I love Disney movies. They bring up all the feels for me in ways that films for adults often fail to. And dang, do I love emoting. Even when those emotions are about death. And dead parents.

Though my mom died in April of 2016, the summer months bring up more memories. On top of regular summer festivities, her birthday was at the end of June, and my brother and I were both born in July. I won’t pretend we had an easy relationship, but Disney was a love we shared. And, after she passed, watching Disney films with all those dead parents hits a bit differently.

So, today, I’m sharing Disney animated films with dead (or conspicuously absent) parents that affected me strongly. They are ranked from least to most impactful.

The Little Mermaid

While it’s not dwelled upon, Ariel’s (Jodi Benson) mother’s death-by-ship is clearly why her dad, King Triton (Kenneth Mars), hates humans and the surface so much. As I can relate to overbearing fathers who mean well, I connect with The Little Mermaid. It also just so happens to have been my mom’s fave Disney film. 


Toy Story

Watching Toy Story, even when I was a little, made me realize that Disney has a penchant for dead/absent parents. I found myself wondering where Andy’s (John Morris) father was. Did Andy and Co move to a new house because of a divorce? A death? Or did Andy’s dad simply just work a lot? The world may never know

Finding Nemo

Ah, another tale of a dead mom leading to an overprotective dad. Finding Nemo feels particularly special because I don’t think I realized that particular thread when I first saw the film in high school. It only dawned on me as an adult, post losing my mom. Nemo and I both struggled with being trusted to succeed on our own two fins. 


Grandparents can count as parents, and Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) losing her grandma (Rachel House) is formative in a way that losing either her mother or father probably wouldn’t be. The realization that Moana no longer has her grandmother’s loving support sets her on her forward momentum. I don’t necessarily relate to Moana at the grandparent level, but feeling like I don’t fit in with my born family? Sure.

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Though Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez)  is the main character of this film, his great-grandmother, the eponymous Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía), is the one who lost her parents. Their deaths, particularly that of her father (Gael García Bernal), sets off a chain of family trauma. Cultural and familial expectations that don’t align with your personal values are rough, especially when there are other parts that you cherish and want to celebrate. 

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Find me a person who wasn’t traumatized by the death of Bambi’s mom (Paula Winslowe).

The Lion King

“I killed Mufasa,” sneers Scar (Jeremy Irons), finally clearing up Simba’s (Jonathan Taylor Thomas/Matthew Broderick) mistaken assumption that he’s held since childhood that he’s responsible for his dad’s death. And that scene where Mufasa (James Earl Jones) dies. The herd of wildebeest, the song playing. The trampling. The utter silence as Simba comes upon his father. It’s tragedy played to perfection.

Was I “Scarred” for life? Perhaps.


I’m a sucker for anything that’s siblings against the world, and that’s Frozen. My gosh, that opening sequence where Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) navigate losing their parents! My brother and I had wildly different relationships with my mother, so our reaction to her death was also really different, just like Anna and Elsa. 

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Lilo & Stitch

Lilo’s (Daveigh Chase) entire characterization is poignant once you realize where her behavior comes from. It’s a very, very sweet movie. Nani (Tia Carrere) is trying her best, and sometimes your best just doesn’t quite cut it. I could have done without the demonization of the social worker Cobra (Ving Rhames) because he really was working in Lilo’s best interest, but, you know … Although, the reason I first fell for this movie is that Experiment 626, aka Stitch (Chris Sanders), is a creature after my own heart.


I only just watched this movie about a month ago, and the feels, the feels. Siblings realizing they have each other to lean on? ✔️ A kid discovering that maybe they lionized a parent they never knew? ✔️ A single parent doing the best she can and not taking her pain out on her kids? Another ✔️ This movie just rocks. Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) have effortless, breezy natural sibling energy that belies the poignancy of the film — which is how it gets ya. 

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There you have it: The 10 Disney films with dead (or conspicuously absent) parents affected me the most. Sometimes reliving your trauma is the best medicine, I guess. Which of these films affects you most? Which did we miss? Let us know in the comments below! 

This article was originally published in June 2024. 

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