Disney Best Side Characters

Best Side Characters- This list is just the Disney Canon so no Pixar or Tim Burton included!

18. Pain and Panic (Hercules)- very clever devilish side characters that change their shape and are literally all about pain and panic.  Every scene they are in makes me laugh and they are probably my favorite villain sidekicks in Disney.

pain and panic17. Jiminy Cricket (Pinocchio) the warmth that is desperately needed in Pinocchio. Jiminy is crucial to the story as the moral compass in a morality tale.  He gets frustrated when Pinocchio won’t listen just as I’m sure God gets with us when we are stubborn.

jiminy16. Jock and Trusty(Lady and the Tramp)- Everything in Lady in the Tramp is oh so lovable including the sidekicks Jock and Trusty. The dialogue for them is very well written and when they decide to propose to Lady to make her feel better it is a sweet moment.

trustyjock15.Mushu (Mulan)- I still think it is Eddie Murphy’s best voice performance.  He is insecure and manic without being annoying.  Gets a lot of good laughs and helps to narrate throughout the film.  He starts out with selfish motives but the more he gets to know Mulan the more he grows to care for her and think less of himself.

Mushu_kh14.  Timothy Q Mouse (Dumbo) – I love Timothy.  He sticks up for a total stranger, an elephant no less, and pleads with others to understand things that are different.  It frustrates me Dumbo is discounted as racist by many when the heart of the movie is about embracing diversity.

Timothy_Q._Mouse

13. Thumper (Bambi)- There are a lot of characters you could pick from Bambi but Thumper is probably my favorite.  He is a smart alek  who always gets in trouble and has to apologize.  He introduces Bambi to a lot of new things and has a courage and general cheerfulness that is very appealing.  In a movie which is pretty sad Thumper’s optimism and cheerfulness is desperately needed and appreciated.

thumper

12. 7 Dwarves (Snow White and 7 Dwarves)- The first Disney sidekicks that set the standard for not only all Disney but all animated movies.  The Dwarves are easy to understand yet charming and when they are grieving it is remarkably touching for characters that should be one-note.  Plus their singing is still one of my favorites.  Love the harmonies!

7dwarfs11. Sebastian (Little Mermaid) – I want to put him higher because I love Little Mermaid so much but Sebastian isn’t that varied of a character.  Most of the movie he is yelling after Ariel trying to get her to stop misbehaving.  That said it is done with a lot of humor and flare. As the reggae crab who is also a symphony conductor he is kind of a strange mixture of personalities but that makes him so charming.  When he sings Under the Sea it is one of the most joyous moments in all of Disney canon.

sebastian mouth agape

10. Atlantis Crew (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)- Yep, I know some of you will be outraged but I call it like I see it.  I loved these guys! I thought they were hilarious and I loved the diversity and their unique personalities. Moliere is so funny as the mole man always wanting to dig and Audrey is a tom boy but still managing to be vulnerable.

Vinny is great as the cynical Italian who also likes to blow things up and I liked Joshua Sweet is a doctor and not much is made about his race.  Helga is a seriously tough woman who beats the tar out of a couple people.  I just love the combination of characters for a treasure hunting movie and I thought it totally worked for the type of story they were telling. This group kind of reminds me of a more diverse older version of the Goonies and I loved it.  I know I’m in the minority on that but I don’t care! Hey it proves I’m not just spewing out what is popular but giving my own unique opinion.

atlantis crew9. Olaf (Frozen)- I love Olaf.  He has such heart and is a sweet and sincere.  He dreams of being in summer despite being a snowman. How more hopeful can a character be?  His vocal performance by Josh Gad is perfect and his song is funny and sweet. They also use Olaf just enough so he stays charming and isn’t annoying.  When he is willing to melt for his friend it makes me tear up every time.

olafhappy

8. Timon and Pumbaa (Lion King)- On the surface our 2 sidekicks from The Lion King are silly characters who sing about flatulence and being lazy but they serve an important part of the story by offering Simba an alternative philosophy on life.  He can be carefree and happy or he can risk being miserable but actually do something with his life.  The choice is actually a tough one.  They are also loyal and very funny (and the only characters aside from Jeremy Irons that actually sing their songs in Lion King!).

timon and pumba7.  Gus Gus and Jaq (Cinderella)-  a lot of people find the mice in Cinderella annoying but I love them.  They are loyal and have such a sweet desire to help their friend.  They risk serious peril to get her dress made and when it is all destroyed it is one of the most devastating moments in all of Disney both for Cinderella but also for the mice who worked so hard to make it happen.

