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Problematic Motherhood: Disney Princesses and the Missing or Overbearing Mother

by Ethan Tussey

by Kate Morgan for IN MEDIA RESWhen considering the pantheon of Disney Princesses and the presentations of femininity found within its parameters, it is equally important to consider it alongside the missing mother trope that has been observed within the framework of most Disney Theatrical Animated Classics.
If we were to take the musings of popular culture at hand in reference to this lack of maternal presence in Disney films, we might note the historical circumstances quoted about Walt Disneys personal desire to avoid the subject, or potentially consider an obvious line of post-Freudian argumentation--that the characters ego formation and a sense of autonomous self is best formed in a vacuum away from the subjects parents no matter the figures gender.
This line of argumentation falls short when we consider the virgin/whore binary present in many films with a female villainess. When we split feminine presentation into the dichotomy of light and dark, it seems, the cultural associations associated with such an exercise run deeper than these musings often presume. It may be that they reflect particular facets of familial culture that cultural anthropology and humanities studies have already documented well. Therefore I posit that a closer look at what presentations of femininity are present in the Disney absence aids in teasing out potential significations.
In this clip curated from the Disney Computer Animation film Tangled, we find that Rapunzels mother-figure, as depicted in this sequence, has some quite unhealthy ideas for her daughter's future. Instilling fear in her teenage charge, the character Mother Gothel urges, . . . dont ever ask to leave this tower again. Other lyrics in the song present the rationale that being sloppy, under-dressed, immature, clumsy, and the situation that is gettin kinda chubby are reasons for Rapunzel to stay locked in her tower. Rapunzel, thankfully does not accept this broken line of argumentation as she gazes into the mirror, and eventually dares to leave the tower to pursue the imago she formed in early childhood.
It may be the most cogent argument to be made about the situation is as follows: Even if the problematic behavior is portrayed by a villainess, and is assigned to the unfavorable side of the dichotomy presented, if the desired behavior of a devoted, attached parent is barely presented in the film, (or any of the films really) theories considering the cultivation effects of media and an attempt to portray better models might be worth an exploration.

Disney Princesse and Motherhood

A clip from Tangled

from Tangled (2010)
Creator: Disney
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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