While the majority of Disney characters suffer from being motherless, there a few lucky ones. Hercules actually has two mothers. His biological mother is a Goddess and has to watch silently as he is raised by a human couple down on Earth. Both of his mothers loved him and we can only guess that his human mom gave him love and guidance while he was growing up. Mulan also has a supportive mother. She pushes her daughter towards marriage but understands that she’s different from the other girls and supports and loves Mulan anyway. The same thing goes for Tiana’s mom in The Princess and the Frog. After the death of Tiana’s father (I guess it would be asking too much for her to have both parents), her mother supported Tiana in her quest to open her own restaurant, despite the odds against her.
Disney’s non-human characters seem to have some luck with mothers as well. Aristocats features the feline Duchess and her three kittens. Throughout the movie they get into heaps of trouble but she never stops being the best mother she could be. In 101 Dalmatians, Perdita is an excellent mother to her 15 puppies, and even adopts 84 more after they are rescued from the evil fur-wearing Cruella. Now that is deserving of the mother of the year award.
Some Disney characters get to have mothers but not very interesting or helpful ones. Sleeping Beauty’s mom has no actual dialogue or even a name. She sat in her castle for 16 years while some lovable but inept fairies raised her daughter in the woods. In the Lion King, Simba runs away from his pride after his father is killed and his mother lives on to believe he’s dead while the young cub is raised by an interspecies couple in the woods. I see a pattern here. These mothers love their children but due to various extenuating circumstances, are not really involved in their lives.
Rapunzel had a similar story in Tangled. She was stolen from her parents as a baby and doesn’t see her mother again until the end of the film. Instead she’s raised by a crazy witch in a tower in the woods. Her story is pretty complicated and kind of a psychological mess. Mother Gothel raised Rapunzel as a caring, loving mother but ended up being the villain of the film. So we’re never really sure if she loved her “daughter” or not, which is almost creepier than the straight-up evil stepmother.
Many Disney characters are completely without mothers at all. A lot of them are mysteriously absent. We know some of them are dead but their histories are never really explained to us. There are a ridiculous amount of characters with dead or missing mothers.
Snow White? Dead.
Pinocchio? He was made of wood so no embryo necessary.
Bambi? Killed by humans.
Dumbo? I don’t even want to talk about that shit.
Peter Pan? Dead.
The Fox and the Hound? Killed by humans.
Brother Bear? Killed by humans.
The Sword and the Stone? Dead.
The Little Mermaid? Dead.
Beauty and the Beast? Dead.
Aladdin? Dead and dead.
James and the Giant Peach? Dead.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Killed by fellow humans.
Lilo and Stitch? Dead.
Chicken Litte? Dead.
Finding Nemo? Dead.
Pirates of the Caribbean? Dead.
If it wasn’t bad enough that some of these characters grew up without their mothers, Cinderella and Snow White had to deal with some evil bitches of stepmothers. I wonder if the Grimm brothers had a grudge against their stepmother because these storylines never end well for the second wife.
So what have we learned from evaluating mothers in the wonderful world of Disney? We’ve learned that human beings are complete assholes. And we also learned that being motherless is a convenient plot device for character development and excuse for why so many of these characters make really dumb life decisions.
If Snow White and Cinderella’s mothers had not died, they wouldn’t have had to deal with the apparent torture that is having a stepmother. If Belle’s mom hadn’t been dead, maybe she could have bitch-slapped her out of her Stockholm Syndrome. If Ariel’s mom had been alive maybe she wouldn’t have given up her entire life at 16 to marry some guy she never spoke to just to rebel against her father. If Quasimodo’s mom was alive he’d still be a poor Gypsy, but at least he wouldn’t be locked in a tower with only gargoyles to talk to.
Regardless of the reasoning behind these mother-less characters that seem to dominate Disney movies, it’s a plot device that is by now accepted and joked about. I’m hoping the up-and-coming Pixar and Disney crossover Brave will show a normal dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship and be a refreshing break from Disney’s pattern of missing mothers.
Edit: I think the author is not saying that these characters are all "bad" or "ugly" but that the way Disney handled their storylines were.