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6. The 3 Faeries- Flora, Fauna and Merrywether (Sleeping Beauty).  Watching the disastrous Maleficent made me realize how key to the story of Sleeping Beauty the faeries are.  They are the emotional heart of the film.  With the exception of maybe Phillip, the rest of the characters are kind of one note.  With the faeries we have anger, fear, jealousy, joy, silliness, courage, and hope.  Yes the scene baking the cake is comic relief but when you think about what comes after the audience needs that lightness.  They are smart and capable and the one’s who truly defeat Maleficent in the end.  The fact the new movie made them negligent idiots still burns me up!

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this scene attending to the comatose Briar Rose is so heartbreaking
Flora-Fauna-and-Merryweather-sleeping-beauty-6461473-403-225
3 great ladies not given near enough credit! Fauna, Flora and Merrywether

5. Tinker Bell (Peter Pan)- Probably the most iconic sidekick of them all Tinker bell is probably the second character people associate with Disney after Mickey Mouse.  I really enjoy her own series of movies and the strong but sweet character there but I also find her fascinating in Peter Pan.  Aside from Tink dying they keep pretty close to the faerie in the original play.  She is jealous, angry, frustrated and yet she provides pixie dust and magic.  It’s kind of an interesting paradox.  In a strange way she is actually a very complex female character in an era when not many existed.

Tinkerbell Peter Pan 1953 Mirror4. Alice in Wonderland Cast (Alice in Wonderland)- I know a bit of a cheat but basically Alice in Wonderland is her meeting a series of great minor characters.  That’s the whole story and they all work equally well.  Whether it is the white rabbit, Cheshire cat, blue caterpillar, singing flowers, cards soldiers, March Hare and more they are endlessly engaging.  Some of them are mean, others cheeful, most complete nonsense and I love it! I think people that complain Alice in Wonderland has no story are missing the entire point of the story.  I didn’t appreciate it as much as a child but it is one of my favorites now and it isn’t because of Alice but all the wonderful characters she meets.

alice-in-wonderland-movie-poster-1951-10201981203. Baymax (Big Hero 6)- Call it recency bias if you want but I can’t think of a character I responded more to the moment I saw them than Baymax.  He is a symbol of the love of a brother and in many ways he symbolizes love and the need of all of us to be loved and taken care of.  That said, he isn’t really schmaltzy as you might expect.  Everything he says is simple and to the point but with great concern.  It strikes just the right note and the script allows him to be a part of humor as well as tenderness.  Most of these sidekicks I would never want in my life but I want my own Baymax.  I loved Big Hero 6 and you could certainly include the entire team as dynamic wonderful sidekicks but Baymax takes the crown!  I haven’t felt such affection for a character since the mice in Cinderella.

baymax2. Lumiere (Beauty and the Beast)- really all the characters in Beauty and the Beast are great side characters- Mrs Potts, Cogsworth, Lefou ect are all fantastic.  But if I had to pick my favorite it would be Lumiere.  He is on  one hand a smug showman who doesn’t listen but on the other he is generous, kind, and so much fun.  He definitely has Disney’s greatest sidekick song (with Under the Sea being a close second).  The voice performance by Jerry Orbach is one of the best ever and all in all he is simply charming.

Disney BEAUTY & THE BEAST 3D1. Genie (Aladdin)- The reason I picked the Genie as the greatest sidekick is he is the only one on this list that single-handedly makes the entire movie work.  Without Robin Williams manic performance in Aladdin there would be no movie.  Every other film I’ve mentioned I could take out the side character and the movie would suffer but be able to continue.  Without the Genie, Aladdin as a character never gets challenged or given an opportunity to grow.  Without Genie 2 of the songs wouldn’t exist and all the humor would be gone.  He is the magic for the story and in hoping for his freedom provides the real heart of the story.  I’d say it is not only the greatest Disney side character but one of the greatest period in all of movies. We would expect nothing less from the late great Robin Williams.

