Sunday, October 2, 2011

Why are so many Disney characters orphans?

I'm intrigued by the portrayal of parents in Disney movies, mostly because it is really rare for any hero or main character to have both parents around for the whole movie. In Bambi, this is the first time we even see both the mother and the father of the main character. As I mentioned in my Dumbo post, in these films we find most of our protagonists at some great disadvantage. Since these are children's movies, it makes sense that they would use the most traumatic disadvantage from a child's perspective: the loss of one or both parents. That must be one reason why orphans are so prominent in children's literature.

Having no parents or missing parents is a way for audiences to sympathize with the main character, but it also serves as an opportunity for the character to discover new love or new family-like relationships. In Tarzan, my favorite line in the whole movie comes near the end when he returns to help the gorilla family who has raised him as their own. Kerchak, the patriarch, says to him, "You came back." Tarzan replies, "I came home." (I seriously get choked up every time.) The message, "at first I didn't belong, and now I do," is truly powerful, and I would suggest, wonderfully echoes the message of the Gospel.

And so here in Bambi, the death of his mother is extremely tragic. In fact, it is so dramatic that we forget that we don't actually see her die. But then, Bambi's up-until-then-distant father, the Great Prince of the Forest (this dude could seriously give Harry Potter's patronus a run for its money), reaches out to Bambi. It is implied that he is the one who takes on parenting responsibilities, which, in normal deer behavior, pretty much never happens. When the stoic, serious father shows that he in fact dearly (hehe, no pun intended) loves his child, it resonates deeply with any of us who may have less than perfect relationships with our own father (and let's face it, that's all of us).  Loss or loneliness is a great plot device for the character to move towards a happy ending and for the audience to be drawn into all of the emotions, both painful and triumphant.

As always, comments and thoughts are welcome!

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