So, if you’re a regular reader to this blog, or know me personally, you’re probably already familiar with my fandom for everything Disney. Whether it’s indulging in their many cinematic properties, or enjoying a day walking through Disneyland, or just grabbing whatever collectible catches my eye, I have many years of Disney fandom under my belt. It’s one of the things that has brought me to my current residency in Los Angeles, which is home to much of the core of the Disney company’s many properties. Not only is the Studios themselves here, but so is Disneyland, and plenty of other Disney related experiences that pop up every now and then in the city. One of those is the D23 Expo in Anaheim, California; Disney’s bi-annual convention. Just like the previous conventions that I covered in 2013 and 2015, I will of course be attending that one as well. Leading up to this event in 2 weeks, I decided to give Disney the spotlight for most of this month of July, and to start off, how about I share another Disney themed top ten with you. For this article, I want to spotlight who my favorite heroes from Disney movies are. This list will focus on just the heroes from Disney movies, instead of favorite characters, since a good chunk of my favorite Disney characters would fall under the category of villains, and I actually want to save a future top ten for just them. Also, I’m only focusing this list on characters original to Disney itself, so sorry, no Marvel or Star Wars either. I am including live action characters though, since there are a couple that really stand out to me. So, let’s take a look at the greatest heroic characters to come from the collective imaginations of the great artists that have worked and continue to work at Walt Disney Pictures.
SCROOGE MCDUCK from MICKEY’S CHRISTMAS CAROL (1983) and DUCK TALES: TREASURE OF THE LOST LAMP (1990)
Voiced by Bill Thompson (1967), Alan Young (1983-2015), and David Tennant (2017-)
A list of the greatest Disney heroes wouldn’t be complete without the world’s richest duck on it. Originally created in a series of Donald Duck comic books by famed Disney artist Carl Barks, Scrooge eventually found his way off the page and onto the screen, both big and small. Though his first animated appearance would be in the educational short Scrooge McDuck and Money (1967), his true glory days wouldn’t come until the mid to late 80’s. He first made it to the big screen in the exceptional adaptation of Charles Dickens’ holiday classic in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, playing who else by Ebeneezer Scrooge. His acclaimed appearance then lead to a Saturday morning cartoon series called Duck Tales, which is really what turned the character into a household name and endeared him to a whole new generation of fans, like myself. From there, he has continued to be an ever present and popular part of the Disney family. The long running Duck Tales series even led to it’s own cinematic spin-off, showing that old McDuck could even carry his own weight on the big screen as well. What made Scrooge such an appealing character to many of us was that perfect combination of elderly wisdom and a fearless sense of adventure. He’s the kind of person we all wished or imagined that our grandfather’s were like. Adorably old fashioned and curmudgeonly, but never afraid to stand up for what’s right. A lot of what made Scrooge so effective as a character was the warm, Scottish baroque given to him by actor Alan Young, who played the role well into his 90’s and up to his death in 2016. An exciting new era awaits the character with the upcoming Duck Tales reboot, with former Doctor Who David Tennant stepping into the role. No matter what, the world’s richest duck will always remain our favorite.
EDDIE VALIANT from WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? (1988)
Played by Bob Hoskins
Here we have the first of my favorite heroic characters from a live action Disney movie. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is that rare confluence of opportunities all coming together to create a great cinematic document that sadly may never happen again. Directed by Robert Zemekis and produced by Steven Spielberg for Disney’s Touchstone Pictures banner, Roger Rabbit managed to see unprecedented cooperation between animation studios to create the shared Toontown community that would become the focus of this brilliant neo-noir cinematic experiment. It will probably be the only time that you’ll ever Mickey Mouse sharing the screen with Bugs Bunny, which is an achievement itself. And yet, it’s the human characters that really makes Roger Rabbit the masterpiece that it is today. In particular, it’s the grizzled old sleuth Eddie Valiant that we all come away loving the most from this film. It’s amazing to think that in a film filled with colorful characters, both animated and live action (or both), it’s the most down to earth and humorless character that we find most endearing. This is largely due to the sheer brilliance of the late, great Bob Hoskins’ performance. Hoskins is perfectly understated in the role, making Eddie the perfect straight man to bounce all the looneyness of Toontown and it’s citizens off of. Also, considering that Hoskins often had to act against nothing on set makes his performance all the more remarkable, because you really buy the fact that he’s interacting with cartoon characters on screen. Apart from that, Eddie Valiant stands out because it’s his growth as a character that we all love. He’s fighting against not only to save the day, but himself as well and all his demons (fighting his alcoholism and learning to trust the toons again). Such a grounded, human character should feel out of place in a story like Roger Rabbit, but Eddie Valiant is exactly the hero it needed.
