Disney Animation's 10 Greatest Talking Animal Characters

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.

disney talking animals sebastian

10. Sebastian

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.

disney talking animals cheshire cat

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.

disney talking animals bianca and bernard

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.

disney talking animals baloo

6. Baloo

Like Sebastian, Baloo is character best remembered for having the best song in a movie filled with best songs. But this lovable bear is more than "The Bare Necessities" – he's the greatest slacker in the Disney canon, beating out stiff competition from the likes of Timon and Pumbaa. Above all else, Baloo is a fun character and a terrific foil for the straight-laced panther Bagheera, stealing every single scene he's in. His ultimate journey is also moving in its own quiet way, as he slowly realizes that caring about the "man cub" Mowgli doesn't mean catering to his basic whims and desires, but pushing him in the right direction, even when it's painful for everyone involved. The Jungle Book is one of those Disney films where the protagonist doesn't bring much to the table and is simply a tour guide through various scenes featuring far more colorful and engaging characters. And since one of those characters is Baloo, it all works out in the end.

disney talking animals jiminy cricket

5. Jiminy Cricket

Jiminy Cricket has spent the past 76 years transforming into more of a mascot than a character and that's a shame. As portrayed in Pinocchio, he's one of the best Disney characters, making up for his lack of depth with genuine pluck. In addition to getting the film's best song ("When You Wish Upon a Star" is really good stuff that manages to feel both melancholy and hopeful), Jiminy is the eyes through which we watch the title character make poor decision after poor decision. He's out avatar, our entryway into this fantastical, strange, and often disturbing little fairy tale. And his role as Pinocchio's "conscience" is surprisingly nuanced – when doing the wrong thing feels so good, the part of you screaming to do the right thing often does sound like an easily ignored little bug.

disney talking animals ratigan

4. Professor Ratigan

The Great Mouse Detective is one of the most underrated films ever produced by Disney Animation and Professor Ratigan may be the studio's most underrated villain. Voiced with maniacal glee by the legendary Vincent Price, he's a delightful riff on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Moriarty and a perfect antagonist for the film's Sherlock-Holmes-as-a-mouse hero, Basil. Highly intelligent, impeccably-dressed, and far too smart for his own good, Ratigan is never portrayed as anything less than pure, selfish evil...which is why he's so much fun. The stakes may seem literally small to us (because he's a rat, you see), but his villainous plot is one of the most sinister in any Disney animated movie. Here's a guy who, through coercion and abduction, plans to assassinate the Queen of mouse England and assume the throne as dictator. And he's a big talking rat voiced by Vincent Price. That's just wonderful.

disney talking animals pongo and perdita

3-2. Pongo and Perdita

One Hundred and One Dalmatians features not one, but two of most naturalistic and likable couple in the entire Disney canon. There's Roger and Anita, whose relationship is odd and sweet in ways that are usually ignored in films like this, and then there are their dogs, Pongo and Perdita, who act as reflections of their owners and become, by default, the greatest animal pairing in all of Disney animation. Unlike other popular Disney characters, they aren't outwardly heroic and they aren't especially funny. However, they are dedicated parents who are so totally in love with one another and their children that it's hard to not embrace them. Like any couple whose family is threatened, these perfectly ordinary dogs step up in a big way when called to save the day and since they were previously established as such normal, everyday homebodies, their actions end up carrying so much more weight and meaning so much more.

disney talking animals robin hood

1. Robin Hood

So many of Disney Animation's films adapt traditional fairy tales or follow rigid templates about good heroes who answer the call that it can't help but be refreshing when one of their lead characters breaks from tradition. The title character of Robin Hood is very much a product of his era – the laid-back charmer who makes a habit of chipping away at authority while making their general awesomeness look easy is a common trope in late '60s and early '70s films, and Disney took note. You can almost imagine this cheerful, super chill Robin Hood being played by Paul Newman or Robert Redford. It's no accident that he's literally a fox. And while so many modern interpretations of the Robin Hood story saddle the character with additional emotional baggage or attempt to inject "realism" into the premise, this version, the version with the singing fox, recognizes the real appeal of this character: he makes being an outlaw look like so much fun.