Love them or hate them, a majority of Disney movies have a common recurring theme: the death of the parents. Why does Disney feel the need to get rid of the primary adults in its characters’ lives? It’s actually pretty simple. All of the Disney princesses are still teenagers or even kids.
The easiest way to get a fictional character to act and think like an adult without actually being one is to give him/her a traumatic experience, such as the death of either one or both parents. Whether the parent(s) are killed off during the movie or before the movie takes place, the end result is the same. The main character, who’s younger than 18, has to learn to take care of his/herself, and in some cases, siblings and other family members as well. This gives him/her the responsibilities that an adult is burdened with while he/she is still very young and it creates characters who can go through intense adventures and action sequences without the audience thinking “but he/she is too little!”
There are more movies in which only one parent is killed off. A few examples are: “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Pocahontas,” “Finding Nemo,” “Aladdin,” “Enchanted,” “The Princess and the Frog” and “Atlantis.” In these movies, the characters also have to take care of the remaining parent, who’s usually permanently distraught over the loss of his/her partner and extremely overprotective of his/her child. This overprotective instinct is natural — when a parent loses his/her partner so quickly, who says it won’t happen to his/her kid?
In the cases of “The Little Mermaid” and “Atlantis,” this has the audience rooting for children’s independence, seeming to completely forget that these characters are only 15-16. The instances where both parents are killed are a little less common, but is definitely still widely used. Some examples of this event occur in: “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Frozen,” “Snow White” and “Lilo and Stitch.” Knowing that getting rid of the parents creates more independent, adult-like characters, the movie “Tangled” can be included in this list as well: Rapunzel spends most of the movie learning how to do things herself, unaware that her parents are alive.
Although Disney certainly isn’t the only movie-making franchise to use this technique, it seems to be used as its default. There are other recipes for aging characters such as the use of any other life tragedy (and there are plenty of those).
Disney could also simply make its characters older. If there are many other ways to age ones characters, why not try them out?