Disney’s Hidden Message

By Kara Eberle

For Smart

I have a theory about the folks at Disney.

They don’t like women. And, more specifically, they don’t like moms.

I’m not sure when I came to this conclusion. Maybe it was on my 342nd time watching “Little Mermaid,” or my 257th rendition of “Sleepy Beauty.”

But, I think it’s pretty clear.

Don’t believe me?

Take a look at the princesses first:

Ariel: There’s never any mention of Ariel’s mother or why King Triton doesn’t have a queen. Prince Eric also doesn’t have a mom, which goes unquestioned throughout this fishy tale.

Sleepy Beauty: Aurora/Briar Rose/Sleepy Beauty has a mom. But The Queen doesn’t get an actual name. She barely has any role in the story except to give birth to the princess and then to send her out into the woods with three fairies.

Jasmine: This princess is left to fend for herself as her bumbling father tries to marry her off.

Snow White: In this Disney classic, Snow White’s mother dies. Then her father remarries a vain witch, who eventually tries to have her stepdaughter killed because she’s prettier. Oh, and when Snow White finds a cottage in the woods, she cleans it! If that were me, there’s no way I’d clean up after those seven slobs.

Cinderella: Here we have another wicked stepmother and a couple of mean stepsisters. Once again, Disney falls back on the story of a lonely widower who dies and leaves his daughter alone.

Belle: I don’t have this one memorized yet. It’s one of the few Disney movies we don’t own. However, from what I do know, there’s no mom here either.

Moving on to other Disney classics:

“Fox and the Hound”: The mother fox is killed by hunters in the opening scene.

“Finding Nemo”: Nemo’s mother is eaten before the little guy even hatches.

“Bambi”: I think we all know Bambi’s mother fate.

“Dumbo”: Our favorite flying elephant’s mom is caged after she tries to protect her little one from people poking fun at her baby’s ears.

And, as if all that weren’t bad enough, Disney also promotes teen marriage.

Ariel and Sleepy Beauty get hitched when they’re 16, and their fathers couldn’t be happier.

In Snow White’s case, I don’t know how old she is, but she’s old enough to know that it’s not OK to wander into a house and fall asleep in the residents’ beds. Can you say “home invasion?”

More modern movies seem to have stronger female roles. For instance, Elastigirl in Disney-Pixar’s “Incredibles” helps save the day. Plus, she stands up for herself when her husband tells her to get the kids and hide.

I’m sure there are other Disney movies that feature strong women and mothers. But I’ve been wondering if Disney movies are truly appropriate for my daughter.

I want her to grow up to be a strong, independent woman.

I don’t want her to think about getting married until after she’s graduated from college.

And, I don’t want her waiting for Prince Charming to come along and fix all her problems.

It would be nice, though, if she got to live happily ever after.

Kara Eberle is editor of Smart. Sign up for a free subscription to the magazine at

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