Genie-from-Aladdin-dancing

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Movie 31: Aladdin

aladdin posterNext up we have one of the most popular Disney animated films ever made- their 31st film, Aladdin.  While  it is not as artistically special or as epic as the movies it is sandwiched between (Beauty and the Beast and Lion King), it is one of Disney’s best comedies and I think that is why it is remembered so fondly. We all love what makes us laugh!

I have now watched Aladdin 4 times in recent weeks.  When Robin Williams died I felt so sad so I hunted down Aladdin and watched it.  I kind of forgot about it and even said in my Disney Tag video I thought it was a little overrated.  I don’t know if it was just the passing,but I left that viewing completely charmed.  Now I watched it again and then with 2 commentaries and am still charmed.

Do I like all the choices they made?  No, but I think it is a ton of fun.

The Production-

Aladdin was released on Thanksgiving in 1992 (I remember going to see it as our Thanksgiving movie!).  It was suggested as a concept by Howard Ashman in 1988 when the ‘Gong Show’ had occurred and ideas like Oliver and Company and the Little Mermaid had been approved.

Aladdin

It was a return to the Disney tradition of making movies for boys but it starred a grown man (or teen) which had never been done before.  Every other male figure had either been an eccentric, a bore or a little child.  I had heard on a number of audio commentaries that male adults were harder to draw and I finally heard an explanation on the director’s commentary with Ron Clements and John Musker.   One of them said:

“Male leading men are harder to do in animation than the women because you can slightly caricature the female figure and look and a slight exaggeration makes it more appealing but when you do that with the male figure that slight exaggeration is a little off-putting”

So there you have it! Originally Michael J. Fox was used to create Aladdin but then when they decided to make the character older they went with Tom Cruise as their inspiration!

I wonder if the exaggerated style needed for a man, made them go with the even more exaggerated inspiration of Al Hirschfeld drawings from the New Yorker?  His comics  had ‘swooping lines and elongated faces.

bob hope hirschfield
Here is a Hirschfeld drawing of Bob Hope

It is also interesting that Disney made no attempt to tie the movie back to its original source material or the Arabic culture.  It kind of makes me laugh that people were offended by a line by the peddler/narrator ,’where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face’ when a million other things are done that directly fly in the face of Arabic customs and culture.

How about the fact that none of the characters actually look Arabic?  I would think that is more potentially bothersome than a funny line in a song.  Seriously it’s the most white Arabs ever put on-screen.

aladdin

As much as I like the film I kind of wish they had been a little braver with their skin colorings and not only been tan on Jafar’s face (but oddly enough never his neck?).  It is such a cliché to have the people of darker complexion be the bad guy.  Sigh…

But Aladdin is not the movie for such discussion.  It is a comedy!!!  It has one job and that is to make you laugh and it does that job very well.  And pretty much all the laughs come from one man- Robin Williams.  He owns this movie.  There was talk after it was released that he should be the first person to be nominated for best supporting actor for an animated movie and I agree.  (I really wish they would have an award for voice work because it is such an art).

Robin-Williams-AladdinClements and Musker said they wrote the part of the Genie for Robin Williams and it was quite the labor of love for him to participate at all.  At the time he was filming Toys and Hook and would spend hours on set for those films and then come at night to record for Aladdin.

At one point in the commentary Clements says ‘people often ask me how much of the material was ad-libbed vs scripted? And I say none of it.  It was all written’.  This caught me off guard but then Musker says ‘he’s lying!’.

ed sullivan aladdin

Evidently they would give Robin Williams boxes of props, costumes and concepts and he would go from there.  For one of the songs he came up with 59 different characters!  Just the one’s included in the film are amazing. with everything from Ed Sullivan to John Wayne to Ethel Merman- all people most kids don’t know but they didn’t need to.  We knew it was a funny voice, which made us laugh.  The adults, for instance, could laugh at the Groucho Marx imitation, while kids thought it was a silly looking character.

They also said on the commentary Williams was nervous about his singing, which I guess he had never done before, and considering he does 2 of the 4 songs he’s great!

