Why Do Parents Always Die in Children's Movies? Even the Stars of Slumberland Are Stumped

“Do they not like us?”
IMAGE NETFLIX

The Lion King, Tarzan, Harry Potter—dead parents seem to be the theme of almost every children’s movie known to man. The most wholesome Disney children’s movies tend to always start with a tragic death in some way. Seriously, when did fun children’s movies get so dark?

Slumberland, Netflix’s latest big-budget children’s movie, is no exception to this ironic trend. No spoilers here. Slumberland follows a young girl named Nemo (Marlow Barkley) as she embarks on fantastical nighttime adventures with her new companion Flip (Jason Momoa) after—your guessed it—the death of her father.

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We had the chance to talk to Slumberland’s stars to find out why they think parents are always getting the guillotine in these wholesome children’s movies, and they unanimously agreed: “I don’t know.”

“Yeah, Bambi, Old Yeller—Why is that?” wondered Momoa, a parent himself, who was stumped and passed the question on to rising child star Marlow Barkley.

“Maybe because there are people out there who are going through difficult times at a young age so they need something to hold on to or to guide them through the difficult times,” suggested Barkley, who at only 14 years old, had the best answer of the bunch.

Photo by Netflix.
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“I have two young kids and I always do wonder. Jesus, why does a parent always die at the start of this?” joked Chris O’Dowd, who plays Nemo’s uncle and new guardian Philip. “Do they not like us?”

All these years later, there are countless floating theories as to why parents always kick the bucket in children’s movies. Maybe because it’s the most impactful dramatic device or maybe because death is a part of growing up. 

Whatever the reason, the minute Slumberland opened with a happy scene between Nemo and her dad Peter (Kyle Chandler), we just knew where this was going. Note to self: if you ever see a happy, non-evil parent in a children’s movie, the chances are high that they’ll be killed off.

Catch Slumberland on Netflix now.

Photo by Netflix.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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