Posted on Friday, March 4th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
This weekend sees the release of Zootopia, which takes place in a fanatical metropolis where animals of all kind live side-by-side. And talk. And wear clothes. And go to jobs. Yes, this is Walt Disney Animation really doubling down on their legacy as purveyors of anthropomorphized animal entertainment – they’ve been ruling this particular corner of entertainment for eighty-something years now.
And that’s why we’re ranking the top 10 greatest talking animals in all of Disney Animation. Maybe a few characters from Zootopia will be eligible for a revised list in a few years – we have to see how well time treats them.
A few notes before we begin. First: this list focuses on characters who appeared predominately in theatrical releases, meaning that some old stalwarts were deliberately left out. Otherwise, Mickey Mouse would have to be number one based on his prominence alone. Second: in order to be eligible for the list, an animal has to speak in a way that is intelligible to the audience, even if it’s not intelligible to the humans onscreen. Finally: this list is entirely accurate in every way and your arguments about who got left off are completely incorrect. Sorry.
The advisor and court composter to King Triton in The Little Mermaid, Sebastian established the template for the flurry of animal sidekicks that dominate so many films of the “Disney Renaissance” of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Like the best of these characters, he’s so very human, with his laid-back, carefree exterior masking a pile of neuroses. The character is a fun foil for the brave and stubborn Ariel, but it’s his big musical number that establishes him as one of the Disney Animation’s all-time best. Getting to sing the best song in a musical filled with great songs is an unfair advantage over his animated animal brethren, but “Under the Sea” really is that good.
9. The Cheshire Cat
Like so many of the characters in Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat walks a fine line between lovable and deeply unpleasant. Also like many of the characters in the film, he’s not a clear friend or foe for our young heroine, but rather an agent of chaos who does as he pleases and stirs up trouble just for the sake of it. Combine that mentality with a character design that manages to be cute while simultaneously being deeply unpleasant and you have a deeply memorable character who breaks most of the “Disney talking animal” rules. There is nothing straightforward about the Cheshire Cat and his too-large grin and penchant for literally vanishing into thin air is the stuff of nightmares. In a good way, of course.
8-7. Miss Bianca and Bernard
The Rescuers is one of those films that flies under the radar for anyone besides the more dedicated Disney Animation fans and that’s a shame. Despite arriving in the midst of the studio’s least successful (creative and financially) period, it’s a charming movie starring two of Disney’s most likable characters. And in a move that is literally decades ahead of its time, a certain amount of their appeal falls on their voice actors. Eva Gabor’s Miss Bianca, an adventurous and sophisticated member of the “Rescue Aid Society,” and Bob Newhart’s Bernard, the cowardly janitor she recruits on her latest mission, make for a great and unlikely couple. It’s easy to imagine an alternate universe where these two weren’t talking mice in an animated film, but live action characters in a whimsical screwball comedy. There’s something The Thin Man-esque about these two, whose adventures end up feeling secondary to their burgeoning relationship.