Know Your Feature Animation Cliches: The Dead Mother

Illustration by Zohar Lazar.

On a few occasions over the years, people have asked me, Why do so many animated films have dead mothers in them? It’s something I’ve never had a good answer for; my general response is that it’s a time-tested dramatic device, and also, perhaps has something to do with the male-dominated culture of Hollywood screenwriting.

RELATED: Know Your Feature Animation Cliches: “This is Me” Opening Narration

The issue goes much deeper than that, however, and Sarah Boxer in The Atlantic has done a terrific job of untangling the history of the dead-mother plot and its comically overwhelming prevalence in contemporary American animated features. Just for starters, a few of the films that use this device: Chicken Little, Aladdin, The Fox and the Hound, Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast, Kung Fu Panda, The Great Mouse Detective, Ratatouille, Brother Bear, Barnyard, Despicable Me, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and most recently, Mr. Peabody and & Sherman.

Boxer’s provocative critique, “Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?,” is angry but spot-on. She makes a compelling argument that nowadays the plot device primarily advances the notion of the “good father”:

Take Finding Nemo (Disney/Pixar, 2003), the mother of all modern motherless movies. Before the title sequence, Nemo’s mother, Coral, is eaten by a barracuda, so Nemo’s father, Marlin, has to raise their kid alone. He starts out as an overprotective, humorless wreck, but in the course of the movie he faces down everything—whales, sharks, currents, surfer turtles, an amnesiac lady-fish, hungry seagulls—to save Nemo from the clutches of the evil stepmother-in-waiting Darla, a human monster-girl with hideous braces (vagina dentata, anyone?). Thus Marlin not only replaces the dead mother but becomes the dependable yet adventurous parent Nemo always wanted, one who can both hold him close and let him go. He is protector and playmate, comforter and buddy, mother and father.

In the parlance of Helen Gurley Brown, he has it all! He’s not only the perfect parent but a lovely catch, too. (Usually when a widowed father is shown onscreen mooning over his dead wife’s portrait or some other relic, it’s to establish not how wonderful she was but rather how wonderful he is.) To quote Emily Yoffe in The New York Times, writing about the perfection of the widowed father in Sleepless in Seattle, “He is charming, wry, sensitive, successful, handsome, a great father, and, most of all, he absolutely adores his wife. Oh, the perfect part? She’s dead.” Dad’s magic depends on Mom’s death. Boohoo, and then yay!

As usual in discussions about storytelling in American feature animation, the only contemporary filmmaker who emerges unscathed is Brad Bird, whose film The Incredibles is praised for being “not another desperate attempt to assert the inalienable rights of men, but an incredible world where everyone has rights and powers, even the mothers.”


  • Grant Beaudette

    I’ve always taken it as an economics decision. If all the story needs is a character to be “the parent,” there’s no need to waste time and effort on making two of them and instead cash the other one in for sympathy points.

  • Martin Cohen

    Bambi?

  • Copper

    No worries, in Finding Nemo 2, Marlin will become Nemo’s new mother. I learned that on Cartoon Brew.

  • http://rociogarciart.wordpress.com/ Rocío García

    Well, I think the answer is easier. Cartoon movies are usually for kids, who’s the most important person in the world for a kid? their parents, and sometimes specially the mother, so it’s more dramatic if you kill one of them. In The Lion King is Mufasa who dies. I don`t think this is because woman-haters it´s just the perfect plot twist. But It´s just my opinion.

    • GS

      But that doesn’t generate controversy, so that can’t be the explanation.

    • Ryoku240

      Its moreso cheap drama imo, I agree that its not due to fabricated women-haters.

    • zac leck

      Also, we’ve got a whole new generation with daddy issues, so a movie that reconciles the main character with their father through some unexpected adventure full of bonding, it’s kind of a fantasy for both an inattentive parent or their alienated child who want a quick fix to their relationship.

    • PlugMyDuck

      It is the easiest way to get the unconventional pairings needed for story telling.