BEAST from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)
Voiced by Robby Benson
Of all the Disney characters to have the most profound of character arcs, none stands out more than the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. While many favor Belle as their favorite character in the movie, I for one found myself more absorbed in the Beast’s story-line. And this is largely due to the fact that he’s the one that goes through the most change in character. Belle more or less remains the same person throughout the movie, which is not a bad thing particularly, but it doesn’t make her all that compelling either. From the moment we first see the Beast in the film, he is a creature worthy of our greatest fears. The remarkable trick accomplished by the movie itself is to methodically convert the Beast’s character over time and make the change feel natural as he goes from monster to man. By the end, we can believe that someone like Belle would fall in love with such a ghastly looking creature, because like her, we slowly begin to recognize the true pure heart inside. The Disney animators who created the Beast did a remarkable job creating a truly original design; creating a version of the character that only the medium of animation could bring out. Even more remarkable is the casting of one-time Hollywood heartthrob Robby Benson as the voice of the Beast. Not only does he command a ferocious sounding roar for the character in his fiercest moments, but he also brought emotional tenderness that I sure cemented the character into the hearts of most fans. Finding the right mixture of ferocity and humanity, Beast stands out as a true masterpiece of character for Disney, and a perfect example of how some heroes evolve into their true potential over time.
MERRYWEATHER from SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959)
Voiced by Barbara Luddy
Apart from the main heroes of their movies, Disney has also had a long history of popular sidekick characters who stand out as heroes in their own right. Most people usually think of Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio (1940), or Tinker Bell from Peter Pan (1953), or more recent characters like Sebastian the Crab (The Little Mermaid, 1989), Abu the Monkey (Aladdin, 1992) or Timon and Pumbaa (The Lion King, 1994). But, one of the best examples of how to use sidekick characters in a Disney movie can be found in the fairy tale masterpiece that is Sleeping Beauty. In the film, we are introduced to the three good fairies; Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. The fairies, it can be argued, are the film’s main characters; even more so than Princess Aurora. They do have more screen time than every other character, and are often the ones who actively drive the story. It’s even them who come to the rescue of Prince Phillip who’s been captured by the evil Maleficent, so without them, there would’ve never been a triumph over evil in the end. Though all the good fairies are great characters, I have a special place in my heart for Merrywether. She is without a doubt the highlight of the film for me. Spunky, opinionated, and ready for any challenge, she is everything I love in a Disney character. She also fills the important role of being the film’s most cynical character, helping to keep the movie from ever turning too saccharine. I also love her fearlessness. She’s never afraid to speak her mind, even to someone as ominous as Maleficent, and she’s always ready to stand her ground. Even in the final battle, when Phillip charges at Maleficent in dragon form, Merryweather nearly charges at Maleficent herself, with only the other fairies holding her back. How can you not love a character like that? Though she’s small and dainty, inside Merryweather beats the heart of a warrior.
BASIL OF BAKER STREET from THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE (1986)
Voice by Barrie Ingham
Okay, so it’s kind of a little too easy to include a character on here who’s just a carbon copy of one of literature’s greatest heroes in general. But, when the adaptation is this good, it’s hard to leave him out. Heavily inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal super sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, Basil is a perfect addition to Disney’s roster of great heroic characters. Mirroring all of the best aspects of Doyle’s iconic creation, Basil is an endlessly engaging character whose adventures are always worth investing in. He also carries over most of Sherlock’s quirks as well, and thankfully none of his vices (it’s G-Rated Disney after all). I especially enjoy the way he’s devoted to his profession almost to a fault, where it sometimes leads him to be oblivious to others around him, and their well-being. It’s a character aspect that gives him a flaw, which itself makes him far more interesting. I especially like how the movie plays around with his growing unease with having to work with others, in particular his Watson stand-in Dr. Dawson, and a lost little girl named Olivia. Part of what I love about the film is Basil’s evolution through the movie where he begins to let others into his life and doesn’t just try to do everything himself. But, more than anything, the movie hits it’s high points when we get to watch Basil use his intellect to escape from a jam. His daring escape from a death trap set up by his nemesis, Professor Ratigan, is a spectacular set-piece that represents the character at his best. He may not be the most original of Disney heroes, but he certainly stands out as one of the most entertaining. It’s also a shame that he’s often one of the more forgotten Disney heroes. If there was ever a Disney character deserving of a sequel, it would be Basil of Baker Street, because it only feels like we’ve just scratched the surface with the adventures of the great mouse detective.
