Motherhood can be hard to explain, let alone to boil down into a formula. Disney, however, has tried in their movies, and they’ve gotten some negative feedback for what they’ve come up with.
Stepmoms equal evil and vain. Bio moms equal angelic but ultimately fragile. Recently, there’s been an effort to change this, and we’re here to say it’s not all bad. In fact, Disney got 25 huge things about mothering absolutely on the nose.
That stepmom stuff? Well, that definitely lands in the “they were wrong about it” part. However, just as their female characters have evolved from the somewhat helpless and kind of naïve Snow White—she was warned about strangers like 1,000 times, after all—to independent archery guru Merida, so has their take on mothers.
Now we have such stalwart ladies as Eudora, voiced by none other than Oprah Winfrey, and even the unexpectedly maternal Maleficent played by powerful activist Angelina Jolie.
It seems that Disney is getting better at portraying motherhood as it is—sometimes messy, but inspirational and empowering. For the first time, one of their youthful princesses has herself morphed into a mother, and Ariel is learning from the other side what it is like to parent a headstrong, intelligent girl with her own ideas of how the world should be.
36 Maleficent’s The Difference
Although this remix of the classic evil witch stereotype released in 2014 got mixed reviews, it definitely got one thing right about motherhood, or even somewhat adopted motherhood. As Buzzfeed said, the kiss in this movie that woke sleeping Aurora was a kiss by motherly Maleficent, one of guilt and sorrow.
Aurora awoke to forgive the fairy, showing that motherhood is the birth of a better version of ourselves, though not a blameless one. Also, this was proof of the resilient bond between mothers and daughters.
35 Why? - Stepmoms Get Such A Bad Rep
One thing Disney missed on was their creation of the stepmom stereotype. Think of it: the list is fairly long.
There’s Snow White’s evil stepmom, Cinderella’s notorious one, and the young and everything-but-maternal Meredith from Parent Trap—who might at least teach us what not to be like. Stepmoms out there do a lot of work and parenting with so little praise.
The myth of the evil stepmom is so prevalent the National Post did a piece on how it affects stepmoms every day.
These ladies are mamas too, whether or not they’re raising biological children.
34 Mamas Can Work And Love
One of the non-noble but still queenly mothers in the Disneyverse is Eudora, mother to Tiana, who will eventually grow to be the frog’s princess.
She’s kind but straightforward, loving but practical.
Fandom reminds us the first time we see Eudora she’s both working as a seamstress (“the finest in all New Orleans”) and keeping an eye on her daughter. She shows us that working mamas are good mamas, too.
She’s also voiced by Oprah Winfrey, adding to her stalwartness.
33 Why? - Pushing Daughters To Marry Up
While we know that Mulan is supposed to be a depiction of feudal China, Fa Li’s acquiescence to her daughter’s day with the matchmaker still makes teeth grind.
According to IMDb, she even catches Mulan with writing on her arm and asks, “What’s this?” acknowledging that Mulan feels like she needs to cheat in order to fit in.
Never once do the women in this movie make room for Mulan to be anything but a young bride. Mothers out there want a lot for their daughters—happiness, success, a long life—but not marriage for status.
32 Changing Attitudes
One thing Disney certainly got right is the shift in opinions and personalities between generations.
Take Lady Elinor from Brave, according to DisneyMovies. She’s strong and stalwart in her own right, although she struggles to see the world from her tomboy daughter’s perspective. To her, gracefully and unblinkingly leading her people is what it means to be strong. She’s a traditionalist, where her daughter veers off course. However, this awesome twosome teaches us that love is the greatest adapter.
Elinor realizes that helping Merida find her own happiness is the right path.
30 Why? - Not All Moms Are Gone
Thank goodness for mamas that they don’t live in the Disneyverse. If so, their chances of surviving to their children’s adulthood seem scarce.
Think of Belle’s mom (who The Hollywood Reporter confirmed passed away offscreen from the plague), Cinderella’s biological mother, Snow White’s bio mom, Anna and Elsa’s mom, and even poor Bambi’s mom.
These ladies didn’t stand a chance against the harshness of Disney’s treatment of mamas. One theory is that this was caused by Walt Disney losing his own mother early on.
29 Putting Others First
Clarisse Renaldi, Queen of Genovia, embodies this part of motherhood flawlessly in Princess Diaries. Instead of thinking of self, she puts the wellbeing of both Mia and her people ahead of any selfish wants.
We think her best advice, sited by D23, is, “When walking in a crowd, one is under scrutiny all the time.”
She’s preparing her granddaughter for life under constant surveillance. She even went so far as to let Mia grow up outside of palace life, as requested by Helen. Sixteen years of awkward nerdiness led to one dramatic entrance into the royal life.
