1. Father trampled by a giant herd after being betrayed by his own brother, The Lion King
Losing your father is never easy. But things get pretty twisted when the death was a plotted murder and an act of betrayal and – all the while – Simba is running away, hurting, thinking he caused the death of his father, mentor, and greatest friend.
Mufasa’s death is tragic as his whole life, he has been so fair and wise and strong against Scar, the hyenas, and other injustices in the Pride Lands. I mean, part of his character’s inspiration came from Jesus and the Heavenly father. Clearly, this lion had a heart of gold.
There are few things in life that will catch you holding your breath the same way as when Mufasa is leaping between wildebeests to reach Simba just in time. There are few things as heart breaking as Simba’s face when he sees Mufasa plummeting to his death. And you are lying if you have never once cried when Simba tried to will his father to stand, to live, to punish him, after the stampede had ended.
2. Parents slayed by leopard/Adoptive father shot in the heart, Tarzan
Tarzan’s parents (who were apparently part of the gentry and named John Clayton and Alice Greystoke) survived a lot of tragedy as they made a life for themselves on the coast of Africa. They had given up hope for being rescued after escaping from the burning ship they had been on. They were even able to hide Tarzan enough for a wandering and grief-stricken gorilla to find him. They were slayed by Sabor, literally killed in cold blood.
Tarzan, a mere babe, did not remember them. However, he felt their absence as he was made the pariah of the other young gorillas and throughout his adolescence as he tried to fit in. He acknowledge Kala and Kerchak as his parents, although Kerchak was very slow to come around to see Tarzan as his son.
And then, the double-whammy: Tarzan loses his gorilla-dad, too. Clayton tries to shoot Tarzan and Kerchak, in a last act of love, jumps in front of the rifle and takes the bullet for Tarzan. This death leaves Tarzan feeling responsible for leading Clayton back to the gorillas and also gives him the responsibility of taking care of the rest of the gorilla s. Tarzan really had it rough.
3. Father’s entire army unit is decimated by Huns, Mulan
General Li had led his life with the sole goal to protect China. Although his death was honorable, it could have been prevented. True to history, the Huns were merciless and destroyed even the innocents that stood in their path.
Therefore, the General’s move to protect some of the border villages and cut off Shan Yu’s path to the Emperor is commendable.
Shang finally deployed his own troops to the mountain pass where his father had been headed. It’s ironic that this move was actually imperative for China, considering that the urgency in their orders had been faked by Mushu and the lucky cricket.
Shang doesn’t even have time to grieve for his father. When they arrive at the burnt village and the bloody war field, he has to stay strong for his men. His last act to honor his father is to make a shrine with General Li’s helmet and his own sword.
4. Mother destroyed violently by religious bigot The Hunchback of Notre Dame
If you ever looked on, trembling behind your blankie, for the first few minutes of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” then you know how cruel Frollo is, chasing down a poor, innocent gypsy woman with her baby.
The woman is separated from the gypsy men (one of them likely being Quasimodo’s father and her husband) and reached the steps of the Notre Dame. Calling for sanctuary and protection, she is killed (on screen) with a blow to the back of the head.
At least the Archdeacon supposedly gives her a proper burial. However, her death, which haunts Frollo and guilts him into raising Quasimodo, keeps her son from understanding who he is and from being loved in a way that he never would be under Frollo’s protection.
5. Mother gets hit by a pirate ship and dies The Little Mermaid
Seems pretty bleak, right? In the prequel to “The Little Mermaid,” or “Little Mermaid III: Ariel’s Beginning,” Queen Athena, Triton’s wife and the mother of their seven daughters (including Ariel), is introduced.
You may notice that Ariel’s mother is not part of the original movie. That’s because vicious pirates tried to poach the merpeople, catching Triton and Athena in some very awful circumstances. But her death is noble. She ran to save her eldest daughter who got her fins caught between rocks. Ultimately she died trying to get the anniversary present Triton had given her. Fortunately, this was not Stephen Spielberg’s “Jaws,” so the water doesn’t turn scarlet.
