Oscar-nominated Don Hahn, the man behind Maleficent, is a Disney legend. So when he gives an interview, you’re pretty much guaranteed quite a few interesting Disney inside stories.
And this is exactly what happened when he was interviewed by Glamour magazine in September 2014. From all the stories he shared though, the one that caught our eye was the reason why most disney heroines don’t have mothers. Check out his answer:
Glamour: Maleficent felt like one of the first Disney movies where you had a motherly presence that’s usually missing. Ariel didn’t have a mother in The Little Mermaid; Belle only had her dad in Beauty and the Beast. Why is that? (the article continues after the ad)
Don: I’ll give you two stories that are the reasons. I never talk about this, but I will. One reason is practical because the movies are 80 or 90 minutes long, and Disney films are about growing up. They’re about that day in your life when you have to accept responsibility. Simba ran away from home but had to come back. In shorthand, it’s much quicker to have characters grow up when you bump off their parents. Bambi’s mother gets killed, so he has to grow up. Belle only has a father, but he gets lost, so she has to step into that position. It’s a story shorthand. The other reason—and this is really odd—Walt Disney, in the early 1940s, when he was still living at this house, also bought a house for his mom and dad to move into. He had the studio guys come over and fix the furnace, but when his mom and dad moved in, the furnace leaked and his mother died. The housekeeper came in the next morning and pulled his mother and father out on the front lawn. His father was sick and went to the hospital, but his mother died. He never would talk about it, nobody ever does. He never spoke about that time because he personally felt responsible because he had become so successful that he said, “Let me buy you a house.” It’s every kid’s dream to buy their parents a house and just through a strange freak of nature—through no fault of his own—the studio workers didn’t know what they were doing. There’s a theory, and I’m not a psychologist, but he was really haunted by that. That idea that he really contributed to his mom’s death was really tragic. If you dig, you can read about it. It’s not a secret within their family, but it’s just a tragedy that is so difficult to even talk about. It helps to understand the man a little bit more.
Glamour: That is so horrible.
Don: He was living here on a hilltop, on five acres. He had just made Fantasia, Dumbo, Pinocchio, Bambi, and Snow White in a five-year span. He buys a house for his mom and dad, they move down from Oregon, and his mom dies. Again, I’m not a psychologist to know it all, but it’s a really interesting story. To me, it humanizes Walt. He was devastated by that, as anyone would be.