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Thursday
May082014

Tim's Toons: The Best Moms Ever Drawn

Tim here. Mother’s Day weekend is just around the corner, and not just any Mother’s Day weekend: this year marks the 100th anniversary of the proclamation by President Woodrow Wilson establishing the second Sunday in May as a national day of celebration.

In the honor of the century of mothers that have come and gone since then, and since this is the Film Experience’s dedicated animation corner, I though it might be fun to pay tribute to some of our favorite cartoon mothers. Of course, with motherhood being one of the most death-prone professions in the world of animation (all those Disney princess with just a father, if they’re not orphaned outright… and let us never forget the national childhood trauma that is Bambi), there are fewer such women than we might like. These are three of the best.

Helen Parr (voice: Holly Hunter)
The Incredibles

To me, this is the easiest and most obvious answer there could ever be to the question, “who’s the best mom in the history of animated movies?” And not just because of Hunter’s fantastic performance, though I hope I don’t need to mention that it helps. We’re all Hunter fans here, right? Good.

The genius of the character lies in part in the playful metaphor behind her: taking care of her kids, household and husband requires Helen to stretch herself as thin as can be, so what of course would have to be her superpower, but infinite elasticity. But it also lies in how fully Hunter and writer-director Brad Bird commit to making the character more than just a collection of Eisenhower-era feminine tropes. Helen is a wonderfully complicated character, in fact, and complicated women are common in neither American animation nor superhero movies. The subtle interplay of emotions that she expresses over the course of the movie, and the vivid intelligence, wit, and self-reliance that she acts with at all times, makes her a fully-feeling person and not just a reactive wife and mother. And it’s precisely because we get so much more of her inner life that her considerable strength in those roles is so clear and involving.

 

Chicha (voice: Wendie Malick)
The Emperor’s New Groove

This one can, I think, be fairly described as my against-convention pick. From the Disney movie that everybody underrated until it developed a cult that is sending it merrily on the way to being overrated, Chicha isn’t one of the film’s biggest characters by any stretch (by my count, she comes in at fifth, right ahead of “guy who gets thrown out the window in the opening sequence”), but she makes a hell of an impression in just a couple of scenes as the level-headed focus of reason in a film where just about everything is operating at a high-level pitch of cartoon anarchy. It’s the “wife in a CBS sitcom” role, basically, but Malick’s warmly calming performance and the general excellence of the character’s interactions with her manic kids make her one of the highlights, for me, of a film full of highlights: the mom everybody wants and needs, who lets you goof off and be silly right up until it’s time to knock if off, a gentle totalitarian with a good sense of humor.

 

Mrs. Jumbo (voice: Verna Felton)
Dumbo

The horrifying moment when Bambi’s mother gets shot is all well and good. But for my money, the single most devastating moment of parent/child agony in the whole of the Disney canon is when the little mute elephant with giant ears goes to the cage where his mother has been locked up as a rampaging beast, and curls up on her trunk, the only part of her body she’s able to reach out to him. Something about the tenderness and cruelty intermingling in that moment is just overwhelming – and the plaintive lullaby "Baby Mine" playing over the scene doesn’t hurt matters one iota.

Here and everywhere else, the relationship between Dumbo and his mother is an absolute triumph of animation, making exemplary use of the Disney animator’s understanding of how to communicate the sensitive and emotion of physical touch through their drawings.

With neither character speaking much at all (Mrs. Jumbo has a single line, naming her child), it falls entirely to the images to create the emotional truth of their relationship, and this is done with amazing skill throughout: from the charming bath scene to the lacerating "Baby Mine," Dumbo is a film that consistently depicts gentle, loving caresses between mother and infant with a sweetness and sensitivity I can think of nowhere else in film. Not just in animation, but in live-action too.

I’ll turn it over to you now. Who are your favorite animated moms? Share with us in comments!

 

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Reader Comments (18)

This list is wrong in every way because it's missing The Land Before Time.
Even as an adult, there is nothing more heartbreaking in a film as "Littlefoot? Do you remember the way to the great valley?" After she's gone, the loss echoes across the whole film.

Honourable mention:
Mr's Potts from Beauty and the Beast

May 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoFo

Queen Elinor from Brave (...one Emma to rule them all)
Marge Simpson from the Simpsons Movie
Mrs. Incredible from The Incredibles

May 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTravis

Travis -- ooh, Queen Elinor. Good call.

JoFo -- i think this list was not meant to be dead moms though.

May 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Helen Parr. oh how i long for Holly Hunter to have another live action role that good.

May 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

aww, I so forgot about that scene from Dumbo. so good.

The Incredibles may honestly be my favorite movie from that decade. It is SO good and doesn't nearly get enough credit. The characters, dialogue, creativity, action, humor...etc. It's a comedy, action-film, family drama, superhero movie AND kids movie all rolled into one and each piece, as well as the whole which is greater than its parts, is impeccable.

May 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAonny

It's all about Marge Simpson for me. That videotape monologue is just... I can't even think about it for long without tearing up.

May 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLee

Where the hell is Marge Simpson?!

May 9, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercraver

Dead mum's are mums too! ;-)

May 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoFo

Mrs. Brisby from "The Secret of N.I.H.M." is a very brave and caring mother.

Oh yeah, and Mrs. Fox from "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is too. ;)

May 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Mrs Brisby. awww. luvs.

May 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Wracking my brain, but I think a lot of toon moms ARE dead (or die!) Why is that?

Duchess from the AristoCats. (I love Eva Gabor, much more than her more flamboyant sister.)
also, Perdita (from 101 Dalmatians.)

May 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Annie Hughes! The Iron Giant!!

May 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan A

@Pam

The worst possible scenario for a child within the confines of age appropriate cinema is the death of a parent. And since mother has the closest bond with a child during the earliest stages of their life her permanent absence will be met with immediate distress.

May 9, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

And where the heck is Lady Tremaine? She strives over the course of an entire film to ensure her biologically disadvantaged daughters are not rejected by a society that over-privileges physical beauty. She also protects them from the interloping Cinderella who doesn't even realize the world has just been handed to her on a silver platter.

May 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDusty

Kanga! Don't forget Kanga! Not only is she a patient mother for the ADD fuzzball Roo, she basically adopts Tigger when it turns out he's family-less. She's pretty much everyone's de facto mother in The Thousand Acre Wood. And that is a group that needs some mothering.

May 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

Dusty, someone needs to coopt Gregory Maguire's business of subverted fairy tale novels

May 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Dumbo makes me cry, i can't! So cute.

May 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBia

I second Hogart's Mom (aka Annie Hughs)!

May 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P

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