28 Sometimes Good Mothering Is Letting Go
This lesson comes from Sina, mother to Moana.
Over at Sunshine And Munchkins, they describe Sina as “smart and strong-willed, much like her daughter.” Sina starts out the movie trying to help Moana see eye to eye with her father, encouraging her not to go out on the water where danger lurks.
However, mid-movie, Sina seems to realize that holding Moana close to home is stifling something inside her. She’s seen handing over a bag of provisions to Moana as she leaves the island.
Sometimes, as Sina teaches us, mothering means letting children grow up and away.
27 Motherhood Is Empowering
Elastigirl, both before kids and after, rocks. In the first movie, we see her telling reporters that she thinks leaving the hero-ing to the men is soft, that she shouldn’t back down when she’s on top of her game.
Then, she gives Mr. Incredible an earful when she thinks he’s stepping out on her. Rotten Tomatoes bears proof of the boss-ness that is Helen Parr when it quotes her saying,
“Remember the bad guys on those shows you used to watch on Saturday mornings? Well, these guys are not like those guys. They won't exercise restraint because you’re children. They will kill you if they get the chance. Do not give them that chance.”
26 Why? - Money Doesn’t Make Motherhood
Enter Maria Stark. Though the Marvel movies show flashbacks of Tony’s parents, they both seem distant. For the older Stark man, it seems his business took up most of his attention, a sort of anti-Thomas Wayne.
For Maria, it always seemed like she was busy being luxurious instead of being present. Like Mrs. Darling but colder, Maria seemed to be fine with being an accouterment and not an active, involved mama.
No wonder Tony has such issues with the ladies. Over at Wikiwand, the most they have to say about her is to outline her death in the Winter Soldier.
25 She Was A Rebellious Soul Once, Too
Marnie’s mom, Gwen, from Halloweentown, seemed like the straight-laced, buttoned-up picture of suburban overparenting. However, that in itself was proof that she was a rebel.
Her own mother was an acclaimed witch, and Gwen herself inherited incredible magical powers. Yet she left Halloweentown to live in the mortal world with the love of her life despite her mother’s protests.
Though a Bustle article calls her “the worst” for not being honest with Marnie about her powers, we think Gwen is a reminder that all moms were young and rebellious once, too.
24 Why? - We're Not Here For Useless Presents
Although nearly universally beloved, the fairy godmother from Cinderella is kind of the last on the list of great moms. She pops in, speaks no words of wisdom, and just bibbidi bobbidi boos Cinderella all the material things she wants for a limited time.
Couldn’t that girl have had something better? A not-so-bad way to support herself maybe or the deed to the family home?
MNMaloney cites this as the reason the godmother was cast as a villain in a short story. There, she lists all the things Cinderella could have had but wasn’t in the right frame of mind to wish for.
23 Tangled Kind Of Love
We didn’t even know her first name, although Fandom says it’s Arianna. However, the biological mother to Rapunzel taught us about the staying power of a mother’s love. It can’t be broken with separation or time, and it lives on no matter the circumstances.
It sounded, from the movie, like Rapunzel was with her parents less than a year before her abduction. Yet Arianna never stopped yearning for her. The Queen of Corona was later willing to forgive all of Flynn’s transgressions because he brought her dear daughter home.
22 Why? - Locking Kids Away
Fandom tells us her name is Iduna, but really, she's only known to us as the Queen of Arendelle. And yeah, she sucks.
When she realized one of her daughters had extraordinary magical abilities, she decided the best thing she could do was lock that child away from the other one, isolate her from staff, and close the doors to the kingdom to further strand the family in a royal bubble.
She only appeared worse when Olaf’s Frozen Adventure came out, and it was revealed Elsa stayed locked in her room even during the holidays.
21 A Sense Of Security
Buzzfeed talks about Hawkeye’s wife and family by calling them his dark secret. However, there’s nothing dark about Hawkeye and his wife, who is carrying their baby in the movie.
They love each other. They provide their kids with a normal home and distance from his celebrity. Moreover, Mom’s ability to hold down the fort and project such a high level of normal into their home despite Dad’s insane job proves that she’s his best teammate.
He may protect the world, but she’s what gives their children the sense of security to let him go.
20 Why? - Where’s Aurora’s Mom?
Fandom says that Queen Leah (we really didn’t even know she had a name) was a “minor character” in the original Sleeping Beauty. No one even knows who voiced her very few lines.
Yet, we’re to believe that she had a beautiful baby, heard it be cursed, and then said, “Yeah, why don’t these seemingly nice non-cursing fairies take her away from the next sixteen years so that she has no idea who she is?” Nope. That’s not motherhood.
