A Mother's Day Ranking of All Animated Disney Moms, From 'Mulan' to 'Brave'
Happy Mother's Day! Whether you celebrate with someone you call "Mom," "Grandma," "Aunt," "Dad," "Parent," "Ann" or "me," today is a great excuse to hang out with family and eat delicious brunch. Although there are plenty of amazing real-life people to celebrate today (hi Mom!), Mother's Day is also a great time to think about how family gender roles are represented on-screen. So why not take a second to see how the world of Disney cartoons has treated moms?
Disney's legacy with parenthood is a mixed bag, and often it favors fatherhood over motherhood or guardianship of any kind. Very often the "dead mother" premise is used and abused in Disney films, but if mothers or guardians survive to the first song, they often have a profound effect on the movie. So let's see what animated Disney movies would make our moms proud, ranked with the ones that invalidate their hard work.
19. Mother Gothel, Tangled
She wasn't the first embodiment of the evil stepmother, but Mother Gothel is probably the worst. She steals a baby, pretends to be her mother, imprisons her in a tower, and sucks out her power to stay young. Add the song "Mother Knows Best," and you've got the worst Disney representation of stepmotherhood.
18. The Queen, Snow White
First of all, it's pretty sad that this Disney villain is only billed as either "the queen" or "the witch," despite her central role in Snow White's story. She is often seen as the first Disney "evil stepmother," and she set up the stereotype, with its obsession with youth, hatred for the stepchild, and unexplained maniacal cackling. It's one of Disney's more hurtful stereotypes, since there are so many awesome stepmoms and non-biological guardians out there that already feel excluded from Mother's Day, even though they shouldn't.
17. Lady Tremaine, Cinderella
While "the queen" may have started the evil stepmother trope, Lady Tremaine cemented it, and added evil stepsisters. While some may argue that the fairy godmother represents a positive nonbiological parent, the fact remains that Cinderella's stepmother is abusive and generally awful. Yet another strike in Disney's step-parent column.
16. Queen of Arandelle, Frozen
Some people are going to fight me on this one, but I don't like the queen of Arandelle. I know she only thought she was doing what was best for her children, but locking one daughter in her room was probably not the answer. It seems like those rock-troll-people were against hiding Elsa's powers from the start, so she probably should have listened to them. Also, Disney, could the parents have first names in your next film? And maybe, just maybe, they could survive to through the second act? Because the dead mother trope has seriously got to go.
15. Wendy, Peter Pan
I realize that in Wendy, John and Michael have a living, breathing mother who puts them to bed at the beginning of the movie. Once they're in Neverland, though, the Lost Boys are constantly asking Wendy if she'll be their mother. It's vomit-inducing that just because Wendy is two to three years older and a girl, she has to "mother" everyone in the film. Also, she's drawn like a slightly-smaller version of her mother, so they look closer in age than seems appropriate. Not cool, Walt.
14. Grandmother Willow, Pocahontas
Grandmother Willow would be much higher if her treelike form didn't promote harmful Native American stereotypes. Also, the weeping willow tree she was drawn to emulate is native to northern China and was brought to North America long after the 17th century, so I'm going to leaf this matriarch at the not-so-good end of the list.
13. Lady Elinor, Brave
Even though Brave did some great things for Disney gender stereotypes, it didn't present a healthy (or feminist) mother-daughter relationship. Lady Elinor wants Merida to conform to the "princess" stereotype, and refuses to support her daughter's choices in hobbies or gender expression. Hopefully the next pop-feminist Disney movie will remember that positive female role models are important, because Brave and Frozen struck out on that front.
12. Fa Li and Grandmother Fa, Mulan
Fa Li and Grandmother Fa are both strong female figures: they manage a farm, raise a daughter, and show Mulan who's boss. However, they don't rank too highly on this list because of they are part of the overarching problematic Asian stereotypes in Mulan. If only Grandmother Fa's jokes weren't based on Chinese stereotypes, Disney could have made the world's best animated matriarchs.
11. Lady, Lady and the Tramp
Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of Lady and the Tramp as a film, since it's essentially an overdone love story with dogs. Equally eye roll-inducing are their puppies at the end, which are comprised of daughters that look like Lady and sons that look like Tramp. Hint to Disney execs, genetics doesn't work like that.
10. The Queen and The Fairies, Sleeping Beauty
Although Malificent might change the Sleeping Beauty fable forever, Aurora's traditional female protectors are either literal fairies or completely powerless, or both. The original film has many troubling female stereotypes, but they all stem from her almost nonexistent mother and completely impotent fairy "aunts."
9. Perdita (Purdy) - 101 Dalmatians
Even though Purdy is described as "beautiful" throughout this movie, she clearly shows that she's also fierce and physicall powerful. She carries her children everywhere, walks hundreds of miles, and tells Pongo when he's wrong. Pretty good for a fictional dog with 99 children.
8. Kanga and Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh
Although Kanga is the only overt mother character in the Winnie the Pooh franchise, I would argue that Rabbit also acts as an unofficial parent to the group. Rabbit's worrying about winter and concern for Pooh's safety shows their parental tendencies, and both Rabbit and Kanga do a great job keeping their odd little family together.
7. Atta and Queen, A Bug's Life
Both the elder Queen and Atta make a lot of progress over the course of A Bug's Life, where they learn to stand up to the grasshoppers and defend their kingdom. Even though their ritualized oppression at the beginning of the film isn't a good example for little Princess Dot, their growth in the movie teaches her a valuable lesson about leadership. Who knew ants are such amazing parents?
6. Duchess, The Aristocats
Duchess is one of the few examples of a Disney single mom who isn't constantly referring to a dead father or abusing her children. In fact, she takes care of her children on an epic trek across France, and manages to expose the man who is trying to harm them. And in the same trip, she manages to pick up a cute alley cat for herself. Oh, and she makes sure her cat-children learn the arts at an early age. You go, Duchess.
5. Sarabi, The Lion King
The Lion King is yet another example of a Disney movie that murders a parent early on. Though Sarabi survives the entire film and is a generally great parent to Simba, I'll never forgive her for allowing Scar to take over her kingdom. So as a parent, Sarabi is flawless, but as a queen, I have some problems with her leadership style.
4. Helen Parr (Elastigirl), The Incredibles
I absolutely love Elastigirl, and I think she's probably one of the most realistic mother-figures on this list, but her obsession with Mr. Incredible's secrecy and possible affair somewhat undermine her kickass status. Then again, we all need Edna Mode to remind us of who we are sometimes, even if it hurts.
3. Kala, Tarzan
When Kala plucks Tarzan out of his bassinet at the beginning of the movie, we know she's going to be a great protector. Throughout the movie, she also shows that she's capable of patience and forgiveness, unlike Tarzan's adoptive father, Kerchak. Even though Kala sometimes slips into stereotypes of motherhood, she's a great adoptive mom, which is rare in Disney films.
2. Nani, Lilo and Stitch
Sure, Nani is Lilo's older sister, but as her legal guardian, I think she deserves to be honored this Mother's Day. Despite what Cobra Bubbles thinks, Nani is as great parent, even if Lilo and Stitch can be challenging to raise at times. She also has mastered surfing, even with an alien and a child on her board.
1. Eudora, Princess and the Frog
A mom who wants you to be professionally successful and worries that you aren't having enough fun? Eudora really ups the ante for Disney moms. She also gets bonus points for being a working mother who keeps her children grounded. Good work, Eudora, you make all the moms out there proud.