Parents in Disney Movies: Run For Your Lives!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I recently took my son to see Disney’s latest animated offering: Frozen. And guess what? Not only did The Youngster sit through the whole movie, eating popcorn and sipping lemonade like a big kid (a vast improvement from our last two movie outings), but he also thoroughly enjoyed it. We both did.

Mind you, in the beginning he kept whispering to me, “Mom, when’s Frozen going to show up?” He was referring to this cute chill-ball character below (Olaf). Somehow he got it into his head that Olaf’s name was Frozen, and that he was the real star of the show.

Photo by Disney

I quietly and quickly explained a few times that the snowman was coming later, and that his name wasn’t Frozen — although I understand why he would think it was. That sufficed. He stopped asking me about “Frozen/Olaf” and got into the action on the screen.

But then something happened that had me grabbing at jumbled words to try to explain it. The parents of the movie’s main characters died. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything here, because this tragic kill-off seems to happen quite often to parents in Disney movies, and I’m clear on why. These are supposed to be fun, light, enjoyable movies for them babies, right? So what’s up with the bloodlust, Walt and Crew?

Look, I’m a writer and storyteller. I completely buy into plot’s  having beginnings, middles and ends, and I especially appreciate the more complex elements of a story, like, complications and catastrophes (s/o to Aristotle!). What I can’t quite reconcile is this dead-parents plot strategy. More over, trying to explain death and dying to a 4.5-year-old kid at the back of crowded movie house quickly and in hushed tones ain’t my kind of party.

I will say that having the parents in Frozen (the King and Queen) set off on a ship that meets extremely rough seas before sinking was a cleaner way to go compared to the more gruesome fates of other Disney parents. Oh, Mufasa…whhyyyyyy?

“Where are the mommy and daddy, Mom?”

“Uh, they were on the ship.”

“But the ship capsized!”

“Yes, it did, sweetheart.”

“So what happened to the mom and dad?”

“They … went under. They drowned.”

“They drowned? What does that mean? Are they coming back to the castle?”

“Um … no. They drowned in the ocean. [Arrgh! This is going to come back to haunt us around swim class time, I just know it!] So that means they died, hon.”

“They diieeeeeed. They are deaaaaddd.” [I don’t know why he employed movie trailer announcer’s menacing voice at this point, but I kinda wanted to laugh.]

“Yes, sweet potato. It’s sad, but the parents drowned and died.”

He paused in that introspective way, where you can almost see the thoughts settle into his mind. We continued watching the movie. Olaf showed up. There was singing and ice sculpturing and funny bits and sweetness. We watched to the end and filed out through the doors.

Walking back to the car, I asked if he liked the movie and who his favorite character was. Of course it was Olaf (he tripped up and still called him Frozen once or twice more). After he was buckled in and we drove off, I glanced back at him in the rearview mirror. I could see his brain clicking through the gears. And then finally …

“Mom? Elsa and Anna’s mommy and daddy died. They died in the ocean. So Elsa and Anna had to take care of themselves.”

“That’s right, bud.”

“I don’t have to worry about that, right?”

“No, dumpling. You don’t have to worry about that at all.”


Have YOU had to have the death talk with your little ones because of a movie? How did you handle it? I’m all ears. 

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  • 1

    We’re all into Harry Potter, so that’s DEFINITELY something we’ve addressed. My son is old enough to talk about how stories sometimes deal with things that help us understand life and the difficult and wonderful things in it. My daughter (I think she’s about your little guy’s age) just wants to know that it won’t happen. And that’s one reassurance that children need to hear — just as you said it. “You don’t have to worry about that at all.” #security.

    • 1.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      I can’t even begin to think about the Harry Potter world yet. :-)

  • 2
    Arnebya says:

    Funnily enough, neither of my girls had brought it up or clued in on it when they were younger. Now that they’re older, though, we discuss it openly, which is different from when they’re little kids tryin to make sense of it. My youngest did notice that adults/parents seem to be mean (Tangled (which I liked more than Frozen) for instance. You know once I started thinking I came up with more examples of either parents missing or being mean). I did enjoy the movie, although I have to admit giggling early on when my oldest, 13, leaned in and asked if Troy and Gabriela were done singing yet. Ha. I’m laughing again because ha.