There was some ugliness between Disney and Williams because he had taken the SAG minimum to be in Aladdin on the agreement they would not use his likeness or make the genie more than 20% of the marketing in respect for Toys which opened the same month.  Disney did not live up to their side of this bargain (on one hand can you blame them but still a deal is a deal) and it angered Williams, which is why he is not in the 2nd Aladdin film but things were made up for the 3rd.

Unlike Beauty and the Beast or Little Mermaid there are only 6 songs in Aladdin, 2 of which are reprises.  3 of the songs are written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken and a Whole New World is by Tim Rice and Menken.  I wonder if this song scarcity was partly to appease boys who would be less interested typically in musical numbers?  However, the songs we get are well written and once again very funny.   There is not a villain song except for the Prince Ali reprise by Jafar but this works very well so no issue from me.

kiss

Artistically it is simple with mostly color blocking as backgrounds.  Evidently blue is used to convey good in the film and red evil.  In fact, in the final scenes everything is red even the characters and their clothing.

aladdin and red

Some of the CGI in the film does not hold up very well.  Things like the cave of wonders looks pretty corny to a modern audience but the film is so over-the-top I don’t really care.

caveLet’s actually talk about the story-

The Story-

We start out with our narrator setting the tone with the song ‘Arabian Nights’.  It is a very effective number.  Robin Williams does not sing this song but he does do the other voice work for the narrator:

It does a very good job setting mood and tone. We get the gravitas of the music with the silliness of the peddler selling us tupperware (Evidently they brought a box of junk for Robin Williams from the $1 store and he ad-libbed all of it).

The narrator was actually supposed to be revealed to be the Genie at the end but it had to be cut because the ending with Genie leaving felt complete.

After the narrator we see Jafar and a thief.  They have found the cave of wonders but it takes a ‘diamond in the rough’ to enter.

Next we meet Aladdin.  What a great way to be introduced to a character.  We know from the beginning he is special, “our diamond in the rough”.

How rough is he?  Well, he is a thief and the next song shows us that.  It is one of the most ‘Broadway’ Disney songs,  so of course I love it.

So, 2 out of 4 songs done in the first few minutes.  Again, that feels very ‘please the boys’ to me but I’m ok with it.  It does take too long to get to the Genie (almost 40 minutes!) but it’s not terrible.

A lot of the scenes in Aladdin feel like a good sitcom.  Think of a show like The Office.  There would be a tender hearteded scene with Michael Scott immediately followed by ‘that’s what she said’ or other silly punchline.  It’ never gets too sentimental but it also doesn’t leave the viewers cold.

These tender moments start early in Aladdin with a Prince riding into the castle repulsed by Aladdin.  He says he is a ‘street rat’ and nobody will remember him.

street ratThen we meet  Jasmine . She is portrayed as a modern woman who wants to get out of the castle and live for herself.  Much to her father’s chagrin she rejects suitor after suitor (including the Prince who insulted Aladdin).  A lot of the time she is shown holding a bird symbolizing feeling caged in and lonely.  Jasmine is a little bland but I liked her. Again, it does not matter that she is completely implausible for an Arabic woman (even today in some cultures) because they’ve already established the movie is its own enchanted world, with its own rules and customs.

jasmineJasmine decides to run away and Aladdin saves her from getting her hand chopped off by a merchant.  They have some nice moments together and there is genuine chemistry.  (Like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast the couple in Aladdin have significant screen time together and form a realistic bond).

Our next scene is with Jafar and his hilarious pet parrot Iago voiced by Gilbert Gottfried.  Some find him shrill and annoying but  he was funny to me (but I love Fran Drescher so I guess I don’t mind shrill).  I don’t think he is in the movie too much.  Just enough to provide some good comic relief especially when the Genie is nowhere to be found.

iago

If parents have issues with words like ‘shut up’ or ‘moron’ they probably will not care for Iago as he uses them a lot.

