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27 Motherless Disney Characters

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While “happily ever after” may be a staple of Disney’s family fare, the legendary filmmaker’s own life wasn’t always so picture-perfect. The phenomenal box office success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs created a financial windfall for Walt and his brother, Roy, who used a portion of their newfound wealth to purchase a home for their parents in Hollywood. Less than a month after the elder Disneys moved into their new abode, a defective furnace caused their mother, Flora, to die from asphyxiation due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Devastated and guilt-ridden, Walt never spoke of her death. And it’s this tragedy that some people point to in explaining why so many Disney movie characters are motherless. But, as Snopes.com explains, a quick look at the chronology shows that this theory doesn’t quite hold up, as Snow White had already been completed—and Pinocchio and Bambi were in production—when Disney’s mother passed away. Still, there’s no denying Disney’s propensity for motherless characters. Here are 27 of them (and counting). 

1. SNOW WHITE IN SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937)

Though much is made of Snow White’s stepmother, the Evil Queen, not a lot of information is given as to what happened to her biological mother—she isn’t even given a name. But a 1938 storybook of the tale, published by Disney, includes a picture of the original Queen and a brief description of her passing: “While Snow White was still in her cradle, the good Queen died. So all the little Princess could remember about her mother was a sweet lullaby she used to sing.” 

2. BELLE IN BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)

More than 50 years after Snow White’s biological mother faded into the distance, so too did the mother of Belle, the beautiful young heroine who transforms her beast of a captor with love. All we know about Belle’s nameless mom is that she is deceased. 

3. PINOCCHIO IN PINOCCHIO (1940)

Considering that he’s not really a real boy, it makes sense that Pinocchio doesn't have a mother. But he does have the Blue Fairy, who does a fine job of filling that maternal role.

4. BAMBI IN BAMBI (1942)

Bambi may be the most famous of all motherless Disney characters, mostly because some insensitive soul somehow believed that it wouldn’t be totally traumatic to kids to sit idly by and watch (okay, hear) her get shot by a hunter. 

5. TOD IN THE FOX AND THE HOUND (1981)

Because one ruthlessly murdered-by-a-hunter mom wasn’t enough, in 1981, the mother of Tod, the titular fox in The Fox and the Hound, suffered the same fate.

6. CINDERELLA IN CINDERELLA (1950)

The Evil Stepmother is yet another common Disney trope, and one that’s clearly related to Motherless Character Syndrome. In the case of Cinderella, it’s her doting father’s desire to make sure that his beloved daughter is attended to that leads him to marry the evil Lady Tremaine who, with her equally miserable daughters Anastasia and Drizella, turns Cinderella’s life into a living hell. Good thing she’s got a fairy godmother. 

7. PETER PAN IN PETER PAN (1953)

Peter Pan and his hooligan crew of Lost Boys may not have any mothers to speak of, but they do have Wendy Darling, who is surprisingly maternal, despite being just a kid herself. 

8. ARTHUR IN THE SWORD IN THE STONE (1963)

Arthur, a.k.a. Wart, a.k.a. Disney’s version of King Arthur in The Sword in the Stone, is an orphan who is taken under Merlin’s wing so that he may help him extract said sword from said stone and become the next king.

9. MOWGLI IN THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967)

Mowgli gets the short end of the parent stick in just about every version of The Jungle Book. Found parentless and wandering the jungle, he’s adopted into a family of wolf cubs, thanks to Raksha, who raises him. And though she doesn’t play a huge role in the series, in 1998’s live-action The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story, she is killed by the tiger Shere Khan toward the end of the movie. 

10. PENNY IN THE RESCUERS (1977)

Penny starts out The Rescuers as an orphan being held prisoner by a treasure hunter named Madame Medusa and ends it being adopted by new parents. 

11. OLIVIA FLAVERSHAM IN THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE (1986)

It’s no wonder that Olivia Flaversham, the teeny tiny mouse heroine in The Great Mouse Detective, spends the bulk of the film searching for her kidnapped father: He’s all she’s got, as her mother is deceased.

