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‘Turning Red’ & ‘Encanto’ – When Did Disney Get Such Bad Mommy Issues?

If there is one thing Disney’s latest animated features have in common, it is their evident display of mommy issues.

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Encanto and Pixar Animation Studios’ Turning Red¬†share stories where the protagonist’s chief issue is the tension she and others have with a motherly figure. Mirabel–and to some extent her whole family–with her Abuela, and Meilin Lee with her mother, Ming (and subsequently, Ming with her mother).

Abuela, "Encanto"

Abuela in ‘Encanto’ Credit: Disney

The tension differs significantly from Disney’s previous work like Snow White and¬†Cinderella¬†because our princesses dealt with an evil stepmother. Lady Tremaine, The Queen, and even Mother Gothel from Tangles are all false mothers attempting to push a false narrative onto our heroines. By no means am I trying to argue that stepmothers are inherently evil. They are not. After all, Cinderella gets her Fairy Godmother. Disney movies and the fairy tale inspirations are trying to tell us something about the mother-daughter relationship. That is, only a mother–a real mother–has the right to tell you what to do. After all, she is the one who brought you into this world. Not even Dad can tell you what to do.

Cinderella's Stepmother, Lady Tremaine

Credit: Disney

The greatest example, in my opinion, is in The Little Mermaid.¬†The lesson for King Triton–and all dads–is that it is futile to try and tell their daughters what to do. All a dad can do is be supportive and protective (sometimes).

Disney even doubled down on this concept with Toy Story. Andy’s dad is nowhere to be found, and the single mother home life doesn’t feel like there is anything missing. On the flip side, we see what happens when Marlin from Finding Nemo tries to be too motherly of a father after the death of Nemo’s mom Coral.

Credit: Disney

Related: Disney Fans Debate: ‘Who’s the REAL Villain in ‘Encanto’?’

Now, here’s the rub that appears to be rubbing millennial viewers and filmmakers the wrong way: From Peter Pan¬†through even¬†Moana–with the exception of Mulan–the Disney Princesses and heroines were revealed to essentially be younger versions of their mothers. Disney animators revealed the similarities to us through physical looks (Sleeping Beauty, Tangled) or when her father verbally admits it (Pocahontas). Disney also likened their heroines to their grandmothers with characters like Grandmother Willow and Grandma Tala. So the ironic relief is that even when there is no mom or grandma present in a Disney animated film, the precedent set shows that she would be on our heroine’s side.

Wendy and her mother, Peter Pan

Credit: Disney

The supportive love of one’s REAL mother is summed up beautifully in the song “Your Mother and Mine” from Peter Pan:¬†

Well a mother, a real mother, is the most wonderful person in the world
She’s the angel voice that bids you goodnight
Kisses your cheek, whispers sleep tight
Your mother and mine
Your mother and mine
The helping hand that guides you along
Whether you’re right, whether you’re wrong
Your mother and mine
Your mother and mine
What makes mothers all that they are
Might as well ask what makes a star
Ask your heart to tell you her worth
Your heart will say, heaven on earth
Another word for divine
Your mother and mine
It was a song that made even the toughest of pirates break down in tears.¬†But I guess that’s done now.
I know that¬†Brave¬†came first, but I am reluctant to include that movie in with¬†Encanto¬†and¬†Turning Red¬†due to context. For one thing, Merida’s fighting against an arranged marriage. But for another, her audacious rebellion could have triggered much more intense political consequences and gave her mother, Queen Elinor, more reasons to be mad than “you didn’t do as I asked.” Merida also takes responsibility for turning her mother into a bear.
Helen Parr from Pixar’s The Incredibles is another Disney Mom that doesn’t see eye-to-eye with her children, but I’d argue her story development is as much about accepting who she is rather than just forcing a way of life on her kids.
Anyway, what Encanto and Turning Red do is essentially turn REAL mothers and grandmothers into evil stepmothers. Abuela and Ming and her mother are shown to be pushing false narratives onto their children when, in reality, they are just high expectations. These movies also move away from the idea that daughters are little versions of their mothers and carry the same spirit as their grandmothers.
Turning Red

Credit: Disney/Pixar

It’s not easy being a parent. Moms aren’t perfect. They think the world of us and want the world for us. But Disney’s latest movies turn “The helping hand that guides you along/Whether you’re right, whether you’re wrong” into what Stewie Griffin would call in the early seasons of¬†Family Guy¬†“matriarchal tyranny.” Or, as millennials are calling it, “intergenerational trauma.” While I’ll admit Turning Red‘s climactic scene is actually pretty intense and funny, both it and Encanto¬†climax on the whole “I’ll never be good enough,” confrontations which read like the female version of an angsty overdramatized father/son movie about a high school football star.
Mirabel and Abuela, Encanto

Credit: Disney

I understand that we are in an age of prioritizing representation and that “authentic” family stories like these. But I really hope doing our hard-working mothers and grandmothers dirty like this isn’t the new norm for Disney’s storytellers. They deserve so much better than that.
Disney’s Encanto and Disney/Pixar’s Turning Red¬†are available for streaming right now on Disney+.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, and may not reflect the sentiments of Disney Fanatic as a whole.

About T.K. Bosacki

TK is a writer and editor based in Tampa, FL with a passion for all things Disney, and adventure.