There’s not even a mention of a disguised visit!
19 She Lets Love Grow
The best example of this is Penny’s mom from Bolt. Superbolt reminds us that the movie ends with Penny’s mom firing the agent and letting Penny keep Bolt, Rhino and Mittens at home with her where they can all have normal lives.
She not only gives up the money of her daughter’s lucrative acting career, but she lets Penny’s both lifelong and newfound love for her animals keep growing.
You could argue she could have acted earlier, but she came through when it mattered for Penny.
18 Why? - We're Not Just Background Characters
The major complaint here about Mary Darling, mother to one Wendy and two lost boys in Peter Pan, is that she’s so very vanilla. She disagrees with her husband about forcing Wendy to grow up too soon but doesn’t put her foot down.
She missed her children but didn’t seem to do much to search for them. Basically, as Fandom says, she “plays an indirect role in the film.” For children this young, we'd think she’d be more present.
Some of the more recent stage plays have made modernizations to Mary’s role.
17 We See Ourselves In Our Children
Fandom says that Queen Athena is gone before the events of The Little Mermaid, but she has a starring role in Ariel’s Beginning. There, we learn how deeply in love she and the king were and how brave the queen was. She managed to save her oldest daughter, Attina, before dying by pirates.
Though Ariel doesn’t have many memories of her mother, she inherited both her fiery red hair as well as her beautiful singing voice. From her, we learn that though our children are different than us, in some way they serve as our mirrors.
16 Why? - We're Not Totally Blind
Whether it’s the grey-haired mother figure cast by Aunt May in the comics and earlier movies or the Vanity Fair cover’s svelte, hipper version, something stinks about Aunt May.
She’s there, living with Peter Parker—who escapes out all the time for his hero-ing—and just accepts that teenage boys are unpredictable?!
Really, Aunt May?
Even when she suspects it’s something, she never seems to really get that Peter and Spiderman are one and the same.
C’mon, Disney... real moms have eyes in the back of their heads.
15 Mamas See The Best In Their Kiddos
When others see nothing but her son’s rule-breaking and carelessness, Sarah Hawkins sees his genius. IMDb reminds us of the scene in Treasure Planet in which Sarah tells her friend that Jim built his first space surfer when he was eight years old.
Despite their recently rocky relationship, Sarah only sees what Jim could be, his best attributes.
She’s been the only stable force in his life, providing both love and income as a businesswoman. Maybe that’s why Jim makes sure he rebuilds her inn at the end of the movie.
14 They’re Still Women, Too
It’s easy to forget—both as mothers and their children—that moms aren’t saintly martyrs who stopped having healthy, vital lives after they became so. Yet, in the Princess Diaries, Mia’s mom reminds us there’s a lot that makes up a mom besides her parenthood.
While Helen is great advice giver, she’s also a fun balloon popping artist, a woman who asserted herself when she chose not to be part of the monarchy, and a lady who finds much-deserved love during the story.
Because of all this, Bustle called Helen #parentinggoals.
13 A Lioness’s Love
Ah, Queen Serabi. Fandom tells us she’s the leader of the hunting party, Mufasa’s number one girl, and is the one who ultimately tells Scar he’s not the best. What did she teach us about motherhood?
She taught us that while it’s soft and warm, mothering can also be embarrassing and teasing. That whole bath scene? Who couldn’t relate to Mom embarrassing them with friends waiting all around? Serabi seems like a cool mom to us.
12 Motherhood Is Yearning
Time Magazine named Mrs. Jumbo one of the ten best moms ever. We agree!
One angle that we really appreciate about Mrs. Jumbo is the way she wanted for and yearned to have her baby delivered. When Mr. Stork finally comes through, Mrs. Jumbo is filled with unconditional love, although everyone else only sees her baby’s obvious flaw: his giant ears.
Mrs. Jumbo never hesitates to protect and love the son she pined to have.
11 Mamas Are Willing To Sacrifice
If you say “sacrifice” and “Disney mama,” only one creature should come to mind: Bambi’s mom.
She made the ultimate sacrifice. However, most mamas make smaller, daily sacrifices to take good care of their kids. They sacrifice the last candy bar because seeing their kids enjoy it gives them joy. They sacrifice going out with hair done and makeup on in order to get the kids to school on time.
The Washington Times also repeats this sentiment, reminding movie watchers that Bambi was written during the terrors of WWII, a time when parental sacrifice was at its highest.
10 Disciplinarian? Check.
Franny Robinson is the Disney mom from Meet the Robinsons who grounds her son until he passes away. She actually doesn’t, since we know Wilbur ends up getting into more mischief, but Franny—who is otherwise funny and warm—knows that sometimes a mama has to put her foot down.