  • GS

    I read a book, I think it was the Storytelling Animal, where children were analyzed to see what kinds of stories they came up with. Almost universally, parental separation or death was a part of it. This is because parents are kids’ lifelines and the #1 existential threat is that lifeline. This is just the way a child’s mind works. Oh, and kids have no concept of terms like “cliche’”. There’s no agenda behind the ideas they come up with, just their value-system based on their limited perception of the world, which is equally valid as the limited perception of adults on money, power, and sex.

    • Lucy

      You said it “children”, not white men in their 40′s with a masters or even a doctorate in creative writing or english. You ought to think they might know better. Also, assuming that children only care about stories where the mother is dead, is really condescending. Good writers know this, Dr. Seuss never resorted to such cheap ploys, because he didn’t need it. “Where the Wild things are” is one of the most popular children books, and again, it doesn’t need the death mother ploy, and none of the other of Sendak’s book use a dead mother or a dead father. Why? because, as a good writer, you have to find another more complex reason to move your story rather than the dead!parent deux ex machina. It is a “practical” trope, but it should carry more grief either case. In real life, the actual loss of a parent, is way more complex, more tragic, and has many consequences that damage families and most of the times breaks them apart. If you, as a writer, are not willing to take the responsibilities that come with writing a dead!parent, you might as well not do it.

      • zac leck

        Where the Wild Things Are does have our protagonist at odds with his mother though, she’s what drove him to run away to find a land where he could be as wild as he wanted. So that example doesn’t hold up really. And it’s not a feature length movie. The attempt at making it a feature length movie wasn’t too great either.

      • mick

        ‘In real life, the actual loss of a parent, is way more complex, more tragic, and has many consequences that damage families and most of the times breaks them apart. If you, as a writer, are not willing to take the responsibilities that come with writing a dead!parent, you might as well not do it.’

        This summer season come along on the roller coaster ride as Herbert Hedgehog has his family torn apart following the death of a parent. You’ll be astounded by the complex tragedy that unfolds effecting the whole family in different ways. Featuring a smash hit sound track by Nick Drake
        (special extra short feature: Dumbo’s mum’s psychiatric treatment and it’s reflection on how society both rejects and celebrates those with passion enough to bash circus’s to bits)

        Thank goodness it ISN’T real life
        Isn’t that the whole point?

        • Lucy

          Actually, there are children movies that have dealt with death the way death is supposed to be dealt with. I mean, the Lion King is a prime example, and that did not stop it from being commercially successful. There’s Grave of Fireflies, and so did too very well in success and critically. Children are not mentally challenged, and I believe they would do better in school and in life if society stopped treating children as such. Real life is part of real life, it’s not only entertainment nor a way to keep children quiet for half an hour. Children movies are important because yeah, there’s a lot of kids that lose their parents prematurely, and pretending that it did not happen is not healthy. Pretending that a prince, a genie, or a deus ex machina will make it better is no way to teach someone how to grief. Grief is part of life.

          • Barrett

            I find it interesting that Laika’s two most recent films had protagonists that had both parents alive, but in both films, the parents were not really all that engaged or willing to listen to what the child had to say or was experiencing. At least it’s a combo-breaker, if nothing else.

    • Zeidz

      I think it’s been pointed before that often kids secretly LIKE the idea that their parents are out of the picture, as now they can do anything they want! I’m pretty sure it was Philip Pullman who said something similar, about how parents just “don’t belong” in a kids own adventure.

    • Sathania

      As a kid I did notice there were almost never complete families in movies, yet as you say, I didn’t know the word “cliché”

  • http://www.juancorrea.weebly.com Juan Correa

    Don’t buy that argument that much.. why kill the mother to make the father a better guy.. it can be done regardless (the incredibles being a great examplem or 101 dalmatians). I think it definitely adds sympathy points for both the father and kid. At this point I am finding it a cheap trick to make more compelling stories. try it yourself make up a quick story, and kill the mother, right away the story becomes more sensitive and interesting. I think its also harder to get a kid to go on a dangerous adventure with a mother around to protect them.

  • Ryoku240

    The way I see it, not many writers have any confidence in themselves to pull off any drama without resorting to some cheap cliche, be it killing a mom or long danger scenes with kids.

    This article made some decent points but fell into typical sexist dribble with the whole husband father whatever stuff towards the end.

    Why don’t we ever seen men complain about women dominance?

