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Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?

Stashed in: Women, Disney!, Spice Girls!, Parents, Incredibles!, Frozen, Lion King, Brave

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The cartoonist Alison Bechdel once issued a challenge to the film industry with her now-famous test: show me a movie with at least two women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man. Here’s another challenge: show me an animated kids’ movie that has a named mother in it who lives until the credits roll. Guess what? Not many pass the test. And when I see a movie that does (BraveCoralineA Bug’s LifeAntzThe IncrediblesThe Lion King, Fantastic Mr. Fox), I have to admit that I am shocked … and, well, just a tad wary.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The dead-mother plot has a long and storied history, going back past Bambi and Snow White, past the mystical motherless world of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, past Dickens’s orphans, past Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, past the Brothers Grimm’s stepmothers, and past Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. As Marina Warner notes in her book From the Beast to the Blonde, one of the first Cinderella stories, that of Yeh-hsien, comes from ninth-century China. The dead-mother plot is a fixture of fiction, so deeply woven into our storytelling fabric that it seems impossible to unravel or explain.

Frozen passes the first test, but not the second.  I'm still laughing at this one:

chicken little

This is still the funniest part of the movie.

I'm sorry I was wrong.  The best part was when Fish builds an empire state building and paper airplanes out of Chicken Little's newspaper pants and re-enacts the king kong scene.

Ok, that Empire State Building scene is great.

And the version of Spice Girls' "Wannabe" is great, too.

As you pointed out, Frozen passes the Bechdel test...

...but it too has dead parents, unfortunately.

The Incredibles stands out as a cartoon movie about a family.

There really are not many of those.

possibly because it is the easiest symbol for a world gone wrong? 

That seems right.

A world without mothers is a world gone wrong. I agree.

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