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