    • Fried

      Easiest way to have sympathy for a character =/= cheap way. Especially if you consider an action/danger scene to be cliche.

      People need to learn the difference between a cliche and a trope.

  • StephaneDumas

    An interesting point to mention is we can go back further in time in some television series since it was used for a while ago like the live-action western series Bonanza where Ben Cartwright (performed by Lorne Greene), is 3 times widow. In some of Gerry Anderson puppet-animated series where the mother passed away like Joe 90, Commander Shore in Stingray is a widow, confined to an hover-chair due to an attack when he was in mission as well as Jeff Tracy, according to some Thunderbirds annuals, created the International Rescue organization with his sons as a memory to his defunct wife Lucille. They didn’t used that twist in other Gerry Anderson puppet series Supercar, Secret Service, Captain Scarlet and Fireball XL5.

    Some animes used also the theme of the orphan:
    -Actarus (Duke Fleed) parents was killed in the Vegan invasion of his own planet in Goldorak(Grendizer), they even made an episode where Actarus meet a Vegan disguised as his mother to trick him.
    -Candy Candy was an abandonned orphan taken in by the orphanage Pony’s Home where she spend the first years of her life.
    -Albator (Captain Harlock) proctected the Earth where the daughter of his late friend could live like an Earthman.
    -Sakura Kinomoto in Card Captor Sakura lost her mother at a young age.
    -Sailor Jupiter(Lita aka Makoto Kino) lost her parents at a plane crash.

    And more closer, in the Great White North, we never new what happened to Cedic Sneer’s mother in the Raccoons althought some said then Cyril Sneer was probably a widow.

    And I didn’t mentionned the superheroes parents yet…. ;-)

    • DangerMaus

      I always thought Cyril Sneer was more like the type to be divorced. lol

  • jhalpernkitcat

    Yeah, “Dead Mother” is a pretty well known cartoon cliche, especially when it comes to Disney (although they also are known for the second cliche in which both of the parents are dead.) yet there are a few recent movies with some rather huge exceptions to the rules. “The Princess and the Frog” is one of the few Disney movies (Besides Treasure Planet and Bambi, I think) in which it’s the father who is dead rather than the mother–who despite a small role in the film is still a rather strong character. I think the biggest one must be “How to Train Your Dragon 2″ in which the assumed to be dead mother actually turns out to be alive–and is an extremely strong and amazing character.

    Also, perhaps Boxer has forgotten that in “Despicable Me 2″ a mother figure is found in Lucy who does indeed become that positive female role model the three orphan girls–especially little Agnes so greatly need in their life by the end of the film.

    • Ravlic

      There’s also Mars needs moms, Dumbo and Lion King sequels, all with missing fathers.

    • http://vimeo.com/adamwparker Adam W. Parker

      And interestingly enough in “Despicable Me 2″ the movie emphasizes the Man’s NEED for a Woman to raise kids. So, men need women but women don’t need men? (any mention of that would be labeled anti-feminist)

      I think we need each other, but if you’re alone, do the best you can.

      • Barrett

        That;s one thing I didn’t like about DM2. Gru and the girls seemed to be doing fine on their own at the end of Despicable Me, no mother needed.

  • Momminator

    I think it has something deeper and more revolutionary to it. It is rejection of “other”-love, and a sly justification for homo-love. The point of dividing humanity into sexes was to give mankind the pleasure of enjoying the differences of the “other” kind of us, and to create necessary reciprocal relationship – neither is less important, each symbiotically needs the other. A child ALWAYS has and absolutely NEEDS both a mother and a father. The same sex parent shows the child how to love the “other” and how to be and love oneself. The opposite sex parent shows the child that the opposite can be trusted and loves. They also show what an equal and appropriate future mate should be. Siblings provide opportunity to relate to many kinds of personality. We all know how socially awkward and demanding only-children can be, because they never have to make room for others, help someone else on the same level, and barely can muster a sense of empathy for others because they had no “not-authority” figures in their home.

