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)
90. Kuzco | The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
Kuzco (David Spade) is the arrogant ruler of the Kuzconian Empire in Peru, that, because of his dick ass behavior, gets magically transformed into a llama. The Emperor’s New Groove is, for my money, the funniest film Disney has ever produced. All of their films have a side character who’s the designated comedic relief, like Mushu or Genie or Dopey but in the case of The Emperor’s New Groove, they’re all there comedic relief.
While Kronk (Patrick Warburton) gets the majority of the laughs, Kuzco ain’t no slouch either. A character Spade was born to play, Kuzco is so utterly unlikable that his assholeness becomes endearing. You love to watch him get tortured and put through the ringer but when he eventually stops acting like a douche and starts to mature, you actually start to like him but there’s also a part of you that misses the asshole llama.
89. José Carioca | Saludos Amigos/The Three Caballeros/Melody Time (1942-1948)
Disney’s “package films” of the 1940’s rank among the worst of the studios filmography. Some utilize a liberal use of live action, while others are little more than commercials for South America. Calling them a mixed bag would be generous because honestly, the only notable thing about any of them, is the introduction of José Carioca. Appearing in three out of the five “package films”, the Brazilian, cigar-chomping, samba-loving parrot instantly livens up any segment he’s in.
One of the only characters that actually enjoys the presence of Donald Duck, their friendship works due to José (Jose Oliveira) being his opposite in every way. Where Donald is loud, temperamental and filled with rage, José is suave, cool under pressure and debonair. Panchito Pistoles (Joaquin Garay) would eventually join Donald and José in later films and TV shows and while he’s a welcome addition to the duo, I think the dynamic would work without him. In fact, I don’t think it needs to be a duo at all. José is cool enough to lead his own adventures.
88. The Sanderson Sisters | Hocus Pocus (1993)
After being accidentally revived by Max Dennison (Omri Katz), a trio of witch sisters pick up where they left off 300 years previously by attempting to become immortal by sucking the life force of children using their life potion. Although obviously inspired by the Three Stooges, Winifred, Sarah and Mary (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy) are among the darker characters found in a Disney film due to their penchant for consuming the souls of virgins. But since they’re so overtly comedic, the implications of their goal. And that’s a true testament to the skills of the actresses, they’re so much fun to watch, you forget how awful they are.
87. John Silver | Treasure Planet (2002)
Treasure Island is one of those novels that will produce adaptations till the end of time. What separates Treasure Planet from the rest is that… it’s set in space. That minor change in location may seem insignificant but when every other version is the exact same, any additional changes, however slight, are welcome. This iteration of John Silver (Brian Murray) isn’t that much different from the others. Besides his cybernetic arm, everything else about him is the exact same: he has a strong bond with Jim, he does bad things but isn’t necessarily evil and ultimately finds redemption for his crimes. But that just goes to show how great the character is to begin with, that all the filmmakers had to do was find the right voice actor because the heavy lifting was already done for them.
86. Bowler Hat Guy | Meet the Robinsons (2007)
Written specifically for Jim Carrey, the Bowler Hat Guy has the same physical and vocal mannerisms as the actor and while it would’ve been great to hear him finally voice a Disney character, I think Stephen J. Anderson does a fantastic job of invoking Carrey’s manic persona. Armed with an evil sentient hat, a t.rex henchman and an army of mind controlled frogs, Michael “Goob” Yagoobian goes back in time to get revenge on the boy he feels is responsible for his lot in life. Taking inspiration from old timey vaudeville villains and cartoon characters such as Snidely Whiplash, the Bowler Hat Guy is one of the most visually distinct and eye catching villains in Disney’s filmography. He’s also one of the funniest, on account of him being an absolute buffoon. Despicable Me‘s Gru owes everything to him.
85. Merlin | The Sword in the Stone (1963)
As much as I love Nicol Williamson’s amazingly over the top performance in Excalibur, the Merlin in the Sword in the Stone is the definitive version of the character for me. He’s the one I think of when I think of the famous wizard. Voiced by Karl Swenson, this Merlin feels like a percussor to Yoda in that he’s super powerful but a bit of an odd eccentric. Until his third act fight with Madam Mim (Martha Wentworth), you’re constantly wondering whether he’s actually competent or not. Rowling would eventually take that personality trait and use it to great effect for Dumbledore. Another great wizard who’s aloofness masks great power.
84. Fairy Godmother | Cinderella (1950)
A physical embodiment of hope, Fairy Godmother (Verna Felton) was summoned by Cinderella’s distress and arrived to help her go to the ball. With the magical words “bibbidi-bobbidi-boo”, she transforms an ordinary pumpkin into a carriage, four of Cinderella’s mice into horses for the carriage and even attempts to turn Lucifer the cat into something but it’s unclear as to what he would’ve turned into. My guess? A sexy plan B in case the Prince doesn’t work out. She’d probably be higher on the list if her magic didn’t come with bullshit stipulations. She’s like the perfect wingman who sets you up with everything you need to score but she only gives you ten minutes to seal the deal and if you don’t, she pulls your pants down in front of everyone at the bar, turns your car into a pile of rats and then bounces.
83. Chernabog | Fantasia (1940)
A gargoyle demon based on the God of the Night in Slavic mythology, Chernabog is a malevolent being who emerges from the peak of Bald Mountain (during the Witches’ Sabbath), to summon ghosts and minions to entertain him until he tosses them all into a fiery pit. Everything about Chernabog sounds like the basis of every prog rock album ever. He even looks like a demon that would be painted on the side of a van. Based solely on his looks and casual indifference to murder (he might be the only character who’s ever figured out how to murder a ghost), Chernabog is the best representation of pure evil found in a Disney film.
82. Professor Ratigan | The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
If Basil of Baker Street (Barrie Ingham) from the Great Mouse Detective is a take-off of Sherlock Holmes, it stands to reason that there would be a Professor Moriarty type character as well. Enter Professor Ratigan (Vincent Price), the calculating and diabolical crime lord who hates being called a rat. Along with his right-hand man Fidget (who’s a peg-legged bat) and his overweight pet cat named Felicia, Ratigan plans to overthrow the monarchy by kidnapping a scientist to create an artificial Queen that will something something give him power.
His plan doesn’t matter, all that matters is that Vincent Price is voicing him. His performance alone is why Ratigan is on this list because if it was any other actor, he probably wouldn’t have made the cut. The hammiest actor who’s ever lived, Price has the inexplicable power to make every line, no matter how insane or over the top, feel sort of Shakespearean. He adds a weird gravitas to every performance and Ratigan is no exception. He chews every line like it’s a full course meal. It’s a shame he didn’t lend his voice to more animated movies because he’s clearly having a ball here.
81. Huey, Dewey, and Louie (1937)
If I was ranking these characters based solely on how many appearances they’ve made across all media and how many different iterations they’ve had, these three brothers would probably be in the top five. Donald Duck’s nephews have been in about ten different TV shows, at least twenty video games and have been in multiple shorts and comic books. For the past 83 years, they’ve never not been doing something. Whether it’s tormenting their uncle, going on adventures with their other uncle or doing whatever the hell they did in Quack Pack, they’re always up to some sort of mischievousness. And as long as they’re around, we’ll keep watching em. Oh, and here’s a fun albeit it useless bit of trivia: Dewey’s full name before the latest reboot was Deuteronomy D. Duck.
What do you think of the selection so far? What are some of your favorite Disney characters from over the years? Maybe they will show up further on the list!