Eventually Aladdin is captured and Jasmine is returned to the castle. To her dismay, Jafar tells her Aladdin has been beheaded for hurting the Princess. In truth, he has actually been taken to the dungeon and tricked into entering the Cave of Wonders with his monkey Abu (who is super cute).

abu

In the cave they find the lamp but Abu triggers the alarm and the cave starts turning into lava and they have to use a magic carpet (which has tons of personality for a rectangle) to get out of the cave.

aladdin carpet rideJafar thinking he has the lamp leaves Aladdin and Abu inside the cave but Abu steals the lamp.  That’s when we finally get our Genie!!!  I can’t imagine anyone not liking the Genie or Friend Like Me. It’s perfect.    Evidently it was the first number they animated so certain features are different (longer ears, Aladdin looks younger) but none of that matters.  It is so funny.  You forget most of the time it is just the Genie with blue background.  It’s so manic that’s all we need.

Eventually Aladdin wishes to be made a prince so he can woo Jasmine and we get the next musical number, Prince Ali.  Robin Williams is hilarious  as if he is commenting on a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

In a surprise to Aladdin, Jasmine is not impressed with Prince Ali (neither is Jafar of course!).  She won’t even meet with him, but he convinces her to try a magic carpet ride.  I know A Whole New World won the Oscar for best song but I think it is just okay but the animation is lovely and it provides one of the movies only softer extended moments.

After the ride Jasmine is smitten with Aladdin and has basically figured out he is the street rat from earlier despite him continuing to lie about it.  He tells her he dresses as a commoner for fun, but I don’t think she really believes him.

She is smitten enough to get one of the best Disney kisses ever!

aladdin and jasmine

After the date Jafar traps Aladdin and tries to drown him in the ocean.  The Genie is unleashed and uses one of Aladdin’s 3 wishes to save him..  This is a pretty intense moment for a Disney lead and probably the closest any actually come to dying.

Aladdin comes back to the palace and exposes Jafar as the crook he is but he is unwilling to come clean to Jasmine about who he is.  He also tells Genie he can’t give him his freedom because they want him to be Sultan and he needs to remain a Prince with his wishes.

Just then Iago steals Aladdin’s lamp and brings it to Jafar who makes himself Sultan on high.  The red coloring on these scenes is great at establishing mood (and contrast from the all blue of Aladdin’s scenes when he is master of the lamp).  We also get the reprise of Prince Ali which is Jafar’s villain song.

prince ali scene

Aladdin get’s sent to the ‘ends of the earth’ and we know it is somewhere with snow.  Again the CGI in some of these scenes doesn’t age particularly well but it is a nice emotional segment for Aladdin who feels terrible about Abu and The Carpet.

Getting free we get to Jafar imprisoning Jasmine and her father.  Her outfit is very slinky in these scenes which may be a problem for some Christian viewers.

red jasmine

Aladdin returns and he and Jafar have a wonderfully executed final battle  that feels like Aladdin may have met his match.  The Genie is also helpless because Jafar is his master.

For the finale we get one of the best moments of friendship in all of Disney and a great message about being yourself and loving others more than self.  Especially with Robin Williams passing it is a very tender scene.

Movie Review/Conclusion-

My thoughts on Aladdin are very simple.   What I look for in a comedy is ‘did it make me laugh?’ and this did.  It did as a child and it did now.  The schtick by Robin Williams still holds up and is full of energy and happiness,  which is hard to resist. The genie is one of the best Disney characters ever and it is one of the best examples of a side character stealing the show in a movie- live action or animated.

It also has some nice action segments that will entertain boys and girls.

I think the villain is fine but not one of Disney’s best (although it is nice to have a male villain for once).  I like Iago and think he is used just enough to not be wearing.

Jasmine is a little bland but charming.  The music is a lot of fun if sparingly used. The artistry is fine, does the job it needs to do.

I wish we got to the Genie sooner and the Whole New World sequence is a little forgettable, but not bad.

Like all the great Disney there is genuine heart mixed in with the humor and some nice messages about friendship and honesty.

So all in all, I really enjoy Aladdin.  Is it in my top 10? I don’t think so but it is probably my favorite Disney comedy, so maybe…not sure .  Ask me in a couple years when Robin Williams passing isn’t so fresh.

For now I give it an

Overall Grade- A-

I made donation to St Jude in Robin William’s memory after his passing (I just felt like doing something, not simply talking) and I’d like to make another contribution.  $1 for every view this post gets up to $150. I feel very sad at his loss.