    Disney movies especially leave a child open to advice from non-parents, often evil jealous entities, like in the Lion King Uncle Scar (a name that already tells of a victim with an unresolved injury, willing to spread the poison of his desire for revenge and his jealousy around). While the stories may serve as cautionary tales about not talking to strangers or people who tempt them to do wrong, they also teach that the “other”, especially the mother, is irrelevant. The man with his superior physical strength, his ability to think in black & white logic, his authority to lead, these are things worth following. The creative nature of woman, from the ability to make a baby, to the feminine instinct to be nurturing and patient, the ability to communicate and encourage communication, these are lost to the child. We are left with no stories of what the princess does AFTER she marries the prince. No grand tales of raising a loving family of princes and princesses who do great deeds in their turn. Or we get the Tomb Raider version of what a woman should be. Virginal and committed to violence, but never able to truly love or sustain a home that a child can feel safe in. Would you like the blue pill or the red one?

  • lise_bear

    Actually, fairy tales were originally meant to help children with the loss of parents. That is most likely why most fairy tale movies go along with that.

  • Karl Hungus

    At this point, I pretty much bust out laughing the minute a “This Is Me” introduction begins. Its downright embarrassing. How do these high payed executives even swallow it?

    • Fried

      True it’s overused, but does that mean you consider the intro to films like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Wreck-It Ralph, How to Train Your Dragon, The Croods, and Ratatoullie bad because of it? Sure it’s overplayed, but I don’t think any of those films really suffer from it. I think they’re still great from beginning to end. It’s just a thing to be aware of if you ever want to write your own story, you could make your own personal rule of “No Narration!!!”.

      But I don’t think having one means the film is now an embarrassment.

  • Zeidz

    Too right. Toy Story’s Sid had braces too – is that some sort of sub-Freudian metaphor too?

  • UsaMiKo

    I always thought the whole “Mommy Murder” aspect that kept showing up in movies like this was kind of a symbolism thing. You have to think about what a mother represents. Of course some people have terrible moms, but for the most part mothers represent ideas such as kindness, nurturing, sympathy, security, familiarity and the like. When you take a gun and shoot that in the face, you’re not just killing the mom, your killing everything she stood for. Ripping something like that away from the protagonist so suddenly is a way to draw sympathy from the audience. It may come as pretty cheap emotional tactic to some but, hey, it works. I can’t tell you how many people I know who still can’t get over Mufasa’s death.

  • Taco

    @George_Cliff:disqus Most internet articles & Internet Discourse in general are chock full of blind angry projection. Particularly on the old gender equality/inequality/sexism issues around work & media portrayal. While these are VERY real issues that need to be addressed head on by a sensible collective voice, the vast majority of those attempting to do so never seem to help moderate their own perspective with others to gain a more candid and open writing style rather than an isolated individuals voice trying to spark a perceived powder-keg of faceless angry online supporters.

    • nevilleross

      I wish that may of the writers of these articles would get up off of their butts, go back to school, learn about how to write a script and draw, and then try to get into the animation industry. But demanding that might be too much.

  • Steven Bowser

    I think it’s very simple. To a child, the most important person in their life is their mother. They are the one who bore them and cares for them the most. The mother is the young child’s closest most personal relationship. So killing the mother is an extremely dramatic and terrifying thing.
    But there are more movies that kill the father too, like The Lion King.

  • Someguy

    Its harder for kids to go on adventures if they have parents that are worried about their safety, and will stop them. Also, most of the time, the parents have little to do with the actual plot, but they are still characters that have to be developed. Having one dead parent means one less extraneous character to develop.

    • Fried

      This is the more correct response than “laziness” as many seem to think it is.

      • http://www.animatorisland.com/ JK Riki

        Agreed.

    • A person

      Maybe the problem isn’t that they only have one parent but that it’s usually the mother that dies. More often then not kids live with single moms more than dads anyways so wouldn’t it be better if it was the mom who gets to live? Don’t you want to see yourself reflected in the media you watch? Why waste time lazily starting most stories the exact same way when it’s not even close to the reality you live in? I’m not saying that they need to be seriously realistic but at least more like a real family.

  • SarahJesness

    Darla is vagina dentata? What?

    Anyway, the strong presence of dead mothers, I think, does have to do with gender roles and the like. When most people think of family, they think of a nuclear structure that follows some “tradition” of gender roles; the father is the stern disciplinarian breadwinner, while the mother is the loving, caring figure who provides emotional support. The loss of the mother, therefore, represents more of an emotional loss.

