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)
30. Giselle | Enchanted (2007)
Part of the aforementioned group of unofficial Princesses, Giselle, unlike the others, was always intended to be an official Princess but once someone realized they’d have to pay Amy Adams to use her likeness forever, they decided against it. While completely shitty, it’s a business decision that makes sense but if I was Adams, I wouldn’t be too upset. Because while she obviously lost out on a Scrooge McDuck amount of money, the fact that she was that good at portraying a live action cartoon Princess that they even considered it in the first place, is pretty incredible. Injecting what could’ve easily have been a jokey one note character with actual heart.
29. Jack Skellington | The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
The patron spirit of Halloween, Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) is the living embodiment of the holiday like Santa Claus is for Christmas or the Easter Bunny is for Easter. His job? Scare the bejeezus out of children and anyone else participating in the holiday but ol’ bone daddy is getting tired of the same old spooks. He does the same thing every year and the repetition is starting to wear on him. After finding a portal in the woods that leads him to Christmas Land, he immediately falls in love with the holiday and decides to steal it. Based on Tim Burton’s frustration with department stores putting up Christmas merchandise before Halloween had even happened, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a film about Halloween striking back. Jack may not have succeed in taking over Christmas within the film but in the hearts of every goth on planet Earth, he did.
28. Ursula | The Little Mermaid (1989)
After being banished from Atlantica by her longstanding rival, King Triton (fun fact: I always thought they were brother and sister until like a month ago), the villainous Ursula (Pat Carroll) vowed vengeance by harnessing the power of the king’s trident and installing herself as ruler of all the ocean. Based in part on Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard and the drag performer Divine, Ursula is a deliciously over the top sea witch who uses powerful black magic to seduce and corrupt all around her. With her two eel henchmen named Flotsam and Jetsom, she preys upon the vulnerable with the promise of granting them their hearts desire but unlike other villains, she actually plays fair. I mean, she does try and win but she doesn’t break the rules of her contracts. And can we talk about her human form Vanessa? I’m not going to say she’s way hotter than Ariel but I doubt she needed to hypnotize him into picking her. I’m just saying.
27. Mufasa | The Lion King (1994)
The king of the Pride Lands and the father of Simba, Mufasa (James Earl Jones) is the majestic leader of his people who’s beloved by all, except one. Murdered by his own brother Scar (Jeremy Irons), Mufasa transitions from an adored king, to a helpful spirit who appears to his son in times of great need. If it wasn’t for him, Simba would still be sucking down bugs with a pig and a meerkat, which in turn, would mean the Pride Lands would continue turning into a shit hole. He visits his son one time, tells him some vague shit and fixes everything. Not because the plot requires Simba to suddenly change but because he has no choice but to change. When James Earl Jones talks, you listen. With his commanding voice (a voice so great, they didn’t dare recast it in the remake) and a script oozing with dramatic pathos, Mufasa is the closest Disney ever got to creating a Shakespearean character. The film is Hamlet with lions after all.
26. Stitch | Lilo and Stitch (2002)
Created by the mad scientist Jumba Jookiba for reasons unknown, Experiment 626 (also known as Stitch) is a small blue, koala-like space creature who’s primary function is annihilation. He’s bulletproof, fireproof, and can think faster than a supercomputer. He can see in the dark, and lift objects three thousand times his size. He’s the ultimate weapon of destruction and he’s running loose on the island of Hawaii. But since this is a Disney film and not another sequel to Critters, his destructive impulses are kept in check by an adorable little girl named Lilo. She teaches him about the joys of Elvis and the importance of ‘ohana – the Hawaiian term for family. Her love and acceptance of him, rewrites his programming and changes him from a monster, to a member of her family. He’s more than just a tool of destruction and he’s more than just a deformed pet, he’s family.