12. ARIEL IN THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989)

Technically, there are seven characters in The Little Mermaid who are motherless: Ariel, Alana, Attina, Adella, Aquata, Arista, and Andrina. They’re all sisters and were all equally traumatized when their beloved mom, Queen Athena, was killed by a pirate ship as she attempted to recover a treasured music box that had been given to her by her husband. But as Ariel is “The” little mermaid of the title, we’ll simplify the math on this one. 

13. AND 14. JASMINE AND ALADDIN IN ALADDIN (1992)

Jasmine and Aladdin may not seem to have a lot in common—she’s the daughter of a sultan; he’s a lowly street rat—but if the conversation between them ever got too stale, they could bond over the fact that neither one of them had a mother. Which wasn’t always the intention. Aladdin’s mom actually had been written into the original script, where she served as a sort of conscience for him (pushing him to find a legitimate career and insisting that he come clean about his true identity with Jasmine). But she—along with a few other characters—were eventually edited out of the movie to help streamline the storyline (though she does pop up in a deleted scene on the DVD).

15. POCAHONTAS IN POCAHONTAS (1995)

We don’t get to see Pocahontas’ mother, not even in flashbacks. It’s only mentioned in passing that she passed away several years earlier. 

16. QUASIMODO IN THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1996)

Poor Quasimodo! As if he didn’t already have enough working against him with that unfortunate hunchback, he also has to deal with the fact that his mom—a gypsy—was murdered by the evil Judge Frollo who, as punishment for the crime, is forced to raise Quasimodo as his own.

17. OLIVER IN OLIVER & COMPANY (1988)

In Disney’s animated interpretation of Oliver Twist—but with a cat—Oliver is, of course, an orphan.

18. TARZAN IN TARZAN (1999)

After managing to save themselves—and their infant son—from a burning ship and actually building a treehouse out of the boat’s wreckage, Tarzan’s parents meet an untimely demise at the hands (and teeth) of a leopardess known as Sabor.

19. EMPEROR KUZCO IN THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE (2000)

In The Emperor’s New Groove, we learn that Emperor Kuzco’s dad disappeared while at sea when the would-be Emperor was just an infant. His mom is never mentioned, so it’s just assumed that she has passed away.

20. PRINCESS KIDA IN ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE (2001)

In Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Princess Kida’s mother died a hero. When a tidal wave threatened to submerge the wonderland that is Atlantis, the Princess’ mom—the Queen—sacrificed herself to protect her land. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. 

21. AND 22. LILO AND NANI IN LILO & STITCH (2002)

Following the death of their parents in a car accident, teenaged Nani Pelekai inherits the job of taking care of her precocious little sister, Lilo.

23. NEMO IN FINDING NEMO (2003)

It shouldn’t be surprising that Nemo’s father, Marlin, is the most overprotective clownfish in the ocean: It wasn’t that long ago that his wife, Coral, and all but one of their clutch of eggs were eaten by a barracuda. 

24. KODA IN BROTHER BEAR (2003)

Kenai, a young Inuit boy, isn’t a fan of bears. He blames them for the death of his older brother and so kills a bear as revenge. As punishment for his crime, Kenai is turned into a bear himself, which is how he meets Koda, a sweet-but-lost young bear who is mourning the death of his mother. As the movie progresses we learn that the bear Kenai killed was (surprise!) Koda’s mother. Awkward!

25. LINGUINI IN RATATOUILLE (2007)

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As the garbage boy-turned-chef explained, "She believed in heaven, so she's covered, you know, afterlife-wise." [Note: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that Remy was famed chef Auguste Gusteau's son.]

26. AND 27. ELSA AND ANNA IN FROZEN (2013)

Disney’s most obsessed-over animated flick has not one but two orphans: Elsa and Anna, whose parents were killed in a shipwreck. Which may explain why they’re so intent on letting it go.