    • http://www.animatorisland.com/ JK Riki

      Indeed. It’s a simple way to showcase something based on the generally accepted rules of society. Films are only 2 hours long, sometimes these sorts of shorthands are necessary. Frozen, for example, did a really poor job of displaying the relationship of parents to kids, even though both were alive for many years in the film.

      • Fried

        Frozen was more about the influence than relationship though, and to kickstart the reason why Elsa would eventually be all alone/be forced to enter the real world (Because now she had to become the Queen).

        I mean, it may not have been the greatest developed relationship, but it was enough just to see why Elsa thought the way she did, which was important.

        Most animated films are less than 2 hours. The average is an hour and a half. So yeah, this really was a case of “We need to speed things up” which some people may not agree with, but not everything is in book form/can be hours and hours long to get across every little detail. Some people see a film being an hour and a half long as a crush while story tellers see it as a challenge.

        For some people, if that time length does not work for you in getting you engaged, don’t know what to say other than it’s not the writers fault (This point has nothing to do with how well a story is written, just the time frame which a lot of people complain about feeling movies are rushed).

      • DangerMaus

        The point of FROZEN wasn’t to explore the relationship of parents to kids, so why would they bother wasting film (memory storage now) on a story point that is irrelevant. FROZEN was about exploring the damaged relationship between two sisters.

  • Revy

    I always interpreted it as simple laziness/economy in storytelling. If neither parent is necessarily central to the plot, then just axe one and give all the necessary screen time to the remaining parent. After all, it’s Aladdin/Ariel/Pocahontas/Belle/etc we care about anyway, right?

    To be honest, I find it lazy, more often than not. I think capturing a working parental duo is both challenging and important in defining a realistic young protagonist. Sure, sometimes the star of the film may have only one parent. When the plot truly calls for it. But more than not, both parents can be represented if the writers are do their job well enough.

    A tricky flip-flop on this cliche: Tangled

    Rapunzel has both of her parents, but is raised (as far as she knows) by only one parent (Mother Gothel, who is in fact NOT her parent). It’s a clever twist on the formula, utilizing the storytelling benefits of having only one parent interact w/ the protagonist, while in reality, she still has both parents by the end.

  • HH

    Little Foot…

  • Ian Dale

    Brad Bird also gave us a great story with a single mom in “The Iron Giant”

    • nevilleross

      And look how that movie (which I loved to bits) turned out.

  • For the moms

    I was on a show that recently departed with their mother character after they could no longer find a proper use for her. Not sure why they had to jettison her from the picture, but now they will certainly take the criticism for following this over used story device.

    I really can’t speak for moms out there, but I bet they would have at least liked her to be around even if she didn’t do very much.

    • nevilleross

      I wish that Joss Whedon didn’t kill off Joyce Summers in that episode (great as it was) of Buffy The Vampire Slayer where the cast deals with her death-he should have gotten rid of Xander instead.

  • Jason

    Peabody and Sherman doesn’t belong on this list.. We know Sherman was abandoned but we know nothing of the fate of his parents.

  • http://www.getfeedbac.com/ FeedBac

    Not completely true, dads also die quite often in animated movies. As mostly the audience is made up of kids, their world revolves around their parents so by killing any one or even both parents you have a much greater chance of causing an impact on the audience, age old trick. And this doesn’t only happen in animation, Game of Thrones anyone ?!

  • Roberto Severino

    Simple. Overused cliches and constant formula = profit, profit, profit and an easy way to pander to people.

  • Ravlic

    So when fiction focuses on mothers, it’s sexist because it promotes the idea that mothers are by nature motherly and more loving than the father. But when it’s about a loving father, then it’s a stereotype that a father is loving and the mother was there just to serve as a plot device.

    And that part about a widowed father mooning over his dead wife’s portrait, of course it’s to establish what he’s like, he’s the main character! Not to say that dead wives aren’t usually idealized and have scenes which only establish how nice they are, because that way the loss is seen as more severe. And this is also something that feminists criticize (“women in refrigerators”),

    Also, did she seriously imply a little girl with braces symbolizes vagina dentata? Seriously?

