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)
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.