I have been very fortunate in regards to grandmothers. I was lucky enough to grow up knowing one of my great-grandmothers while she was alive, and considered her a friend. I was very close to my maternal grandmother and looked forward to Sunday night dinners with her and our family. I got to see my paternal grandparents celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary before celebrating my own wedding.
And with the birth of my daughter this past year, I have been able to see my own mother lovingly embrace the role of grandma. My last living grandparent, my father’s mother, is currently in the last days of her life. It has caused me to reflect on the lives of all of these women, and the lessons they have taught me over the years. Here are 12 reasons to love and appreciate grandma, as shown by some of our favorite Disney Movie Grandmas.
Madame Adelaide Bonfamille
Madame Adelaide is an adoring cat-mom to the beautiful Duchess, and a cat-grandma to her three adorable kittens Marie, Berlioz, and Toulouse. She loves them enough to decide to leave her entire estate to them upon her death, as they are her only family. But Adelaide is not only substantially wealthy, she is effortlessly stylish. If you are like me as a little girl you look wide-eyed at your grandma’s large chunky jewelry, or longed to touch the small antique bottles of perfume on her vanity, or admired her shining silvery-white hair. Her closet was a time capsule, her personage exuded elegance, and she aged gracefully ever-remaining a true beauty. That is the kind of grandmother Adelaide is.
(The Lion King, 1994, The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride, 1998)
Sarabi is Queen of Pride Rock with her husband Mufasa, and mother to future King Simba. Upon Simba’s ascend to his place as King beside his betrothed Nala, she soon becomes grandmother to lion cub Kiara and takes a new place in the circle of life. Sarabi endures her husband’s death, her son’s exile, and the takeover of her pride by the mad King Scar and his pack of hyenas. She and the other lionesses remain fierce hunters, providing for the pack until the Savannah is left with nothing under Scar’s reign. Throughout all of it, Sarabi never loses sight of her queendom, holding her head high and proud even as enemies circle around her. There comes a time in every woman’s life when she endures trials such as this. Many of our grandmothers have lost the loves of their lives, or endured the pain of being separated from their children. But each and every one of them was lioness at heart.
Grandmother Willow is a spirit in the forest residing in a Weeping Willow that fills a matronly role for Pocahontas, who lost her own mother when she was young. Pocahontas confides her dreams and problems to Grandmother Willow, often seeking guidance and advice. An ancient spirit, the bark of the tree stretches to form the wrinkled kind face of a kind old woman, one ready and able to listen. She gives gems of wisdom like “Listen to your heart.” and “You know your path- now follow it.” Some of us were not lucky enough to grow up with a mother or were not close to our own mother, and found love and wisdom instead in a grandmother or grandmother figure. This is the type of grandmother that Grandmother Willow represents.
(The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1996)
Laverne, voiced by Mary Wickes, is the only female of the trio of Gargoyles that Quasimodo speaks to and confides in while living alone in the bell tower of Notre Dame. Though the three gargoyles are Quasimodo’s only friends, Laverne in particular takes on a grandmotherly type role. Once again showing a character filling in a matronly role in place of a mother that the main character never knew. Though she has a hard stone exterior and can often blow up when something angers her, she is unfailingly kind and warm on the inside. She believes that Quasimodo is worthy of love even when he does not believe it himself due to what his “Master” has taught him about his place in the world. Anyone who has a sassy old lady with a heart of gold like Laverne in their lives can count themselves lucky.
One of the undeniable highlights of the Disney animated classic Mulan is, of course, the title heroine’s grandmother. Grandmother Fa is simply put, hilarious. Known for her quips such as; “Even you can’t blow it.” said as Mulan nervously goes to meet the Matchmaker and “Would you like to stay forever?!” yelled when Mulan offers to let General Li Shang stay for dinner. She puts her faith in luck, giving Mulan the Lucky Cricket that will help her along her journey, despite many others doubting his lucky attributes (the kind of confidence that only comes with age). And most importantly, she keeps her family and the audience laughing with her.
(Meet the Robinsons, 2007)
Getting older is a requirement, growing up is optional. This is an expression clearly embodied by Grandma Lucille of Meet the Robinsons. Some of Lucille’s many accomplishments include becoming a doctor at Inventco Labs, swimming the English Channel, and receiving a gold medal for the luge. But the greatest memory of her life is marrying the quirky fellow science lover Bud. They grow their large family in a large and happy home. And though Lucille ages, she stays as young and vibrant inside as she always was.
(Disney Pixar’s Up, 2009)
Carl and Ellie Fredrickson were not able to have a child during the course of their marriage. However, their love was its own adventure. And after Ellie is gone and Carl enables himself to open up to new adventures, he becomes a father figure to young Russell and gives him the “Ellie Badge” the highest honor he can bestow. It shows her legacy goes beyond her life because real love never dies.
(The Princess and The Frog, 2009)
In the south, many older women are referred to as “Mama” as a term of respect and endearment. This can apply to mothers, grandmothers, mentors, and of course bayou witches. Mama Odie is a magic lady of the Bayou who has the ability to use spells and make her own magic, as well as some very spicy gumbo. I think every one of us has a memory of our grandmother making the magic of her own; whether it was a famous recipe, a hand-stitched quilt, or a handmade dress. And when we dig a little deeper, the gifts she gave were not just things- but parts of herself.
Our grandmothers connect us to our family history and our heritage. In Moana, Gramma Tala encourages Moana’s lifelong love of the ocean, helps her discover the history of her people as voyagers, and sends her on her mission to restore the heart of Te Fiti. At her lowest point, the spirit of her grandmother returns to her to remind her of who she is and that she is loved, giving Moana the strength to carry on. This living connection to history is something that is inside all of our grandmothers.
(Disney Pixar’s Coco, 2017)
Mama Coco is Miguel’s great-grandmother, who is slowly losing her memory as she ages. But Miguel enjoys her company, talking to her about anything and everything with her. Though she does not often reply, she always listens. And when Miguel plays her music, her memory is brought to life in a vivid way, remembering her Papa and the music he played. Sometimes we only get to know our great-grandparents or grandparents for a short time in our lives, but the impact they leave simply by being there leaves memories that last a lifetime.
Alma Madrigal is given a miracle that protects her family and their village after a greatly traumatic loss. She hardens her heart, wanting to protect the miracle and the gifts that it gave her family. Along the way, however, that desire to not feel the pain of loss again led to her forgetting the miracle was not in fact some gift, but the family that emerged out of what she lost. Like many of our grandmothers, she did what she had to do to survive and protect her family. And even after the loss of the miracle and their beloved casita, she and her family rebuild. Because she survives.
(Disney Pixar’s Turning Red, 2022)
Grandma Wu is introduced alongside Mei’s many aunts when she is on the cusp of the traditional family ceremony to control her inner red panda. She is stern, styled, calm, and collected having long maintained the red panda in herself. And she bares the scar from her own daughter’s transformation years ago. She has the distinctive glare that any grandchild who has ever seen their grandma turn around and ask, “What are you doing?” would recognize. The glare that even if you haven’t done anything wrong- makes you feel like you might have.
There are lots of grandmas, the biological and adoptive, the stern and compassionate, the stylish and the silly. But they are all important figures for us as we grow and become adults. They are irreplaceable figures in a young child’s life, for better or for worse. And no matter what kind they are, there is always something we can learn from them. That, and the many other unique things that make them “Grandmother,” “Grandma,” “Mama,” or “Abuela” is why we love them.