    • Axolotl

      Well, I’ve been to college. I learned that any paper which mentions a vagina dentata automatically gets an A+.

    • nevilleross

      Remember, ‘Those who can do-the rest just review.’ That sums up articles like this in a nutshell.

  • tom bancroft

    I was in a meeting at Disney animation in the 90s/early 00s when Tom Schumacher was in charge and one of the studio artists someone asked the question of “why don’t we have mothers and fathers in our films?” His answer was pretty good (I’m sure he’d been asked many times): (paraphrasing here) “Because we make “coming of age” films. Basically, our heroes are thrown into problems/situations where they must find a way out on their own, and grow up in the process. If they had a mother and father in their lives, they would naturally go to them for help/ answers. Taking them out of the picture, the young heroes have to figure it out on their own, which makes for more drama.” Tom’s background (as well as most of the development people at the time) was theater and I think this was not a new thought in that world. Actually, I’d have to agree, its a pretty classic, well tred story element. I wouldn’t say its an “angle” for Disney to UNDO the family. No, they just wanted to make money.

    • Jeffrey Gray

      Two words: Star Wars. (And before anybody says, when Lucas actually wrote and filmed Star Wars, both of Luke’s parents were meant to be dead, dead, DEAD. He didn’t come up with “I am your father” until 1978 during the writing process for Empire. He won’t admit this, but it’s true.)

      And even when he did change Luke’s parentage, the mother remained dead with no identity or backstory to speak of (until he came up with it for the prequels).

    • nevilleross

      Up could be considered a ‘coming of age’ story, only with an old man instead of a young boy.

  • http://www.animatorisland.com/ JK Riki

    I was not aware that Aladdin’s parents were discussed in Aladdin, nor (as far as I know) is the mother in Beauty and the Beast. Here broad assumptions are being made. Maybe the women in these films left their children? We have no idea. The assumption they’re dead is just that, an assumption. Also Despicable Me has the children as orphans before being adopted, so that’s hardly fair. Both parents are gone.

    • Barrett

      I think “Aladdin” had a throwaway line in one of the songs about “I’d blame his parents, if he had any” when they are complaining abut the “street rat.” The big reveal of Aladdin’s father didn’t come until the second direct-to-video movie, a film which most people other than Aladdin TV series die-hards or kids given something to occupy their time aren’t even aware exists.

      There have been several interviews with members of the creative team on the original feature where they discuss how Aladdin’s mother was initially going to be a big part of the first act, then they realize she got in the way more than helped to advance the story so they dropped her. Even that tidbit would probably have remained a footnote in animation history, if the cutting of the character hadn’t caused them to have to delete a whole completed song sequence where Aladdin sings about his wish for his mom to be proud of him. They eventually released the song, accompanied by storyboards. Can’t say it’s something I’m broken up about being cut, but it’s interesting history in any event.

  • http://vimeo.com/adamwparker Adam W. Parker

    Catch-22 of Parental Figures in A Child’s Story:

    1. If you kill off a parent, it’s a cliche

    2. If you keep a parent and they don’t matter to the story, they are “wasted” or “given nothing to do”

    3. If you keep the parent and make them a complex character, they become the protagonist/antagonist.

    4. If the protagonist, it’s no longer the child’s movie

    5. If the antagonist, it’s a cliche

    When did movies stop being SYMBOLIC and start having to be PC and fair and balanced in everything. Something is going to offend somebody. Just make sure it’s honest, heartfelt and you question every decision such as the sex, nationality, and behaviors of each character. If they all end up White, Male, and Physically Fit, fine, as long as it’s a conscious decision.

    Am I offended that there are no Black People in “How to Train Your Dragon 1&2″ or “Brave”….NO!

    • Fried

      Yep, this is pretty much all the comments here too…

      • Ken Martinez

        You need a tin woodsman and cowardly lion to go with that strawman.

        • Fried

          Have you read the comments? Most of the ones here are describing what Adam said perfectly. Very few actually understand how practical and economical it is to not have both parents with just a couple more sharing some history insight on what fairy tales had parents killed off in the first place.

