Disney movies are notorious for being very sad. But Bambi’s mother may have died for a different reason than for an anti-hunting message.
It is widely assumed that in movies like “Bambi” and “Fox and the Hound,” the parents are shot to convey an anti-hunting message. But there may be another reason.
Don Hahn is the creator of some of the biggest Disney movies of all time including “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” He has said that the reason for the parent, or parents, of the protagonist to die is so the character can grow up faster. Disney movies are only 80 to 90 minutes long, and if there is no parent figure, the character has to grow up much faster.
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.
Yet, according to a new biography on Walt Disney, “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination” by Neal Gabler, Disney may have been projecting deep-set grief through his movies. This may be another reason that the parent in the plot dies.
In the 1940s, Disney bought a house for his parents. The furnace in the new house was broken so he had people working in his studio, who weren’t exactly certified repairmen, go and fix it. That night, the furnace leaked.
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.
This became the biggest “secret” in Walt Disney’s life. He never spoke about it, feeling personally responsible, and therefore no one ever mentioned the tragedy. He lived silently with his grief his entire life.
The mother-less characters, then, like Bambi, Todd, Cinderella, Belle, Nemo and so many more, may represent Disney himself, not a blatant anti-hunting message.
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 mom’s death was really tragic. If you dig, you can read about it. It’s not a secret within their family, but it’s just a tragedy that is so difficult to even talk about. It helps to understand the man a little bit more.
It also helps to understand the heart-wrenching sadness that some Disney movies make you feel when their parents are shot by heartless, careless hunters who care none for conservation.
Which is just untrue.