Orphans Are My Rockstars


“… it became very clear to me that these orphans, just like the Disney characters, were in the midst of writing pretty incredible stories.

Have you ever noticed how the lead characters in most Disney movies have no mothers? If they do have mothers, they are evil stepmothers? Or, they are completely orphaned altogether?

Just in case you don’t use your spare time to contemplate the deeper meaning of this, I’ve compiled a list to help illustrate my point:

  1. Beauty and the Beast: Belle, no mother, single dad.
  2. Aladdin: orphan. Also Jasmine: no mom, single dad.
  3. Ariel: no mother, single dad/Merman.
  4. Pocahontas: no mother, single dad.
  5. Peter Pan: orphan (Well, they appointed Wendy as their mother.)
  6. Pinocchio: no mother, single dad.
  7. Snow White: evil stepmother.
  8. Cinderella: evil stepmother.
  9. Tangled: Rapunzel, evil step-mother. Her mom isn’t dead, but she doesn’t meet her until she’s grown up and handed off to Flynn Ryder. (Also a potential orphan.)
  10. Finding Nemo: no mother (eaten by barracuda), single dad.
  11. Bambi: mom killed off in the beginning of the movie. (I’m horrified to this day.)
  12. Jungle Book: Mowgli, orphan. (He has the pack of wolves, and the bear, but I would still consider that orphaned.)

Most of these characters were raised by single fathers, fairies, nannies, talking animals, guys off the street (stranger-danger is a real thing, Princess Jasmine!) or seven little men who live in a house in the woods. (Dodgy.)

So, Walt: What’s your problem with moms?

There are many theories floating on the Internet about why so many Disney movies feature motherless children. Three notable theories are:

  1. Walt Disney is a sexist who portrays women in power as evil.
  2. Walt Disney had unresolved issues about his own mother’s death and therefore withheld motherly figures from his fictional characters.
  3. Disney movies are based on old fairytales written when the rate of female mortality was very high. As a result, many children were raised by single dads (or fairies, I guess) and this motif is written into most fairytales.

In my opinion, the final argument is most compelling.

Theories aside, the event of losing or living without parents leaves these Disney characters exposed, navigating chaotic fairytale lands. It creates a need for them to begin new, albeit more dangerous, stories.

The goal of this narrative device is clear. In order to create a dramatic storyline for the characters in these fairytales, their authors strip them of all comfort. In many cases, this comfort and protection would have been offered by their mothers.

Orphan Benefits

I spent the last five months in Uganda, a country with over 2.5 million orphans according to UNICEF. I realized very quickly that these kids I went to “help” were not in need of my saving. Don’t get me wrong, as members of an affluent society, we need to respond to the very real needs of our brothers and sisters across the globe.

What I’m trying to say is, it became very clear to me that these orphans, just like the Disney characters, were in the midst of writing pretty incredible stories. Stories in which they don’t have to question their Creator’s motives.

And they lived happily ever after …

I grew up watching all the Disney movies, and I still love them.

To quote Belle: “Far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a prince in disguise,” what’s not to love? It never occurred to me that many of these characters didn’t have moms, or that they were often orphaned.

Now I find myself watching these Disney movies with a deep-seeded desire to do a rockstar shout, “This one goes out to you!” as I point to each one of the 2.5 million orphans in Uganda.

I know that there are plenty of arguments for why we need stories portraying loving mommies, instead of evil stepmothers (and I’m not arguing that); but we also need good stories about orphans who overcome life-altering obstacles.

We all need to see how a story can change.

We need to see a protagonist–perhaps an orphan, perhaps a single mom–slay dragons and escape from towers.

We need to know there is an Author who has a good plan, and believe our “happily ever after” is on its way.