          But, for the most part, a lot of people ARE saying “Don’t know how to develop a character”, “It’s cliche if you do this!” “They were wasted and not developed enough.”

  • Ravlic

    Many of those 50% marriages don’t end while the kids are still growing up. It’s clear that a loss produces empathy, but when it ends up with most main characters having no parents or only one, the audience gets sick of it and recognizes it as a cheap tactic to produce sympathy. A cliche.

    And though I think this article is rubbish, to say that fathers have a better role than mothers in animation is ridiculous. Mothers are usually just there for comfort, they’re rarely characterized beyond that and as such can’t really provide conflict. Fathers get to be inventors, idols, wise men, thieves, chiefs/kings and whatnot. Mothers on the other hand are, well, mothers. Being an adversary to your child is a likely development if you want to develop both characters realistically and it’s in no way offensive if it’s just there to improve the bond between father and son. If all fathers were like Frollo then that criticism would make sense, but they’re not, not in the least.

    And perhaps you’ve heard of “women in refrigerators”. Just because a father is alive doesn’t mean they don’t affect their child’s life, in fact they affect it in a much more active way than if they were dead.

    And of course, the simple fact is that the number of single fathers outnumbers single mothers in animation. I disagree this is all a result of sexism, but to pretend it’s an unfavorable position for fathers has no basis in fact.

  • Fried

    Where was the 20 minutes more backstory?

    You mean during the Surge Protector where we see how he is treated, when he gives a cherry to the abandoned games to show that he is not a bad guy, when people are running from him seeing how he is treated by civilians, when he finds out he was invited to a celebration party based on his game without him meaning the gang doesn’t even respect him enough to do that, when he finds motivation in getting the medal to prove to everyone he is a good guy, or when he’s in the bar trying to figure out how to get a medal? Because that’s what happened the first 20 minutes.

    The Ralph intro was great, it was narration but a clever twist because we realize he’s at a basically AA meeting, which was a fun way to introduce the problem and give us a few cameos to smile.

    And if you go to the theater only for inventive stories, then you must not have seen a show in over 3,000 years considering everything pretty much derives from themes people have been telling for thousands of years. I personally like to go for enjoyment, I’m not sitting there with a checklist of tropes and cliches and marking them down and mathematically giving them a score instead of basing it on whether or not it was enjoyable.

    The film was enjoyable. I liked the characters. I liked the plot. The jokes made me laugh. You can say I’m eager to pay for cliche stories just as much as I can say you’re a joyless hack.

    • Ken Martinez

      I am so sick of hearing the “only six stories” copout. the only people who believe that that are hack writers who are only capable of writing six stories.

      Someone else mentioned how Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak could connect emotionally to kids without this and other cheap cliches. I brought up the example of Miyazaki (Totoro, Ponyo, Kiki, JUST at the top of my head.

      Yet animated features are forced to carry around all of these tropes like Marley’s chains. They curate old, antiquated ideas better than most museums. And if the comments here are any indication, lots of people are perfectly fine with that.

      • Fried

        Yes, I forgot how every Miyazaki story is completely original and breaks the mold, especially that “Girl in magical world” scenario, he’s never done that once or twice or six times before.

        The point is that it’s very easy to generalize things whenever you want which is what most people do when talking stories. Whenever people say “All animated films today are the same”, you can say that about ANYTHING if you generalize it enough to the point where it’s “CHARACTER goes on ADVENTURE!”. No shit it’s the same if you say it like that.

        WALL-E and The Croods have characters “Don’t wanna survive, I wanna live!” but that doesn’t mean they’re similar just because two characters learn the same lesson. But people act like every single film should have some revolutionary concept and just because we’ve already had a couple of stories of a character learning to overcome their fears, it means it’s off limits to everyone else.

        You use Miyazaki as some high-tier god-like writer but when you boil it down, you can name a shit ton of western media that are similar to his things, too. (Nature vs. Man? Wow! So unique!) That doesn’t make it bad and that doesn’t make any other film today bad. Mononoke is still great in execution even if there are a ton of stories like it. It’s not about if the plot is original but if the execution is engaging.

        I’m sick of people thinking in 2014 that they can revolution the way stories are told despite probably never once trying to write a screenplay of their own. They’re more bark than they are bite.