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Paul Hiffmeyer, Disneyland Resort via Getty Images
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Big Questions
How Did the Super Bowl's 'I'm Going to Disney World' Slogan Originate?
Paul Hiffmeyer, Disneyland Resort via Getty Images
Paul Hiffmeyer, Disneyland Resort via Getty Images

It’s a Super Bowl tradition as recognizable as catchy commercials, lengthy halftime shows, and mounds of leftover guacamole, but how did the famous "I'm going to Disney World" and "I'm going to Disneyland" slogans make their way to (almost) every big game since 1987?

The idea for the slogan itself can be credited to Jane Eisner, the wife of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner. In 2015, he recounted the story behind the tagline to Sports Illustrated:

"In January 1987, we were launching Disneyland’s Star Tours, an attraction based on Star Wars. After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, my wife, Jane, and I had dinner with George Lucas, as well as Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, who had just become the first people to fly around the world without stopping. It was late and the conversation hit a lull as we waited for our food. So I asked Dick and Jeana, 'Well, now that you’ve accomplished the pinnacle of your aspirations, what could you possibly do next?' Rutan responded, without hesitation, 'I’m going to Disneyland.' And of course I go, 'Wow, that’s cool! You made the right choice.' But my wife interjects: 'You know, that’s a good slogan.'"

Around this time, the NFL playoffs were well underway, with the New York Giants and Denver Broncos set to face each other at Super Bowl XXI. What better time to unveil this new marketing slogan than at the biggest TV event of the year? Once Eisner decided on a time and place to debut the phrase, the teams’ two quarterbacks, Phil Simms and John Elway, both received identical offers: $75,000 for the winner to say "I’m going to Disney World" and "I’m going to Disneyland" to a Disney camera as they ran off the field after the game. This would then be used in a commercial with Disney World or Disneyland being shown depending on where it aired. (This is then oftentimes followed by an actual trip to a Disney park within the next few days, where the spokesperson takes part in a parade in his team's honor). 

Simms was hesitant at first, but once he heard Elway agreed to it, he was on board. The NFL also signed off on Disney’s plan, so now it was up to the company to find a way to get their cameras on the field before all-out madness could erupt. Tom Elrod, Disney’s president of marketing and entertainment in 1987, told Sports Illustrated:

"We wanted it to be authentic, but that meant being the first camera on the field, in the most frenetic environment you could possibly imagine. We’d be competing with broadcast crews and journalists and hangers-on and teammates, just to have some guy look into a camera and say, 'I’m going to Disney World.' It’s wild if you think about it. That first year, I don’t think anyone thought that was achievable."

It’s a good thing the reluctant Simms changed his tune about Disney’s offer, because his Giants beat Elway’s Broncos 39-20. Not only was Simms awarded his first Super Bowl win and the game’s MVP award, he also got a cool $75,000 for uttering two simple sentences (though he had to say both sentences three times each, just to be sure). 

The tradition has carried on ever since, except in 2005 for Super Bowl XXXIX and in 2016 for Super Bowl 50, when no commercials aired (though Super Bowl 50's winning quarterback, Peyton Manning, went to Disneyland anyway).

The slogan now extends beyond football, having been uttered by everyone from NBA players to Olympians and American Idol contestants. And even if they don't wind up in a commercial, chances are a championship team will still be greeted by a Disney park parade, like the one thrown for the Chicago Cubs in 2016. 

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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entertainment
Watch a Screenplay Go from Script to Screen in This Clip From Inside Out
Disney/Pixar
Disney/Pixar

If a movie were a person, its script would be the skeleton. The essentials—narrative, protagonists, dialogue, etc.—are all there, but they need to be fleshed out to fully come to life. Enter characters (either played by actors or animated), music, and special effects, and suddenly simple words on a page have transformed into a motion picture.

In the new Pixar-produced video below, which was first spotted by Gizmodo, you can compare the screenplay of 2015's Inside Out with the theatrical version released in theaters. The text scrolls down the screen's bottom half as a corresponding scene from the film progresses, allowing viewers to juxtapose what they're watching with what they're reading. This way, aspiring screenwriters and Pixar fans alike can see firsthand how a movie moves from a bare-bones script to a fully realized film.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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