It probably wasn’t something we realised until we’d grown up, but it’s no secret that the majority of Disney Princesses don’t have mothers.
The Little Mermaid’s Ariel has a loving (and sometimes controlling) father. Beauty and the Beast’s Belle trades places to rescue her only parent: her father.
Cinderella and Snow White both have very prolific female figures in their lives, but both take on the role of stepmother, and both are the villians of the piece.
Even the modern-day live action film Pirates of the Caribbean portrays the main characters without mothers, including Elizabeth, Jack (whose mother is referenced as being dead) and Will.
The reasoning behind this fact has been hotly debated.
But it may actually be rooted a lot further back in history. It’s no secret that most of the Disney stories are based around the Grimms’ Fairy Tales by Brothers Grimm. The book was first published back in 1812 as a collection of Children’s and Household Tales, based on German fairy tales.
In the original versions, it was actually Snow White’s real mum who hired the huntsman to get rid of her beautiful daughter. So, what changed?
In an interview with The Guardian, Jack Zipes, professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota, said that the Grimms made the change in later editions because ‘many women died from childbirth in the 18th and 19th centuries, and there were numerous instances in which the father remarried a young woman, perhaps close in age to the father’s eldest daughter’ which is where the jealousy stemmed from.
Pretty dark, huh?
Some have speculated that it’s also based on Walt Disney’s own experiences, as the remaker of the original tales. He lost his own mother through tragic circumstances. In Neal Gabler’s biography Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, he tells of how Walt’s mum Flora “died of carbon monoxide poisoning from the defective heater.”
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Of course, this was in no way Walt’s own fault, but many believe that he spent the rest of his life feeling tremendously guilty. The book went on: “It may have been the most shattering moment of Walt Disney’s life—a misery deepened no doubt by the fact that she had died in the new home Walt had given her, and by the culpability of his own workmen.”
We’ll never watch them in quite the same way again…
By Laura Jane Turner