  • http://saidomareshaq.tumblr.com/ Said Omar E.

    I agree. I also think the original “How To Train Your Dragon” should be on the list.

    • nevilleross

      Have you seen the current How To Train Your Dragon movie? Big shock’s in the offing.

      • http://saidomareshaq.tumblr.com/ Said Omar E.

        Yeah I’ve seen the trailers. But in the first movie they use the “dead mother/parent” shtick. That’s also true for Po’s dad in Kung Fu Pandas.

  • DangerMaus

    She’d probably have a field day psychoanalyzing “Chirin’s Bell”, where the killer of the main character’s mother becomes his father figure.

  • Strong Enough

    i got another cliche. We’re all white

    • Henry Cohn

      No one in Aladdin’s white. No one in Mulan’s white. Only some in Pocahontas are white. And that’s only recent(ish) Disney films.

  • Tim Hodge

    This is not a phenomenon isolated to animated film. It threads all throughout classic fairy tales & literature. Remember, many of the Disney films cited (Bambi, Cinderella, Snow White, etc) were based on pre-existing works. Generally, orphans make great, sympathetic heroes. Look at the track record: Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Dorothy Gale, King Arthur, Romulus & Remus, Frodo Baggins, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Mowgli, James Bond, Oedipus, Inigo Montoya, Wilbur the Pig, Babe the Pig, just to name a few.
    Being an orphan sets the protagonist with a huge obstacle to overcome. Plus he/she has lost the main source of assistance they could’ve otherwise have counted on. Being orphaned is one of the greatest fears of a child. Storytellers have always preyed successfully on that dread.

  • DangerMaus

    It is if it has no relevance to the story being told. Spending time to develop a parent-child relationship when the plan is to kill them off anyway is a waste of film time, especially when you only have 90 minutes to get the story you really want to tell done.

  • Ryoku240

    I think its a mix of those things, you have to hammer things in to win over execs.

    I feel theres better methods than just shooting the protagonists parents though.

  • http://www.themagnificentitch.com.au Guy Jamieson

    And once we have “Dead mum”, “Asshole Dad” is born..

  • Fried

    Oh no, I’ve exhausted your points and you’ve resulted to asking whether or not I have some ulterior motive to having a discussion, guess that means your argument is over then, huh?

  • Fried

    Except “typical story” is STILL not a bad thing if it’s executed well, like say, Ratatouille which has similar themes to Turbo. Seven plots exists for the sake of comparison for storytellers and just to have things organized, just like how we have lists of “basic” emotions. Yes, there are things deeper than happiness but it’s very easy to categorize FURTHER emotions if we can just list them all under whether or not it’s related to happiness.

    Just like it’s easier to categorize stories if they already in a column of “Romeo & Juliet”, even though How to Train Your Dragon is nowhere close to your typical romance film, it’s still an opposites attract trope. Yet people are sick of “opposites attract typical” stories like Turbo (Slow and fast), then they turn around and love How to Train Your Dragon. Why? Because one was executed better than the other. And in the end that’s all that matters, not whether or not a writer can invent a whole new column which is what people complain about.

  • Sathania

    I tought it was so they didn’t have to hire more actors…

  • Polex411

    i don’t agree with this there are plenty of cartoons with only mothers and no fathers too. Toy story the first of pixars movies, Bolt the girl has a mother but no father, granted it seems to be more commenly used with live action stories rather then animated but this could be explained in a few simple ways. First off its much easier to animated 1 parent rather then two, Second its far easier to make a more adventurous self reliant character if they are missing a parent. the lack of secondary parental figure causes characters to grow up being more self relent. And Third sad to say most animators and story writers out there are men, that average has shifted in more resent years but the majority of men find it easier to write about other guys and for a bit role like most parents tend to be its just easier to slap in 1 parent and making it one you wouldn’t have to put much thought into.

  • nevilleross

    You could say that, or coming of age to realize the dream you wanted but never bothered to pursue.

  • Ryoku240

    I have a share of things to say on todays dudesdames issues, but such a sensitive discussion would probably derail quickly.

  • truteal

    Most writers probably don’t know how to write female characters