It’s especially tragic because this leaves Ariel without a mother figure and it crushes Triton’s spirit and his love for music and trust in humans. Poor Triton. He won’t even get over that last part for another movie.
6. Both parents passed away, Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
This is a tie, folks. But isn’t it funny how similar the stories are?
Snow White’s mother was a queen and Cinderella’s was part of the gentry, but they both died very early in their daughter’s lives. After that, their fathers remarried. And that union was to a horrible woman. The Evil Queen and Lady Tremaine are both pretty awful, I think we could agree.
The young girls were raised as servants and hid away from society in the absence of their respective father figures. And that is why Cinderella and Snow White have nothing left to do but run away and cry. Although, to be fair, Snow White was almost assassinated and Cinderella was sobbing because she couldn’t go to the ball… Obviously, Disney went soft after their first feature-length princess story.
7. Mother hunted by Man, Bambi
The human is the ultimate enemy in this touching story of the preservation of nature. Young Bambi had just learned to walk, he was just beginning to feel independent – talking with the critters he would later rule as Prince of the Forest, gaining some general confidence, etc.
And then, she gets shot by Man. Man was waiting for the deer, but it was only after being lulled into a false sense of security by the too-quiet atmosphere and faint gunpowder smell that he made his move.
Bambi’s mother saved him, knowing he would be taken care of. But picture how terrified the young deer could have been to lose his mother during his formative ears. And he can’t even understand at first what the gunshots were. Oh, the humanity!
8. Mother sacrificed as life energy by the gods, Atlantis
Typically, ascending into the pale blue light into the Heart of Atlantis is a happy occasion in every family! However, little Kida never got to say goodbye to her mother, and soon after the Queen of Atlantis is out of sight, the giant tidal wave changes everything about the way of life that had been known.
The whole city submerged and much of their civilization was lost.
The light at the end of the tunnel? It’s possible that the Queen did not die. When the Heart of Atlantis found Kida and used her energy force to protect the city, and Kida merges with the crystal, Kida could have been reunited with her mother, whose soul lived on in the crystal. If you remember, when she descends/is released, she is wearing the bracelet that she had lost when her mother became part of the crystal.
It’s all very mystical and sad. And the sacrifice made by the Queen of Atlantis is probably one of the most substantial acts of selflessness made by a Disney character.
9. Father killed during World War I, Princess and the Frog
The hints are very subtle. But putting Tiana’s father on the tragic death list seems an easy given.
James is the entire motivation behind her hard work and her dedication. His death is tragic because it also forced Tiana to grow up too quickly and become very single-minded about their restaurant endeavor which would be called “Tiana’s place.” Without him, Tiana ended up losing sight of what was important – like enjoying life and loving your family.
Dying while fighting against the Kaiser’s forces would be even more tragic if that aspect had been played up. All that the audience sees is his picture in uniform and that he had been decorated or honored as a soldier.
10. Mother hounded down and hunted down, The Fox and the Hound
Tod’s mother apparently had a name: Jubilee. And Jubilee was fleeing with her baby fox cub to escape man.
Her death may not be as scarring to Tod as Bambi’s mother had been to the little prince. After all, Tod was so young and he learned to look to the old widow that took him in as his mother figure.
However, those off-screen gunshots and the telling sudden movements of the flock of birds nearby are simply tragic. And when one considers the rest of the plot of this movie, it really seems like Jubilee’s death is too much to pile on. Thank goodness this story was Disney-fied from the original. The fox and the hound don’t get to be half of the life-long buddies they are portrayed in the end of the movie.
Therefore, Jubilee’s being shot by hunters (maybe even Amos) constitutes this as a really, really sad movie. Enough said.
It’s heartbreaking. All of it. Although, you’d think that when he was guiding Simba from the spirit world, he could have mentioned that it was Scar that killed him. Seems pretty pointless to let Simba continue carrying on that guilt.