MARY POPPINS from MARY POPPINS (1964)
Played by Julie Andrews
Another hero from the live action medium, Mary Poppins certainly feels right at home with her animated peers in the Disney family. She is heroic in a different kind of way compared to other characters on this list, in that she’s not here to face off against some great force of evil or facing some kind of life threatening challenge. Mary Poppins instead serves as a hero by showing guidance to those who need it in order to live their lives more fully. She serves as the perfect example of a role model, filling a void in people’s lives by being their mother-figure, their counselor, their confidant, their supervisor, and at most times, their friend. She is more than just a household nanny; she is a do-it-all fixer-upper. And it’s the pureness of her character that makes her such an endearing presence to many. We find over the course of the movie that she’s not just there to protect the children and teach them important lessons like responsibility and charity, but she’s there to also bring a broken family back together. It may be dangerous to center a movie around such a flawless character, and indeed the movie goes a step further by even having her proclaimed as “practically perfect in every way,” but when she’s played with such grace by someone like Julie Andrews, it’s hard to argue with it. Indeed, Mary is the ideal Disney heroine, enriching all the lives she touches and never once losing her integrity. She only lets her guard down once near the end, as she seems to be saddened by the departure of the Banks family from her life, but it’s a moment well earned, given how well she leaves behind a solid foundation for their future.
CINDERELLA from CINDERELLA (1950)
Voice By Irene Woods
Of all the groups of Disney characters to stand out as the very cornerstone of the company, it would be the Princesses. The very first feature they ever made centered around the character of Snow White, and it’s a line that has continued all the way to the present with the likes of Anna and Elsa from Frozen (2013), as well as their most recent addition, Moana, from her own self-titled film. But, if I were to pick my favorite Disney princess out of this line-up, it would be Cinderella. Disney’s version of the character is without a doubt the best version that has ever existed. She has a purity to her character that is unmatched, even among her Disney peers, and that is largely due to the way that she faces adversity. In the movie, her struggle is all about holding onto her dignity in the face of overwhelming hatred. Forced into servitude by her step-mother and stepsisters, she dutifully tries to keep her head on her shoulders, never once answering their cruelty with hatred of her own. One complaint that I often see unfairly labeled against Disney princesses is that they are one-dimensional characters due to their passivity. But, I never saw that as the case with Cinderella. She stands up for herself when she needs to, like when she reminds her stepmother that she has every right to attend the Ball too, and she sticks up for her animal companions whenever they are in danger’s way. And, unlike the other Disney princesses, she’s the one who determines her own fate in the end. After it seems like the stepmother has destroyed all hope for her by breaking her glass slipper, she uses her cunning to outwit her and present to the Grand Duke her other hidden slipper. No need for a brave prince to step in to save the day; Cinderella is the hero of her own story, and that’s why she is my absolute favorite.
MICKEY MOUSE from FANTASIA (1940) AND MANY OTHER SHORTS
Voiced by Walt Disney (1928-47), Jim MacDonald (1947-82), Wayne Allwine (1983-2009), Bret Iwan (2010-)
Of course, you can’t make a list of the greatest Disney heroes and not include the big Mouse himself. From the very first moment we saw the spunky like rodent piloting that steamboat down a river in his debut short, Steamboat Willie (1928), Mickey would become a hero for all the world to enjoy. Today, you will probably never find a character more recognizable across the world than Mickey Mouse. One of the great appeals of Mickey as a character is his versatility as a hero. The classic cartoons had Mickey doing battle with pirates, gangsters, mad doctors, and even giants, and that was all before his shorts were in color. As the animation medium became refined, so did his character. Mickey became the embodiment of the every man underdog hero, something that audiences gravitated towards during the Depression and wartime years. He has had many cinematic variations over the years, but none left as much as an impact as his appearance in Fantasia, where he was the star of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence. Though it’s ironic that his most famous screen appearance in Fantasia also shows him at his least heroic, being the source of mayhem rather than the solution to it. Still, Mickey is a quintessential hero, constantly standing up for what is right and often facing overwhelming odds in the process. It also makes him an ideal stand in for some re-tellings of classic stories, like in Mickey and the Beanstalk (1947) and The Prince and the Pauper (1990). Certainly with being the iconic figure and symbol of the Disney company, the intent will always be there to keep Mickey purely heroic in everything he does. The only question is if Disney will allow their character to evolve over time, or being handled with care too much, choosing to never blemish the face of their company in any way. Variety of character helps to make him more interesting, but then again, few other characters have as much burden to carry as Mickey does.
