There are a lot of theories as to why dear old mom almost never holds a principal role in animated films. Since the market is pretty much dominated by Disney and Disney/Pixar, the story of Walt Disney's mother and her untimely death have made some wonder if the role of mom has been intentionally downgraded over the years. (I'll wait while you Google that. Done? Sad, right?)
There's also the idea that if mom's around too much, what kind of adventure could be had? Certainly nothing exciting can happen if the main character is being thrown in time out, or having dirt wiped off their cheek by mom spitting into a napkin. Would mom say, "You can do it! Jump in that cave and fight off the dragon!"? No, mom would just do it for you. So understandably a certain amount of independence would be lost if you threw a real mom in the mix too often. Watching a main character enjoy and grow from their independence is part of what children identify with in animated films.
Hopefully there will be more kick-butt moms to add to this list in the future, moms who join in the fun instead of dying within the first few minutes of a film. Actively engaged moms who play with their kids, instead of sending them off to the forest to be raised by fairies. But for now, and in honor of Mother's Day, these are the top five moms in animated history.
Mrs. Incredible from "The Incredibles" — Helen Parr is sort of the ideal mom. She's nurturing, tuned into her kids' needs and able to fight off evil to save her family. Even without being able to stretch like Elastigirl, good mothers seem to have super powers as well. They're a bit telepathic and can anticipate what you say or do in an uncanny way. It's possible they've conquered time travel, as that's the only logical explanation for how they juggle getting everyone to T-ball, dance rehearsal and soccer practice. Mrs. Incredible is like the modern mom who holds down the fort, worthy of a superhero cape of her own.
Elinor from "Brave" — If ever there was an animated film that depicts the sometimes fragile relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter, "Brave" would be it. From the opening scene of hide and seek to the constant reminders to "keep your weapon off the table," Elinor portrays a loving mum raising her daughter to be a queen while struggling with their stubborn clash of wills. Elinor endures her daughter's rebellion with equanimity, like good mothers do, until her wish to change her mother backfires and eventually mends their broken bond. Elinor is a well-thought-out character with more depth than most animated mothers are given.
Ellie from "UP" — If you've seen "UP" then you know Ellie never actually became a mother in what is probably the most touching opening 10 minutes of an animated film. But even though we only had a glimpse of Ellie, she represents those amazing women who take on the role of aunt, friend, role model and teacher without ever having children of their own. She would have been an amazing mom, and I'd like to think there's a director's cut somewhere with scenes of Ellie running a Girl Scout troop or taking her niece on an adventure. The Ellies of the world deserve our appreciation on Mother's Day as well.
Nemo's mom/Bambi's mom — Coral, Nemo's mom, was the victim of a brutal barracuda attack. Bambi's mom was eventually strapped to the hood of someone's car and sold as venison. Most mothers don't have to jump in front of a bullet for their kids, but they would if it came down to it. These characters represent the sacrifices good mothers make for their children. They sacrifice their bodies to carry children, sleep to nurture them and sanity when they decide "Let It Go" is their absolute favorite song in the universe and needs to be played multiple times a day.
Mrs. Jumbo from "Dumbo" — Dumbo's mother only speaks once during the film while giving her baby a name, but the love Dumbo's mother had for him was evident. With "Baby Mine" playing in the background, she cradled her newborn and marveled at how perfect he was to her, much like a real mother would. And like a real mom, she also had that protective instinct in her to defend her young. She was almost a nameless charcter, known only as Mrs. Jumbo, but a really beautiful depiction of motherhood.