Fandom relates that she shows both characteristics when—before sending her future husband back to his childhood—she tells him to remember she’s always right even when she’s wrong.
Before realizing who he was, Franny was more than happy to add this lonely boy to her family. Go, girl!
9 She Says, “Be Who You Are”
Josie Stronghold—aka Jetstream, the super-powered mama from Sky High—knows something her husband doesn't. She tells him that they can’t change who Will is and shouldn’t want to.
She makes the point that though they may not be a family of supers, they can still be a superfamily.
She’s Will’s sounding board for complicated relationships and seems to encourage him no matter what track he wants to follow, hero or sidekick. Writeups calls her one of the most powerful beings on the planet.
8 Stuck In The Middle
Being caught between a husband’s ideas for a child and the child’s own desires can be a rough place to be a mom. Melanie Kapahala lives this every day with her steady, businesslike husband and her laid-back surfer son.
When the family moves to Vermont and Melanie sees her son struggle to adapt, it’s clear she’s hurting for him.
Moviepooper says that by the end of the Johnny Tsunami movie, Melanie has decided that should her son want to go back to Hawaii, she’ll support him.
7 Teaches Kindness
A big part of motherhood is about teaching kindness and respect. It can be as simple as, “Don’t push that kid down!” or as complicated as trying to help two teenage girls navigate an interracial friendship during South African apartheid.
This latter one was the subject of Disney’s The Color of Friendship, as found at DCMP.
In it, Roscoe Dellums has to encourage her daughter to look past Mahree’s strange behavior to the why of it. She’s stuck explaining and captaining her family through tough race relations while always teaching them to see the other side.
6 Needs To Be Appreciated
Newly single mom Lynette is encouraged to go on a date with a man her children secretly set her up with online in Disney’s Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire. IMDb lists Lynette as being played by Caroline Rhea, the one-time aunt of a certain teenage witch.
Lynette needs one thing, appreciation, which she hasn’t been able to get from her kids since her divorce.
As soon as she’s showered with this, she blossoms into her rockabilly, awesome self.
The lesson here? All mamas need to hear how great they are every once in a while.
5 Keeps Kids Grounded
Queen Miranda, the mother of one Sofia the First, is pretty hardcore. She learns to sail and outsmarts a group of pirates. She tricks a bunch of wee sprites into leaving her castle. Oh yeah, and she went from shoemaker to Queen with zero bumps in the road.
Fandom says that Miranda teaches Sofia the importance of keeping her word, but that’s only a small fraction of what she does. Miranda makes sure Sofia never forgets she was born a villager and encourages Sofia to play on the village dazzle ball team against the royals.
4 She’s A Dreamer
E! News included Oxana Hauntley and her voice actor Lauren Graham on their 41 Surprising Celebrities Who Voice Kids Shows list. Oxana, a vampiress and mother to little Vampirina, plays a huge role in the show. She’s sort of everywhere at once.
The best part of Oxana is that she supports Vampirina’s dreams while letting Vampirina support hers.
Oxana admits she’s always pictured herself running a little bed and breakfast, and with the help of her husband and daughter, she brings that dream to life.
3 Motherhood Is Endless Giving
When we think of a Disney mother’s love that stretches beyond all reason and barriers, only one woman (gorilla-ess?) comes to mind. Kala is Tarzan’s adopted mother who scooped him out of isolation after his biological parents died and her own child was hunted by a leopard.
In the movie, she’s an absolute furry angel who protects and gives without pause.
Apparently, according to ReelRundown, this is one of the things the movie and original book had in common.
2 A Hopping Good Mama
Kanga?! Yep, she just might be the best Disney mom.
She reads to her kid, sings him lullabies, and feeds his friends cakes and snacks when they’re hanging around. Also, side note: she seems like an on-top-of-it, unperturbed single mama.
Kanga teaches us that sometimes all we have to do is tuck our babies under our arms (or in our kangaroo pouches) and comfort them. The world will figure the rest out tomorrow.
1 Why? - Second Fiddle To Aunts
Zenon Kar’s mom, Astrid, from the Zenon Trilogy, is supposed to be one intelligent mama.
However, instead of believing the plot Zenon uncovered (or doing even the smallest bit to look into it), she decided that grounding Zenon to earth with her aunt is the best option.
The family separates, Zenon is literally grounded, and we don’t hear much from Astrid until the end. Moms are, despite being disciplinarians, usually the loudest voices in their kids’ corners. Not so much for Astrid. After all, her only listed quote on IMDb is, “I'm sorry, honey.”