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After 80 years of tragic deaths, parents are actually staying alive in animated films

No animal parents were harmed in the making of this movie. The cast of "Sing" can breathe easy.

ILLUMINATION-UNIVERSAL/THE WASHINGTON POST

By MICHAEL CAVNA | The Washington Post | Published: January 5, 2017

For one year, at least, we got a reprieve. In reversing a trope’s troubling body count, 2016’s major awards-contending animated films managed to stop icing our parents.

Yes, kids, in some ways, these weren’t your father’s CG-animated films, because in the past year, your cartoon daddies actually got to live.

It’s been 80 years since Disney began whacking our ancestors in feature films, with the release of 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” The blood line remained rather Grimm since as Disney made this adapted move integral to its storytelling DNA. Within five years, the studio tapped the gorgeous original art of Tyrus Wong — who died last week at age 106 — in making one of its most memorable parent-killers, 1942’s “Bambi.”

Once you’ve fatally pierced the Mama Deer in your kiddie fare, well, there’s no going back.

Every succeeding generation has received its own animated films that play the Orphan Card, or at least render a parent long absent. Be it with Cinderella or Simba, Mowgli or Belle, Disney has especially adapted works that offed the offspring’s next of kin. We thus became conditioned to death in our cartoons, particularly within the Tragic Magic Kingdom.

In recent years, though, the trite parental deaths in CG-animated films were reaching a critical mass, if not mess. We grieved through “Frozen” and “Good Dinosaur” and the especially ruthless “Big Hero 6.” It got to the point where we were surprised when a missing parent actually returned, as in “How to Train Your Dragon 2.”

The digital wizards of 2016’s leading CG-animated films, by contrast, took pity on us. The sequel “Finding Dory,” unlike the original “Finding Nemo,” did not commit matricide. And such critter fare as “Zootopia,” “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Sing” kept things on the lighter side, so no parental animals were introduced and then harmed in the making of those movies.

Elsewhere in 2016, Disney’s “Moana” has the natural death of a grandparent occur early on, but tragedy does not befall the title character’s parents.

The only current animated-feature awards bait that harms the parents, in fact, is a stop-motion film. In Laika’s “Kubo and the Two Strings,” the tale of parental sacrifice is just as much a throwback as most of its animation techniques.

So odds are, when animated films picks up their Oscars and Golden Globes in the days and weeks ahead, the cartoon characters can thank their parents without having to look skyward.

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