Photo credit: Disney Collage

Ashley Mandanici
My name is Ashley and I am the Children’s Ministry Coordinator at Relate Church in Surrey, B.C. My mission is to develop the God-given potential in every child who crosses my path *Insert Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” here*. I love all things jazzy, particularly music, and I tend to break into song throughout the day for no apparent reason.
Ashley Mandanici

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  1. Dorothy says:

    Yes, yes, yes! This post has summed up a lot of my thoughts that I’ve been having the past couple of months-our pity for the poor can often conceal the greatness that God has in store for our brother and sisters around the world. It’s sort of a reminder that our lament (although important to experience) can’t overshadow the deep and abiding joy that comes when people are personally touched by Jesus, and are forever changed.

  2. The Disney movie thing is new to me, and enjoyed the light-heartedness of the article. However, one thing I realized in while in Haiti last week is the orphans in orphanages — those that are doing things right, anyway — are not really orphans any more. They are part of a larger, unconventional family. But still have a place to find some security, as opposed to those still alone, abandoned, helpless and vulnerable. Those are the ones that make up the millions STILL in need of saving.

    • For sure Michele— that’s one thing i appreciated about working at Watoto ministries— they place the kids in homes with moms—they aren’t just a number in an orphanage, they are part of a family. Stories being changed! Gotta love it! Thanks for the feed back Michele!

  3. This is very thoughtful, i love it. That’s i like you A WHOLE LOT!!! When i grow up i want to be like you

  4. Natasha says:


    I always find that I have a smile on my face, yet receive great conviction and insight when reading your articles. Thank-you for bringing my feet back to the ground, while allowing my dreams to stay amongst the clouds.

    You truly have a gift. xo

    • Thanks my darling! I always appreciate your support and love and the fact that you’ll listen to me reading my articles to you over the phone when i’m worried everything i have to say sucks! hehe. love you!

  5. Signal On Ministries says:

    Great article and relevant! Thanks for sharing your passion and obvious enthusiasm!

  6. AWESOME read! Thank you Ashley Mandanici for telling this story of hope. Everything always seems so focused on the negative and the “problem”, I am constantly scouring to find true stories that include the problem while at the same time having it entangled with the hope that eventually brings the “happy ever after”. Thanks for being both beautiful and awesome! Kelly

    • It is certainly very easy to find the negative (i discovered that when i went hunting for thoughts on Walt Disney’s mother’s “complex” we’ll call it, for lack of better words)— but certainly these stories have redemption and bravery that we can all be inspired to infuse our lives with! Thanks for the kids words Kelly!

  7. Jennifer says:

    “We all need to see how a story can change. We need to see a protagonist–perhaps an orphan, perhaps a single mom–slay dragons and escape from towers. We need to know there is an Author who has a good plan, and believe our ‘happily ever after’ is on its way.”

    Well said. The stories that capture our hearts are redemption, overcoming, brotherhood/sisterhood, and a life changed for the better. One who does not struggle lives no overcoming struggle of their own. We who paint over the tagged, scarred parts of our lives rob the world of the rich story that may give others the very hope you describe. May we all be a brave protagonist; may we all be the teachable student.

  8. I think the last theory is the most relevant to the issue, as well. Many of the stories mentioned are classic fairytales in which not having a mother or having a stepmother was a common theme. In the case of Pocahontas and Aladdin, it is somewhat historically accurate without having to portray the polytheism in a culture unaccepting of it: in the case of Pocahontas, her mother was actually dead in the real-life story (one point of historical accuracy, among many other misses).

    I think it’s important though to remember the motherly figures we do see in Disney (mainly, actually, Pixar) movies. Andy’s mom seems to be a single mom (Toy Story); Ellie is a beautiful role model for a woman wanting to be a mother; Elastigirl, Helen Parr, is one awesome freaking Mom that fights for her family. Sarabi and Nala are both tough and loving. Fa Li and Grandmother Fa are two fun ends of the grown up lady spectrum; and Eudora is a prime example of the opposite side of parental loss – she never stops Tiana from following her dream.

    Just a few examples. I think Disney is well-balanced if you care to look deeper: it is a company that truly strives to allow everyone a place in their world. However, I do love your connection to Ugandan orphans and how these films made you think of them. Truly beautiful: thank you for caring for our world’s children.

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