I don’t think that many people can look back on their childhood without remembering Disney. The iconic characters, ground-breaking animation, and important messages are an integral part of film history.
Not to mention the soundtracks that have had us all attempting to reach those notes and pretending to be our favorite character…. we see you, don’t pretend you’ve never done it.
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From lovable animals, evil villains, dashing princes and brave heroines, a list of the best Disney characters are difficult to put together. We all have our ideas of the best Disney characters. Some have left an indelible print on our souls and will forever have a special place in our hearts.
We have compiled a list of the best Disney characters over the decades, looking at those that stole our hearts, the ones that taught us important life lessons, the characters who defied stereotypes, and the villains that terrified us.
They might not be the characters you are expecting to see, so read this with an open mind and maybe you will reach the end with a fresh love for a character that you might have previously overlooked.
The Best Classic Disney Characters
1. Mickey Mouse
It is fitting that we kick off the list with the first Disney character to become a household name.
Mickey Mouse and his silhouette are iconic, with almost universal recognition. He is a lovable, sincere character with a voice that is recognized the world over.
From short clips to feature-length films, Mickey Mouse started his life in 1982 as a black and white cartoon before transitioning into color
What makes him really special though, is his longevity. He is a quintessential part of childhood for generations of people, including kids today, making him one of the best Disney characters of all time.
2. Minnie Mouse
You also can’t think of Mickey Mouse without his lovely lady friend, Minnie. Her red and white polka dot dress is almost as iconic as Mickey’s ears.
Minnie, like Mickey, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Her real name is Minerva and her character was originally voiced by Walt Disney himself.
She is sweet and always positive and cheerful. She also has an undercover sassy side as her outfit was inspired by a flapper dress, giving audiences a glimpse of her distinctive knickers.
What’s not to love about a female character who held her own in a male-dominated industry? And she looked fabulous to boot!
Starting life as Dippy Dawg, did you know that Goofy’s full name is Goofy. G. Goof? Probably not, as most of us just know him as the lovable, clumsy, goofy friend of Mickey Mouse.
Audiences first met him in 1932 when he made his film debut in Mickey’s Revue. He was an audience member with a distinctive laugh.
In 1939, he got his own series of shows, allowing audiences to get more of his iconic laugh and often dim-witted antics. A Goofy Movie and The Goof Troop were popular kids shows showing Goofy and his son Max getting into all kinds of trouble.
4. Donald Duck
Rounding of the famous trio is Donald Duck. His name is synonymous with Mickey and Goofy. You can see him in more
His inclination to throw tantrums meant that he was an ideal character to put in “dangerous” situations. Over the years he has been chased by bees, squashed in a stampede, and shot from a cannon. It was hilarious for audiences to watch and Donald kept going back for more.
He is also a prankster at heart but is always apologetic afterward which only makes him more endearing.
The Disney Characters That Taught Us a Lesson
5. Jiminy Cricket
Would Pinocchio be the same movie without Jiminy Cricket? Definitely not!
He is Pinocchio’s official conscious as he ventures into the world in his attempt to become a real boy. He is wise and offers advice but also brings a fun and quick-witted banter to the film.
His iconic song ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ is not only beautiful but also became the representative song of The Walt Disney Company.
Jiminy Cricket always had a wise word for Pinocchio and so much of his advice holds true today.
“What’s a conscience! I’ll tell ya! A conscience is that still small voice that people won’t listen to. That’s just the trouble with the world today.”- Jiminy Cricket.
Arguably the most lovable character from The Jungle Book, Baloo is like the fun-loving Uncle Mowgli never had. He is a vibrant but lazy sloth bear who teaches Mowgli about the jungle.
We love him because he genuinely cares about Mowgli and even the cantankerous Bagheera. His upbeat personality and love of music mean that ‘The Bear Necessities’ is a song that you will not only recognize, but hum along to for the rest of the day.
Baloo had some wise words for Mowgli but none as simple or true as these, “Look for the bare necessities. The simple bare necessities. Forget about your worries and your strife.”
Mufasa might not have been around for a lot of the movie, but he was an integral character in The Lion King.
Ruling the Pride Lands with kindness and a sense of fairness, he left big shoes, or paw prints, to fill. He was far from perfect though, and that makes him more endearing. Everyone loves a flawed leader.
He was an amazing father who knew how to play and have fun. He was also willing to sacrifice himself to save his son.
The idea that he is always watching from afar is woven throughout the movie and his best piece of advice must be, “Believe in yourself and there will come a day when others will have no choice but to believe with you.”
8. King Triton
King Triton is the ultimate father figure in The Little Mermaid. He has his hands full as a single father with 7 daughters.
He has a violent temper but always has the best interests of his family and kingdom at heart. What makes him one of the best Disney characters, is his ability to admit when he is wrong and change his behavior accordingly.
