Marginalizing Motherhood: Postfeminist Fathers and Dead Mothers in Animated Film

Berit Astrom

Although the dead or missing mother is an enduring constant in animated films from Snow White (1937) onwards, the way she dies, and the way she is remembered, or not remembered, has changed over time, as has the representation of the father-child relationship. In this chapter, I will discuss these changes in relation to cultural articulations of a type of ‘new’ father in the final decades of the twentieth century (Vavrus 2002; Dow 2006) and of the postfeminist father (Hamad 2014) in the first decade of the twenty-first. Although the representation of the paternal role has changed, it is still not only predicated on the death of the mother, but this death has also become more important as a means of forging the paternal identity and strengthening the father-child bond.

In this chapter, I juxtapose three films from the last decade of the twentieth century with three films from the first decade of the twenty- first. The Little Mermaid (Disney 1989), Beauty and the Beast (Disney 1991) and Aladdin (Disney 1992) are read against Finding Nemo (Pixar 2003), Chicken Little (Disney 2005) and Cloudy with a Chance of

B. Astrom (*)

Department of Language Studies, Umea University, Umea, Sweden e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017

B. Astrom (ed.), The Absent Mother in the Cultural Imagination, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-49037-3_15

Meatballs (Sony 2009).11 have chosen these films because of their success and continued influence (for example, the early ones spawned the princesses that are now a fixture in Disney merchandising) and because the parent-child relationship is given a fair amount of screen time (particularly in the later films). The earlier films depict single fathers and teenage daughters, whereas the later films focus on noticeably widowed fathers and prepubescent sons, although Flint, in Cloudy does grow up during the film. Continuing ‘Hollywood’s preoccupation with the father’ (Bruzzi 2005, 153), these films present a world in which fathers not only continue to take precedence over mothers, but also, by subsuming supposedly maternal characteristics, make mothers more marginal than ever before.

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