12 Disney Characters You Probably Forgot Met Horribly Tragic Deaths
Did the death of Bambi’s mom in the classic Disney movie leave you emotionally scarred? Yawn. Your childhood ended when Simba snuggled up to Mufasa’s dead body in ‘The Lion King’? You and a few million other people. Every time anyone starts talking about movies that made them cry as kids — Disney or otherwise — it’s always Bambi’s mom or Simba’s dad going to the great Toonland in the sky. But what about the countless other perfectly nice Disney characters who met an untimely end?
Today, we’re giving 12 other dead Disney characters their due, and maybe opening up a few childhood traumas you may have repressed.
The unfortunate stegosaurus from the “Rite of Spring” sequence in Disney’s classic musical is killed onscreen by a rampaging tyrannosaur. The poor dino is also the first non-villain to die in a Disney film and stay dead, not counting a few fish and a pterodactyl killed earlier in “Rite of Spring.” The sequence ends the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, so technically, every creature we see winds up dead. But the stegosaurus gets the most time devoted to its struggle to live and ultimately perish.
Willie, “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met”
It’s possible you’ve never seen “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met,” one of the 10 musical segments in ‘Make Mine Music.’ If you’re the sensitive type, count yourself lucky because this one’s a killer.
Willie is a whale gifted with a beautiful voice who dreams of performing opera. Unfortunately, he lives in a world where talking and singing animals are not the norm. The impresario who hears Willie sing concludes that the whale has swallowed an opera singer and Willie’s audition turns tragic when he is harpooned and killed in a misguided rescue attempt. The final scene shows Willie performing in heaven, but that’s cold comfort to kids who’ve been told that if you believe in your dreams, they’ll surely come true.
We’ll forgive you if you forgot that Cinderella’s father was even in the movie. This is one of just two shots he appears in, and the only one where he’s not dead. Given his short screen time, we doubt that many kids were heartbroken at his death. Also, the guy was one lousy judge of character, a fault that left his only child slaving away for a cruel stepmother and her spoiled daughters after he kicked the bucket.
Seeing poor Nutsy the dog trot unsuspectingly along as the dogcatcher led him through what one of Lady’s cellmates called “the one-way door” must’ve left a few kids in tears over the decades. Nutsy is a plot device, meant to demonstrate the fate that awaits Tramp should he ever be caught. But when major action movies aimed at older audiences go out of their way to shield pooches from harm while killing untold numbers of people, it’s shocking that family-friendly Disney let a dog die in such a casual manner.
‘The Fox and the Hound’ has plenty of sad and upsetting moments: Tod’s forest friends showing him the skins of dead animals in Amos Slade’s shed, Widow Tweed’s heartbreaking goodbye to Tod, Tod and Copper’s friendship that we know cannot last. This is a movie that gets serious right from the start. But the very first thing we see is Tod’s mother fleeing for her life, making the decision to leave her baby in a safe, concealed spot, and leaving to face her fate. The sound of two gunshots marks the end of her story. At least Bambi’s mom got more screen time.
Were you heartbroken when Pocahontas’ would-be husband met his end? Yeah, neither were we. It’s not that Kocoum’s a bad guy, but Disney tries so hard to make him uninteresting to Pocahontas that he ends up being uninteresting to the audience as well. He doesn’t get to do much and his biggest scene has him discovering Pocahontas and John Smith getting cozy and attacking Smith. He’s then promptly shot by hapless settler Thomas, igniting the tension between the natives and the settlers into all-out war. Sorry, Kocoum. You’re more of a plot device than a character.
Among the many nameless parents on this list is Quasimodo’s mother, a gypsy who is caught trying to enter Paris with her infant son. Frollo, upstanding guy that he is, chases her to the doors of Notre Dame, where she begs for sanctuary. She dies after hitting her head on the steps as she tries to keep Frollo from seizing her baby.
To add insult to fatal injury, she’s subjected to post-mortem slander when Frollo tells the older Quasimodo that his mother abandoned him. (Explain to us again why there’s so much racy fan art of this guy?)
There’s a lot of death in ‘Mulan,’ but most of the victims are anonymous: an army of Huns, scores of Chinese soldiers, a whole village of innocent bystanders and that poor guy who Shan Yu has killed because two people delivering a message is redundant. The only named character who dies is General Li, Li Shang’s father.
The general is a proud soldier but overconfident, which leads to his doom at the hands of the Hun army. The death of General Li and his men shows that Mulan and her fellow recruits are up against a force even seasoned troops couldn’t defeat. But for Shang, the loss is much more personal.
A happy family seen at the start of an action movie is doomed. Happy families at the beginning of a Disney movie usually fare better, but that’s not the case for the human and gorilla families in ‘Tarzan.’
We talked about Kerchak and Kala’s unfortunate offspring in 10 Traumatic Disney Moments, so this time we’re focusing on Tarzan’s parents. From what little time we get with them, they seem to be hardworking, brave and loving parents, as well as incredibly adept treehouse builders. From the state of their home when Kala comes calling, we assume they died heroically trying to save their baby from Sabor the leopard.
Lilo is a modern little girl who lost her parents to a car accident on a rainy night. While Snow White and Cinderella want to escape the families they’re left with after their respective parents die, Lilo and her sister Nani are just trying to stay together. The presence of Lilo’s parents is felt throughout the movie, from the concept of “ohana” to Lilo’s assertion that she’ll remember Stitch after he decides to leave because “I remember everyone who leaves.”
It may not be the cultural touchstone that ‘Bambi’ and ‘The Lion King’ are, but ‘Brother Bear’ still packs an emotional wallop. When we meet Koda, he’s a happy-go-lucky bear cub, lost but confident he’ll find his mother again.
Later, when Koda relates the story of how he became separated from his mother, Kenai (the human-turned-bear and hero of the movie) realizes that the bear he killed to avenge his brother’s death was Koda’s mom. She may not be the only dead Disney mother, but she does have the honor of being the only Disney mom killed by a Disney hero.
Tiana’s father — who is apparently named “James” — may be dead by the time the movie’s prologue ends, but he still has an influence on the rest of the story.
James was a hardworking man, and a loving husband and father. The photo and medal that Tiana keeps on her dresser indicate that he died fighting in WWI. For the rest of the movie, James is the guiding spirit in Tiana’s life as she pursues their shared dream and eventually learns to make room in her life for someone new with whom to share her dreams.