Due to their overwhelmingly large catalog of properties, ranking the best of Disney is a near impossible task. No other studio has produced as much nostalgia as they have. And that was before they acquired every other studio in existence. Love em or hate em, it’s impossible to deny their impact on pop culture and the lion’s share of that credit belongs to their characters. Their films are quintessential, their songs are indelible, their shorts are groundbreaking but none of that would matter if their characters weren’t beloved. Mickey Mouse and all that followed after him (Goofy, Donald, Etc.), laid the groundwork for everything and most likely created your childhood in the process. Whittling this list down to one hundred was no easy task. But after lumping certain characters together, eliminating all the “toy” characters (the silent animal sidekicks who serve no purpose to the plot like Abu or Hei Hei) and limiting it to just three characters per movie (a rule I technically only broke twice), I’ve narrowed it down to what I think is the best of the best.
This is the 100 Greatest Disney Characters of All Time.
(Excluding Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars)
10. Hades | Hercules (1997)
This is my 100% biased, not even remotely objective ranking that is, if I’m being totally honest, crazy but I just don’t care. There’s at least fifteen other characters that definitely should be in the top ten over Hades but my love of him has completely clouded my judgement. He’s not important to the studio or the history of animation like Goofy, he’s nowhere near as beloved as Jiminy Cricket and as villains go, anyone of the ones I listed in the last entry should rank higher but again, I don’t care. He’s this high for one reason and one reason only: James Woods.
When it comes to Disney actors, I put them into two categories: famous and not famous. Or more accurately: Pre Robin Williams and Post Robin Williams. Before Aladdin, the studio skewed towards unknown actors or at the very least, actors who weren’t movie stars but after the release of Aladdin, they started going for bigger stars. Eddie Murphy and Mel Gibson and Rosie O’Donnell.
And out of all of them, the only one in my opinion, that holds a candle to Williams, was Woods. There has never been a better use of his fast talking, asshole schtick than this. He owns the role of Hades as much as Williams does with the Genie and since I’ve already courted controversy, I might as well marry it: I think he’s funnier.
09. Timon and Pumbaa | The Lion King (1994)
If The Lion King is a retelling of Hamlet like most claim, then these two would be the film’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. There’s certainly similarities between both stories but while both sets of characters are friends of the protagonist, they serve completely different narrative functions. Timon and Pumbaa (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella) are a pair of carefree lords of leisure who teach Simba about the finer things of life and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are childhood friends of Hamlet who ultimately betray him and not once do they ever share a tasty grub with him.
They seem similar but it’s that grub eating, or lack thereof, that really separates the two. Oh and the betrayal. Timon and Pumbaa offer a bit of comedic levity to the story after the emotional gut punch that is Mufasa’s death. If not for them, this film would be far more depressing. Operating as a single unit, the two are so connected to each other, that neither is typically mentioned without the other (no one talks about Pumbaa without talking about Timon as well) nor are they ever depicted by themselves. Hell, most get their names mixed up all the time. They’re two characters who make up one amazing sidekick. If that math doesn’t make sense to you, well, hakuna matata, baby.
08. Tinkerbell | Peter Pan (1953)
Although she’s a silent, sassy bitch (for at least 55 years that is) that does nothing but stick her tongue out at Wendy, Tinker Bell has somehow become one of the main spokes-characters for The Walt Disney Company (along with Mickey Mouse and Jiminy Cricket) and is one of its most iconic characters. While the newer series of films tried to soften her more unpleasant qualities, such as her hot temper and extreme jealousy, that’s not what loyal fans of the character want to see.
The films themselves are great and are among the better DTV Disney offerings but that’s a completely different character than the one from the original film. Fans didn’t fall in love with a fairy who has a knack for fixing things, they didn’t fall in love with a plucky heroine that saves the day with her determination and spunk, they fell in love with a cute little fairy who tries multiple times to convince a group of kids to murder an innocent little girl. That’s my Tinker Bell.
07. Winnie the Pooh (1966)
Based on the character of the same name from the book of the same name, written by A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh is a honey (or “hunny” as he spells it) obsessed bear who tends to find himself in precarious situations due to his addiction. Among a handful of occupants of the Hundred Acre Wood – an imaginative world inhabited by anthropomorphic stuffed toys and animals that their creator Christopher Robin frequents – Pooh, due to him being Robin’s favorite toy, is often appointed “leader of the group”, even though he’s horribly unqualified for the position. For one thing, he has zero leadership skills but more importantly, he’s adorably dumb. Often described as being “a bear of very little brain”, Pooh is not very bright but what he lacks in smarts, he makes up for in courage and heart. Basically the precursors to the Toy Story gang, Pooh and the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood live to hang out with Christopher Robin but unlike those other toys, they actually get to play with him and they have lives and adventures separate from Robin. Because they’re more than just toys, they’re his friends.
06. Jack Sparrow | Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
If you were to ask a group of people to describe and/or imitate a pirate, they would almost immediately do the stereotypical “pirate accent” (which is basically just overemphasizing the letter R in words, such as “yarrr” or “arrrr”) and then they’d rattle off the classic iconography associated with pirates: an eyepatch, a wooden leg, a parrot and a hook. That’s what pirates have been for 100 years. That is, of course, till Jack Sparrow.
Originally written for Hugh Jackman, Captain Jack Sparrow was envisioned as a classic swashbuckler ala Errol Flynn but once Johnny Depp got the role, he took it in a radically different direction. Instead of the typical buccaneer we’ve seen a million times, Depp reshaped the character to be an effeminate drunkard who’s barely skilled at swordplay. His decision to model his performance on Keith Richards instead of Robert Newton, resulted in not only one of the most entertaining characters of the aughts but redefined the image of a pirate forever. No generation post Pirates of the Caribbean will never again say “arrrr” when imitating a pirate, they’ll just quote Jack Sparrow.
