Whenever a mom or dad dies in a Disney movie, everyone shakes their heads. “Disney just has to kill off the parents every time,” they say, rolling their eyes. And it’s not just Disney. Plenty of other studios make movies that feature deceased or ambiguously missing parents. Kung Fu Panda, Despicable Me, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Hotel Transylvania, even The Lorax—all missing at least one parent.
But the truth is, up until very recently, most Disney movies were taken from and inspired by pre-existing books and fairy tales, from Rudyard Kipling to The Brothers Grimm. So, here are 10 parents that Disney really isn’t responsible for killing.
1. Snow White’s mother
In the Grimm version of the story, published in 1812 in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Snow White’s mother dies shortly after giving birth to her.
2. Bambi’s mother
One of the most famous instances of Disney killing off the mother first happened in the book it was inspired by—Bambi, A Life in the Woods, by Felix Salten. Like the movie, mom is taken down by a hunter.
3. Cinderella’s mother
In Charles Perrault’s Cindrillon, the wicked stepmother and stepsisters are still in the picture because Cinderella’s father remarried after her mother’s death. The father is still alive in Perrault’s version, but he’s obviously neglecting his daughter: “The poor girl bore all patiently and dared not complain to her father, who would have scolded her if she had done so, for his wife governed him entirely.”
4. Mowgli’s parents
Just like the movie, Rudyard Kipling’s story features the infant Mowgli abandoned in the jungle, presumably orphaned.
5. Oliver’s parents
Oliver & Company is based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, the poster child for mistreated orphans.
6. Ariel’s mother
Hans Christian Andersen mentions almost immediately that “the Sea King” is a widower—though Anderson did include a grandmother mermaid that Disney omitted from the movie.
7. Belle’s mother
Beauty and the Beast has been around since at least the mid-1700s. Belle didn’t have a mother in those early versions, either, but she did have three brothers and two sisters who were left out of the movie.
8. Tarzan’s parents
The famous Edgar Rice Burroughs book also kills Tarzan’s parents right away—there wouldn't have been much of a book if they were alive.
9. Rapunzel’s parents
Disney actually did Rapunzel a favor in Tangled—not only was the long-locked princess reunited with her parents at the end, but those parents actually wanted her. In the Brothers Grimm version, Rapunzel’s parents gave her up because her mom had a craving for some rapunzel (a leafy green) growing in a garden that wasn’t theirs. A baby for a salad? Seems like a fair trade.
10. Penny’s parents
Though Margery Sharp’s orphan was named Patience, not Penny, the little girl in The Rescuers has always been parentless. Patience didn’t show up in Sharp’s first Rescuers book, by the way—she wasn’t featured until the sequel, Miss Bianca.
Also, I might note that all of these Disney movies feature two perfectly healthy parents/couples: Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Mary Poppins, Brave, Frankenweenie, The Incredibles, Brave, 101 Dalmatians, and Mulan.