Although he is distrustful of humans, he gives Eric the benefit of the doubt for his daughter’s sake.
“She really does love him, doesn’t she, Sebastian?”he asks, as he realizes the importance of love and acceptance.
Speaking about Sebastian, the feisty crab is possibly the most loved character of The Little Mermaid.
He has the ability to inject insight and humor into any situation and his genuine affection for Ariel is heart-warming. He doles out advice in his grumpy way like a lovable grandfather, but he really does have everyone’s best interests at heart.
He grudgingly helps Ariel woo Eric despite his misgivings because he desperately wants to see her happy.
His best piece of advice and words to live by were, “You got your own style, now let it shine through and remember no matter what, you’ve got to be you”
The Disney Characters that Stole Our Hearts
Those big eyes, those long eyelashes, the unsteady legs as he takes his first steps.
Bambi had our hearts the first time we saw him, and we only fell for him harder as he explored the wood with his friends. We watched him grow in confidence and personality, grieved with him when his mother was shot, and felt nervous for him when he met Faline.
It was a movie that left its mark on young audiences and sparked some important conversations. Who can forget Bambi and Faline fleeing from a pack of hunting dogs while a forest fire raged around them?
And then, in the final scene, the sense of rightness is restored when Bambi takes his place as King of the Forest, watching over all those who live there.
Simba is by far one of the best Disney characters of all time. Audiences were taken with him the first time Rafiki held him up for all to see on Pride Rock. He is just like a child, testing boundaries and playing recklessly.
We were all devastated when Mufasa died and our hearts broke for the young cub, convinced it was his fault. His journey into adulthood, isolated from his family, only made him more endearing. When he decided to go home and face up to his past, we all felt a sense of pride (excuse the pun) in the lion he had become.
When an animated character can stir this much emotion, you know they are something special.
A newer addition to the Disney family, Olaf has charmed his way into the hearts of kids and parents alike.
It is no surprise because he is literally made of magic. A snowman created from the love between sisters and Elsa’s ice magic with a penchant for all things summer. The fact that he loves warm hugs and always has a positive word to share makes him a lovable character.
Disney is known for amazing soundtracks but Olaf’s songs have their own kind of magic. They are witty and humorous and have an old-world jazz feel to them.
Olaf represents everything that is right in the world, and we love him for it.
Who would have thought that a pull-string toy could mean so much to us?
Woody is the go-to toy in Toy Story. He is responsible for the other toys and looks out for them. He takes his role very seriously and friendship and loyalty are important to him.
What really makes him endearing though, is the fact that he is flawed. He experiences jealousy, sadness, uncertainty, and fear. These very human emotions mean that audiences can relate to him and his experiences.
Watching Woody struggle with his feelings and come out the other side a better friend, is the reason he has a special place in our hearts.
With her positive attitude and her dedication to her friends, Dory is one of the best Disney characters, and she has swum her way into our hearts.
She shares such an important message to “just keep swimming” and has the ability to find fun in any situation. Her loyalty and quirky nature resonated with audiences. And if anyone was unsure about her, they just had to listen to her talk whale! Seriously, no one’s heart could resist that.
Dory isn’t the usual Disney hero. She is unassuming and out-of-the-box but gosh, is she full of heart.
This larger-than-life, big-hearted character had to be on the list of best Disney characters! He is funny and loud but this just covers up his soft side.
He is kind and honest and forces Aladdin to be more honest as well. He is protective of his friends, human and magical alike. He also has great advice and shares it in a sensitive way.
Then there is the fact that he can grant wishes and put on quite a performance. Who doesn’t love a good parade and some epic songs?
Genie is definitely something special and has won the hearts of audiences for decades.
16. Timon and Pumba
There are a few other Disney pairs, but none have managed to capture audiences quite like Timon and Pumba from Lion King.
They have charged into our hearts with their witty banter, love of bugs, and genuine affection for Simba. Like a pair of eccentric uncles, Timon and Pumba are the cool family members you wish you had.
Or better yet, their friendship is often reminiscent of a relationship you have. To be honest, we all have that one crazy friend!
If these reasons weren’t enough, it is impossible not to love the characters who gave us the iconic phrase “Hakuna Matata”.
In the world of Disney, coming across characters who are less than perfect is rare. That might be the reason Quasimodo stole his way into our hearts. He is real, he is human and he is flawed, making him one of the best characters of all time.
His deformity was a trait unseen in previous Disney characters and only served to emphasize his good qualities. In spite of being treated in a cruel and derogatory way, his heart was still open and he bravely faced the world.
Quasimodo is also a reluctant hero, who shows he has a stubborn streak. This only makes him more human and therefore more relatable.
The Disney Characters That Defied Stereotypes
Released in 1989 The Little Mermaid tackled some big issues in the guise of a kids’ movie. The patriarchy, female empowerment, and gender roles are all themes explored through the eyes of young Arial.
