10 Best Mother-Child Stories In Disney Animated Movies

Being a mother is no small feat, and the struggle of being a parent is a common theme in movies. However, Disney, perhaps the biggest family entertainment company, has a history of leaving mothers out of their stories. Classic Disney princesses were often written with absentee mothers to facilitate a coming-of-age story. As Disney evolved to accommodate contemporary themes, so did the structures of the stories they tell, and those heartbreaking stories between a mother and her child slowly became more persistent in these family films.

These mother-child relationships are not measured by the perfection or quality of the mother herself. Mothers are people too, and the stories of them struggling to bridge a disconnect with their children are some of the most important stories to tell. Stories of overcoming and learning.


Brave (2012)

Merida and Elinor reunite at the end of Brave

Co-directed by Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews, Pixar Brave is arguably one of the most nuanced portrayals of a mother-daughter relationship in Disney history. The story centers on Merida, the headstrong and independent daughter of Queen Elinor. The two are complete opposites, and Elinor’s insistence on Merida’s betrothal causes Merida to turn to a witch for help.

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The best part of this movie is the human relationship between Merida and Elinor. Their struggles to understand each other are so realistic but despite their disagreements, they both clearly love each other. Throughout the film, Merida and Elinor learn to understand each other, to care for each other, and Elinor learns to respect Merida’s autonomy.

Lilo and Stitch (2002)

Nani and Lilo talk in Lilo's room in Lilo and Stitch

Co-directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, lilo and stitch is an iconic Disney film about family. Although Lilo and Nani are sisters, Nani took on the role of raising Lilo and became a mother figure. As Lilo teaches Stitch about family, Lilo and Nani’s semi-dysfunctional relationship also unfolds.

This film, at its core, is about the meaning of family; the meaning of ohana. Lilo is a typical young girl who gets into trouble, and that trouble often bleeds into Nani’s very stressful life as she struggles to keep custody of Lilo. Despite their problems and constant bickering, the sisters love each other and Nani proves that she would do anything to protect Lilo.

Going Red (2022)

Ming Lee, Mei Lee and Grandma Wu in Turning Red.

In turn red, directed by Domee Shi, Mei, a thirteen-year-old girl with a strong personality, desperately wants to please her mother, Ming. So when Mei unexpectedly transforms into a giant red panda, she’s caught between wanting to embrace this new side of her and Ming’s insistence that she seal it forever.

The refreshing thing about this mother-daughter portrayal was the quality of their relationship from the start, theirs being one of the best relationships ever. turn red. Both Mei and Ming know that the other cares about them. The story is more about communication and respect: Mei learns to set boundaries and Ming learns to respect them.

Big Hero 6 (2014)

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 is a Disney-Marvel production co-directed by Chris Williams and Don Hall that follows a young genius named Hiro and his late brother’s robot Baymax as they work to bring down the villain responsible for his brother’s death. Although Hiro is raised by his Aunt Cass, she serves as a mother figure and her addition to the film is vital.

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After her brother’s death, Cass, who is struggling with grief herself, goes to great lengths to make sure Hiro is okay. She’s far from bossy, but her concern is clear and the distance between Hiro and her only exacerbates that. As Hiro works through his grief, he learns to become more open with Cass.

Soul (2020)

Joe's mom Libba is working on a shirt in Soul

Created by acclaimed Pixar director Pete Docter, Soul confronts the complex themes of life, death and logic as well as what it means to be human and to have a purpose in life. Joe Gardner is an aging jazz pianist who works in college and dreams of playing professionally. His pragmatic mother, Libba, encourages Joe to have a backup plan but Joe finds her words unencouraging.

Although her mother occupies a relatively small part of the film, her role in Soul is important for Joe to accept the purpose of life. His mother doesn’t want to appear indifferent, she just wants to make sure Joe is happy and doesn’t spend his life chasing the future. Her poignant conversation with him speaks volumes about a mother’s love.

Princess and the Frog (2009)

Almost There by Tiana

princess and the frog, co-directed by John Musker and Ron Clements follows a young woman named Tiana in New Orleans as she works tirelessly as a waitress in hopes of funding her own restaurant. Her mother appears early on, encouraging Tiana to think beyond her career aspirations and reminding her how important family is.

Tiana’s relationship with her mother is not the central theme of the film, but her mother encourages her to expand her goals and think about what she wants her future to be. While Tiana’s hard work is commendable, her mother knows a restaurant won’t satisfy her when the heart of Tiana’s love for the culinary arts comes from family and community. Urging Tiana to remember the heart of the restaurant reminds her to reconsider her true goals later.

Lucas (2021)

Luca who is a sea monster

Pixar’s blockbuster movie Lucas, directed by Enrico Casarosa, follows sea monsters Luca and Alberto who can transform into humans on land and flee to the small Italian town of Portorosso. Both of Luca’s parents protect him, his mother the louder voice of the two, who is outraged when they find out he is about to land.

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Luca’s disconnect with his mother is ultimately his need to keep him safe. She knows that if people find out he’s a sea monster, it could be dangerous for him. Luca doesn’t seem to really understand his motives, simply feeling suffocated. But in the end, Luca understands his parents better and they understand him, even letting him go to school with Giulia.

Onward (2020)

Pixar's Onward Family Header

Ahead was directed by Dan Scanlon and produced by Pixar. It follows two brothers, Ian and Barley, who embark on a quest to temporarily bring back their deceased father in order to reunite one of Pixar’s top families. Although the film is more about the relationship between the two brothers, mother Laurel goes on her own quest to protect them.

In the film, Laurel has moved on from the death of her husband and is actively dating someone else. She has a good relationship with her two sons and doesn’t hesitate to pursue them when she thinks they are in trouble. Her role in the ending is incredibly touching. Although she’s had the space to grieve and move on, she knows her sons need closure and fights with them to bring their father back for even a moment.

Dumbo (1941)

Disney's 1941 animated feature Dumbo

Classic Disney Animation Dumbo directed by Ben Sharpsteen follows a young circus elephant born with unusually large ears. Dumbo and his mother are a heartwarming duo. the love Mrs. Jumbo has for her son is immeasurable.

Mrs. Jumbo is incredibly protective of Dumbo, as he is often ridiculed for his ears. This gets her into trouble when she hits a child who was pulling her ears. She is locked up and Dumbo is integrated into the circus. Eventually his big ears make him a celebrity and he is able to free his mother. Their relationship comes full circle and Dumbo proves his maturity by freeing his mother.

The Aristocats (1970)

Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, the Aristocats follows a family of cats – a mother and her three kittens – who, after being kidnapped by their owner’s butler, follow an alley cat to their home in Paris.

The mother, Duchess, knows her kittens and has a unique relationship with each. She is a wonderful mother who takes care of her kittens and gives them the space and the support to discover themselves throughout their adventure.

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