ALADDIN from ALADDIN (1992)
Voiced by Scott Weinger
Now we come to a heroic character from the Disney family who we not only want to look up to, but also wish we could be just like him. The “diamond in the rough” that is Aladdin is a great example of an underdog character who comes from nothing rising up through extraordinary circumstances to having everything he desires. But, all the while achieving his dreams, he never loses the essence of his character, that being a good heart underneath all the bravado and quirkiness. It’s a good sign of his character when he doesn’t hesitate to tell the Genie that he’ll use his last wish to set him free. And when he’s confronted with the possibility that he may have to rescind that promise later on in the story, it tears him up inside. Aladdin isn’t perfect as a human being; he lies in order to protect his cover, but he also does it to avoid hurting others feelings. He also steals, but it’s for his survival mostly and even still he’ll give up his stolen goods to some hungry children out of the kindness of his heart. It’s these edges to his character that really makes him a well rounded hero, and one that endears us to him as he goes off on his adventure. The Diamond in the Rough moniker could not be better applied, as he see a hero shaped by hardship, and a heart free of shameless self-service. By the end, when Aladdin has the opportunity to have everything he has always desired, he still uses his wishes to do the right thing and grant freedom to the Genie. And that selflessness still gets him happiness in the end, including the love of Princess Jasmine and a home in the palace. It’s a perfect example of how true selfless heroism reciprocates into it’s own fortune by the end of the journey, and it’s what makes Aladdin one of the best heroes of all.
PETER PAN from PETER PAN (1953)
Voiced by Bobby Driscoll
My favorite Disney hero of all time shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since I’m sure that he’s the favorite to many other fans as well. Adapted from J.M. Barrie’s classic play, Disney’s Peter Pan is a perfect translation of the character from the page to the screen. For one thing, animation allows for the character to take actual flight, unassisted by hidden strings. Also, the spirit of Peter Pan is one that any avid Disney fan can identify with, and that’s the desire to not grow old. Every Disney fan lives with a deep sense of nostalgia and it’s something that we take from childhood and hold onto throughout our adulthood. It’s also something that we love to pass down to the next generation as well. That’s why Disney always says their goal is to appeal to “young and the young at heart.” That’s why the boy who never wanted to grow up remains such an endearing character to this day, and Disney’s version brings that aspect out in the best way possible. Though Peter has his flaws (he’s sometimes dangerously negligent to other characters’ well-being), his carefree attitude still reveals a sense of duty to helping others. He also makes for a perfect foil for the stuffy and vicious Captain Hook. But, more than anything, he’s just a purely fun character to follow around. I for one have had a special fondness for the character throughout my life. Peter, along with Aladdin, were two of the only Disney characters that I dressed up as for Halloween as a kid. They are two heroes that I could easily fit into the shoes of and pretend to be for a while as a kid. That’s why they both rise to the top of this list because both were the ones who stuck out the most from my own childhood. Peter Pan gets the edge slightly just for embodying that childhood wonder that defined my love for Disney more closely, and that’s why he stands (or floats) over all of his heroic Disney peers.
So, there you have my choices for my favorite heroes in Disney movies. Some have been favorites all throughout my childhood development, while others have grown on me over the years. I certainly appreciate a character like Mary Poppins more now as an adult, seeing the strong influence that she leaves as a mentor. Others just rise to the top because of how much I enjoy seeing them act on the big screen. I certainly think a character Merryweather should be considered one of Disney’s greatest heroes, because she showed that you don’t have to be big or carry a huge sword to be seen as brave. And characters like Basil and Cinderella showed that you can overcome evil just by using your brain and outwitting your enemies. I think it all stems back to Walt Disney’s original emphasis on the underdog hero, embodied so perfectly in the persona of Mickey Mouse. If a small little mouse can beat the odds and save the world, why can’t anyone else. It’s a thing that has always defined the Disney company; that while they themselves are the big dogs of the industry, they are always championing the ideal of the little person achieving greatness through perseverance and a good heart. You see that also in the choices of other properties that they bring into their fold. It’s understandable why they would welcome story-lines that follow a lowly farm boy who learns to become a Jedi master, or a 90 pound weakling who goes through a science experiment to become a powerful super soldier called Captain America. It’s a theme that has served them well up to now, and let’s hope that it remains true for many years to come. There’s no shame in holding onto the heroes of your childhood well into adulthood, especially when they are strong role models like the ones made by Disney.