05. The Princesses | Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)
Ralph Breaks the Internet is a pointless sequel that does nothing interesting with its premise and feels like it was written by old men who have absolutely no idea what an “online game” is or how the internet works at all. It’s painfully out of touch, with most of its humor coming from cat videos and Jackass level stunts. But it’s not all garbage. The Princesses are unquestionably the jewel in the middle of the shit heap. For the first time ever, every official Disney princess was brought together with all but one being voiced by the original actress. It’s a monumental feat made even more impressive by the fact that Disney allowed the writers to lampoon their tropes and poke fun at their images. It’s a scene so good that it became the focal point of the marketing. This might be a huge ass cheat but it was either this or dedicate 10% of my list to include them all.
04. Mickey Mouse (1928)
The mouse that started it all, Mickey’s impact on everything – from animation to television to movies – cannot be overstated. Second only to Santa Claus (and perhaps Jesus Christ), Mickey Mouse is among a small handful of images that are instantly recognizable the world over. And notice I said image and not character because that’s how huge he is; he transcends normal fame and is in a completely different category altogether.
If popularity was the only criteria in which I ordered this list, he’d be number 1 with a bullet but while he has that shit locked down, he unfortunately falters in a couple others. Namely likeability and personality. Mickey just isn’t an interesting character. Compare him to any major character from the other animation studios, like Warner Bros. or Hanna-Barbera, and he comes up woefully short.
His personality is literally no different than a shoe shine boy from the 30s. It’s nothing but “aw shucks” and “gee whiz” and ain’t nobody want to watch 100+ shorts of a shoe shine boy. All of his best shorts either involve something far more interesting antagonizing him or he’s paired with Donald and Goofy. He gets major points for changing the game but he’ll never be the MVP due to the fact that watching him play ball is boring.
03. Donald Duck (1934)
Mickey Mouse is undoubtedly the face of the Walt Disney Company but that’s not because he’s the most popular but because they specifically want to be associated with that goodie two shoes. Because he’s inoffensive and vanilla as fuck, he’s excellent for the brand but if they were picking a mascot based on popularity, Donald would beat him hands down. He’s been in more films than any other Disney character and is the most published comic book character in the world outside of the superhero genre.
He’s a mascot of two different sports teams, has his own brand of orange juice (which is delicious) and because of his military service during his wartime cartoons, Walt Disney authorized Donald to be used as a mascot for the U.S. Coast Guard. And that’s not even including his various cartoons, video games and merch. He’s more popular than Mickey, more entertaining than Mickey and again, has that delicious ass orange juice. It’s time to retire that mouse and make this temperamental fowl the new mascot for all time.
02. Scrooge McDuck (1947)
Created by the “the Hans Christian Andersen of comic books”, Scrooge McDuck is Carl Barks’ most famous creation and is pound for pound as popular as Disney’s Holy Trinity (Mickey, Donald and Goofy), just not as universally recognizable. He’s had a successful comic since 1952, starred in two of the best games for the NES, was in the best Disney cartoon of the 90s (which was the only one to get successfully rebooted) and his name is synonymous with wealth.
On top of all that, he also inspired the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark and had a comic that was eerily similar to Inception come out eight years before it. I’m not saying Nolan ripped him off but he wouldn’t be the first. Which leads me to possibly Scrooge’s greatest contribution to pop culture: he was the biggest inspiration on the creation of Astro Boy.
Osamu Tezuka (“The Father of Manga,” or “The Godfather of Anime”) says that he owes his entire career to none other than Scrooge McDuck. Tezuka’s entire artistic style — including such trademarks as the overly large, cutesy eyes and small mouths — can still be seen today as defining aspects of Japanese animation. His work became the basis for all manga, ever, and Tezuka has confirmed that the basis for his work was Barks’ Scrooge McDuck. While it would be a stretch to say that no manga or anime would exist without him, it’s safe to say it would look a helluva lot different.
01. Genie | Aladdin (1992)
Since I never specifically said what my criteria or process was for ranking these characters, it may seem like I’m judging them solely on how much I like them or by how popular they are but that’s incorrect. Well, that is part of it but there’s more to it than that. I take everything about a character into account: their importance, their popularity, their cuteness factor, how many different versions of the character are there (and how good they are) and the quality of their songs.
For example: Olaf is cute and extremely popular but he has no character arc and his songs suck. So he’d rank lower than a strong character with a solid song who’s less popular. Since it’s a system that only makes sense to me, the only thing you need to know is that if two iconic titans are evenly matched, the one that’s more beloved, will always get the edge. Impact and influence don’t mean jack shit if a kid doesn’t want you on their pajamas. Based on that set of criteria, the greatest Disney character ever is without a doubt the Genie.
He’s influential (he changed the way Disney marketed and cast their films from that point forward), he’s popular (every child in the 90s had something with Genie’s face on it), he’s beloved (there were multiple petitions for Disney to use Williams’ outtakes instead casting another actor for the live action remake) and he’s instantly recognizable.
And all of that is due to the performance of Robin Williams. It’s impossible to think of another actor in that role and harder yet, what Aladdin would be like without him in it. Genie is more than just the comedic relief, he is the movie. No other actor in the history of animation was more crucial to the success of their film, the popularity of their character and was as instrumental in helping shape the future of the medium as much as Williams. He single handedly created a character who will live on forever.
His Genie is the Greatest Disney Character of All Time.
What did you think of the list? What were some of your favorite Disney characters from over the years to not show up? Do you agree with the #1 pick? Let us know in the comments!