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Dear Disney,

Having seen Brave yesterday, it seems like you're making progress with your deep-seated Mommy issues. Historically, Disney films have taken the position that the only good mother was a dead one. Snow White's mother? Dead. Cinderella's? Dead. Belle's? Ariel's? Jasmine's? Dead, dead, and dead. Not just the princesses, either. Aladdin was an orphan. Tarzan's parents were killed by a leopard, and Mowgli's by a tiger (by inference). Even the wildlife doesn't get off easy. Tod the Fox's mom ended up a fur stole, Nemo's mother was barracuda bait, and Bambi's became venison. Dumbo got lucky — his mother just wound up in chains, but then, he was never wildlife to begin with, having been born into a circus. Come to think of it, Lady, Duchess, and Purdy (domestic animals all) were also allowed to have and keep their children. Perhaps you previously felt maternity to be acceptable only in the context of companion animals? Be that as it may, when it comes right down to it, the majority of your lead characters don't have mothers because the story line kills them off early. One might think you've developed quite the Orestes complex.

It's true, you've offered up a few mothers who managed to live to see their children become adults. Aurora's mother and Rapunzel's, to name the two who spring to mind. Of course, both of those mothers had to spend their daughters' childhoods grieving because their flaxen-haired child was taken from them as a baby. The only Disney Mom who really had a lasting, positive impact on her daughter was Tiana's mother — supportive of her daughter's dream, willing to listen to her daughter's struggles, giving love and guidance to the child, standing back and allowing the adult to blossom. Now there's a good mom. Tiana has been unique among Disney's princesses in more than just her skin color—she's the only character who has had a strong maternal role model. If I had one beef with Tiana's mother, it was that she was almost too good to be true. She was Oprah in more than just voice.

So it's nice to see a Disney princess who grows up to have a normal mother-daughter relationship. Watching Merida quarrel with Eleanor was very little different from my own experiences raising a teenage stepdaughter* and, in fact, it had a lot of resonance with my experiences from way back when I was the teen quarreling with my mother, too. I admit to a certain amount of squirming, recognizing myself both in Eleanor's attempts to mold her daughter into a mode of behavior that didn't come naturally to her AND in the defiance that sends Merida racing off into the woods on horseback... only to guiltily face her worried mother's relief when she comes home safely. I have to say, Disney, you got the relationship dynamics absolutely right. I have stood in both characters' shoes, and the picture you drew of the mother and the daughter, and how they interacted, was spot on. And I was greatly moved by Merida's tearful realization, upon finding that the spell she'd put on her mother was irreversible, of how much she'd lost in wishing her mother to be something other than what (or who) she was. It took me many long years to reach that level of appreciation for my own mother — a paragon in many ways, but as full of flaws as any of us. I wonder how much that confession reflects your realization, Disney, that you haven't given Moms their full due over the decades.

People will criticize, of course, that we had to have another skinny Minnie in a tiara. Let them. I'm far less concerned with that than I am with the fact that you've apparently ended your predilection for killing off any character that's ever given birth (to anything other than puppies or kittens, that is). Some might quibble that a 10th century Scotswoman should not be outfitted in Renaissance fashion. Silk? In Dark Ages Scotland? Yeah. Right. And as long as we're quibbling about the small stuff, Eleanor could have been a bit more zaftig — she HAS borne 4 kids, after all, and that doesn't generally leave one svelte. It was also a bit distressing that every male in the film was a violent buffoon (don't the Dads also deserve some respect?). The trio of Dennis-the-Menace little brothers was cute, though. So all in all, I'd say you're making progress.

*we will not discuss how Disney treats stepmothers here, except to say that the script for Cinderella seems, to me, to have come directly from the pen of a 16-year-old girl who doesn't want to do chores. Nuff said.

Originally posted to Fenbeast on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 03:43 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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