‘Mother-Daughter Relationship in Disney Films’ Critique Leaves Something to Be Desired

(This article contains affiliate links. If you order something from an affiliate link, the seller still gets full price, our website gets a small commission, and it costs the same as if you went to Amazon without the link.) In her essay “Eighty-Six the Mother,” in 1995’s “From Mouse to Mermaid: The politics of film, gender, and culture,” Lynda Haas discusses the penchant for Disney films to kill the mother and avoid telling stories about the mother-daughter relationship. There’s no question that Disney has gotten rid of the mother in many of its stories. Even if it’s because of the story told by the source material, Disney still chose the type of material it wanted to bring to the screen.

Freaky Friday, Parent Trap, Aristocats

However, her assertion that Disney has only made three films that feature the mother-daughter relationship through 1993 is wrong by at least two films: 1976’s “Freaky Friday” starring Jodi Foster, 1961’s “The Parent Trap” starring Hayley Mills. Haas mentions “Freaky Friday in passing and dismisses it as a film where “mothers exist primarily to nurture and encourage their children in benevolent ways.” The whole premise of the film is that a mother and daughter switch places to learn more about what each other’s lives are about. It may not be a traditional story about the mother-daughter relationship, but it is definitely about how these two characters relate to each other and how that relationship changes.

Haas doesn’t mention “The Parent Trap” at all. In this movie Hayley Mills does a double billing playing twins. She meets her sister for the first time at a camp, and they try to get their parents back together. The film spends time on the different family relationships, including the mother-daughter relationship as the twins switch places.

1970’s “The Aristocats” follows the journey of high society cats in France trying to get back to their owner. Mother “Duchess,” played by Eva Gabor and her daughter “Marie” are a part of that journey. The relationship isn’t the focus of the film, but it still plays a prominent role, so Haas may have dismissed based on the “featuring” qualification.

What’s Missing

These omissions could be forgiven if they were obscure, unknown films. At the time of the essay, Disney and its subsidiaries had released more than 300 films. However, “Freaky Friday” spawned a plethora of body swapping movies. “The Parent Trap” starred one of Disney’s biggest icons and “The Aristocats” is one of Disney’s few animated movies. Instead, Haas chose the obscure dramas “The Good Mother” and “Stella” along with the hit “The Joy Luck Club,” none of which carry the Disney logo. The first two are from subsidiary Touchstone, and the Last one is from Hollywood Pictures.

Other Mothers

Mothers appear in other films, like Dumbo and Swiss Family Robinson, but Haas is looking at films that primarily explore the mother-daughter relationship. Her exploration doesn’t need to be tainted by films that focus on more than just those familial ties. However, it would have been interesting to see what feminist critique theory would’ve have said for the Disney-branded films mentioned above. It would also be interesting to know how many films from other motion picture companies featured the mother-daughter relationship. Would she have included “Mommie Dearest” and “Carrie?” Perhaps, she has already tackled those subjects in other essays.