As the teenager struggles with who she is, she begins to feel constricted in the life she leads. Constantly told to be on time, to be quiet, to act a certain way, conformity was the order of the day.
Arial rails against her strict father and conservative life, wishing for something different. She is an independent character who makes her own decisions about her body and her life.
This was a bold move on Disney’s part, but a much-needed one. Arial was a progressive character for her time and we love her for it.
No other Disney movie has challenged gender roles quite like Mulan.
The opening scenes of Mulan at the matchmakers are an example of the oppressive role women were expected to fill. Quiet, beautiful, and housebound, putting family duty and honor before all else.
Mulan understands duty and honor, just not in the traditional sense. She goes to war in her father’s place, knowing that it goes against everything she was taught.
It is in the training camp that you see her eventually “becoming a man” as she learns how to be a soldier. What makes Mulan special though, is the fact that it is both Mulan’s feminine and masculine qualities that make her an extraordinary soldier.
She defeated the Huns with a combination of ingenuity, strength, and feminine wiles.
Belle is different from other Disney princesses as she is educated and loves to read. She dreams of escaping the small town she lives in for a life of adventure, one that she chooses and dictates.
She also has discerning taste and wasn’t fooled by Gaston’s good looks, seeing through them to his egotistical agenda. She forcefully fends off his advances and has no problem saying no.
Belle is also independent and doesn’t hesitate to head off on her own in search of her missing father. She also willingly trades her freedom for his, convinced she could use her wits to escape.
She speaks her mind and confidently makes her decisions about her life.
21. Tinker Bell
Tinker Bell has always been a feisty character but was viewed negatively in the original Disney animation. She was seen as jealous and possessive, with very stereotypical gender traits. The newer versions of Tinker Bell have shown her in a very different light.
Seen as a tinker, a role that requires engineering and practical skills, Tink is seen thriving in a traditionally male-dominated space. She is inventive and creative, often in trouble for her impulsive nature.
Tinker Bell is a devoted friend and has everyone’s best intentions at heart. She has the ability to see the world not as it is, but for what it could be. She is constantly working to improve the lives of those around her.
Moana smashed through so many of the traditional Disney princess stereotypes and we love it! She is a headstrong, confident girl who passionately pursues her dreams.
From the outset, Moana proves that she is different. She will become the chief of her village in her own right, without a husband. The movie also shares a different culture, seeking to breach racial divides common in other
She adamantly denies she is a princess and instead refers to herself as ‘daughter of the chief’. She is relatable and we love that the movie is completely her own story of self-discovery, with no love interest in sight.
The fact that she is usually saving the day (and the demi-god) gives this feel-good character a punch of feminine power.
The Disney Villains We Love to Hate
When it comes to villains, Jafar is definitely one of the worst, or best depending on how you look at it.
He is in a trusted position, making his deception and back-stabbing more villainous. He is a master of deception and not only conceals his true motives but often manages to conceal his identity as well.
As if his evil motives aren’t bad enough, he also has magical powers and uses sorcery to achieve his goals. Who can forget the already maniacal Jafar as he transformed into the scariest looking cobra ever?
Needless to say, watching Jafar end up in a tiny lamp with his feathered friend was immensely satisfying.
24. Captain Hook
Captain Hook is one of the most memorable villains Disney has created.
His metal hook is intimidating enough, but the story of how he got it only adds to the mystique of the man himself. The fact that the crocodile haunts Hook’s steps throughout the movie is comical but also pretty scary.
The fact that he is pitting himself against children makes him a more nefarious character than we are used to seeing. He also seems to delight in his deceit, waiting in anticipation outside Peter’s hideout to hear the explosion that would end him.
Captain Hook is definitely a villain we love to hate and watching him being chased out to sea by a blood-thirsty croc feels like karma at work.
25. Cruella de Vil
Finally, Cruella de Vil might be the evilest villain out of all the Disney
Her name is literally “Cruel Devil” and she certainly lives up to it. Cruella has no redeeming features and her obsessive need for puppy skin means that audiences are hopeful that she will wreck her car in one of her manic rages.
She is completely self-absorbed and is willing to go to any lengths to get what she wants. What really makes Cruella de Vil the best villain though, is the fact that she is very human. She doesn’t have magic or powers. Her evil stems from within her and that makes it particularly haunting.
So, What Did You Think?
Disney has created some of the most memorable
They bring back memories of childhood and some of the songs have become the soundtrack of our formative years. Disney has been creating movie magic for decades and thankfully, keeps producing
We all have our favorite film and a character that resonates with us. It might be the main character fighting for justice or a misunderstood villain. It could even be a quirky sidekick that never fails to make you laugh.
Whichever one it is, there is no denying the special magic that the best Disney characters create. So, which one is your favorite?