25. Lumiere and Cogsworth | Beauty and the Beast (1994)
Belle and Beast might have one of the all time great on screen romances but if it wasn’t for the Casanova of candelabras, there’s a good chance they may never have fallen in love at all. A suave, vivacious gentleman, Lumiere (Jerry Orbach) treats Belle with warmth (ba dum tish) and, with the help of his good buddy Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), is instrumental in helping her see the man behind the beast and in doing so, helps lift the curse. Important to the plot, charming as hell and has the second best song in the film – Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury) may have the show-stopping number, but “Be Our Guest” is still a great tune — Lumiere (and to a lesser extent Cogsworth) is arguably the best character in the film.
24. Mary Poppins | Mary Poppins (1964)
Few actors have a character this iconic within their filmography, so the fact that Andrew’s started her career playing one, is truly astonishing. Responding to an advertisement posted by Jane and Michael Banks (Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber respectively), two children in desperate need of a caretaker, a mysterious nanny named Mary Poppins suddenly arrives and hires herself for the job. Using her magic to take the children on fantastical adventures while simultaneously teaching them valuable lessons — such as the power of the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, the dangerous lifestyle of a chimney sweep and how sugar helps the medicine go down – Mary Poppins is the greatest nanny ever and is quite simply, practically perfect in every way.
23. King Louie | The Jungle Book/Talespin (1967-2016; 1990-1991)
The only character created solely for the film, King Louie (Louis Prima) is a rambunctious orangutan with an affinity for swing music who’s growing increasingly tired of the simian lifestyle. While his position as ruler of the Ancient Ruins affords him a life of carefree luxury and absolute power, his ambition demands more than monkeys can provide. Desperately wanting to learn the secret of man’s “red flower”, Louie wants to know how to create fire to fulfill his dream of becoming a man.
In the original film, he’s more of a mischievous scoundrel who provides little more than an obstacle for the leads to over come but in the 2016 remake, he’s a much more malevolent being. Now a gigantopithecus with no qualms about killing to get what he wants, this King Louie (Christopher Walken) is much more mafia don than jovial rascal. A radical change over the other two iterations, his role in TaleSpin changes him from a King, to a bar owner who relays useful information to Baloo. No matter which version you prefer, it’s guaranteed to be great.
22. Judge Doom | Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
The crazy origin story of Who Framed Roger Rabbit Is damn near the perfect example of art imitating life. Where the film is a groundbreaking amalgamation of live action and animation, the script is also the byproduct of smashing two unlikely things into each other. One a novel about a private investigator teaming up with a living Sunday comic strip character and the other, an unused script for the second sequel to Chinatown.
Almost nothing about the film should work but against all odds, it not only works but is frequently cited as one of the best of the 80’s. I believe a lot of that is due to the exceptional performance given by Christopher Lloyd. His Judge Doom was in neither the novel, the other script and almost wasn’t included at all. But after Lloyd beat out a veritable who’s who of the Hollywood elite, Zemekis rewrote the part to be bigger and (based on a suggestion from Lloyd himself), made the character a toon himself. He’s menacing until he’s over the top insane and in an early draft of the script, it was revealed that he was the one that shot Bambi’s mother. Which immediately makes him just the worst person.
21. Mad Hatter and March Hare | Alice in Wonderland (1951)
While it’s impossible to determine who’s the craziest resident of Wonderland, I think there’s a strong case to be made for the Mad Hatter and his loyal companion, the March Hare. Named for his stark raving mad behavior and oversized, green tophat, the Mad Hatter (Ed Wynn) is a riddle spouting, tea loving enthusiast, who’s known for throwing frequent parties in celebration of their “unbirthdays”. Almost always the only attendants of their own frequent unbirthday parties, the pair seem to drive everyone away due to their trouble making and overbearing antics. The live action remake tried to rebrand him as a sympathetic hero but that’s all bologna. He’s not a hero and he has no tragic backstory. He’s just a loon who loves to drink tea and eat cake with a talking rabbit.
What have you thought of the selection so far? What are some of your favorite Disney characters from over the years? Do you think they are great enough to show up on the rest of the list? Keep reading to find out!