are a LOT of characters who are either orphaned, separated from their parents, or have one or more of their guardians die.

There's Elsa and Anna from Frozen, Cinderella, Bambi, Penny in The Rescuers, Simba in The Lion King, Lilo & Stitch, Mowgli in The Jungle Book, Todd in The Fox and the Hound, Snow White, Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Nemo, Tarzan and Koda in Brother Bear.

In fact, even if characters have parents, they are quite often absent for the majority of the film, such as Alice in Wonderland, Rapunzel, Dumbo's mum, Belle's dad in Beauty and the Beast, Pinocchio, Peter Pan and The Lost Boys and loads more.


But Don Hahn, who was the executive producer of Maleficent and worked on the likes of The Lion King and Beauty And The Beast, has revealed the reason why. To begin with—there's the more straightforward explanation—the characters have to face struggles in order to grow up and create a plot, he told Glamour:

I'll give you two stories that are the reasons. I never talk about this, but I will. One reason is practical because the movies are 80 or 90 minutes long, and Disney films are about growing up. 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. Belle only has a father, but he gets lost, so she has to step into that position. It's a story shorthand.

There is another, more tragic explanation, though. In 1938, Walt Disney was at the height of his success and finally was able to buy a house for his parents.

He had the studio guys come over and fix the furnace, but when his mum and dad moved in, the furnace leaked and his mother died. 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 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—through no fault of his own—the studio workers didn't know what they were doing. There's a theory, and I'm not a psychologist, but he was really haunted by that. That idea that he really contributed to his mum's death was really tragic.

Oh and if you want to feel even sadder, do feel free to read the real-life story behind the house that inspired Up.

This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors. 

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