Balance. It’s found everywhere, even in the Disney canon. Everything can be ranked, and as a person with strong opinions (why are some foods relegated to breakfast?! Do not stifle my culinary adventures, hollandaise sauce!) I feel uniquely qualified to find the best and worst examples in Disney lore.
What follows is a dissection of specific Disney subjects found throughout their many films, done with the due diligence you’d expect from one equally obsessed with contrarian opinions and churros.
Best: Hopper (A Bug’s Life)
Being a Disney villain comes with its fair share of bad, but very few are truly, objectively, substantially evil. Hopper, while certainly not the biggest or the most powerful, is undeniably wicked.
Let’s begin with the obvious: He has effectively suppressed an entire society, forcing them to work for him based on fear tactics. Considering that the average ant colony has somewhere in the thousands of members (sometimes a LOT more), we’re talking about a true dictatorship (or oligarchy, depending on how leadership is disseminated across grasshopper culture, though it does seem to only have Hopper as the figurehead. But I digress). Imagine a small group of people forcing the entire city of Orlando, Florida to work an extra 8 hours every day, and you’ll get an idea of what we’re talking about here.
Also, and this is important, Hopper is brutal, even for a Disney villain. At one point, he beats Flik within an inch of his life, and it’s… unsettling, even for a CGI cartoon.
And power is absolute for Hopper, at any cost. He murders two of his own, loyal followers just to make a point, and is planning to squish the queen to set an example. Again, remember, this is a Disney movie, and there is a character set to have her head slowly broken under another character’s foot.
Worst: Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
For being a feared pirate captain, Hook is rather… not. His main enemy, and sole target is a child. Admittedly, it’s a very clever child with magic fairy dandruff, but still. Hook can’t wrangle in a kid, with a full ship and crew at his disposal.
Then there’s the clock thing. Sure, Hook suffered a trauma, and has associated the sound with that loss (I’m not about to get too deep in to the psychology of Disney characters, we’ll be here all day), but it’s not exactly the most intimidating flaw in the world.
Best: LeFou (Beauty and the Beast)
There are two things that make a good sidekick- devotion, and usefulness to their superior. Lefou absolutely checks both of those boxes!
First and foremost, LeFou’s absolute loyalty to Gaston borders on the absurd, following him everywhere, dealing with his bombasity, and supporting him even when he’s not looking.
Then there’s what LeFou brings to the table- his social skills. Sure, the character is bumbling, but if you really think about it, LeFou has one of the highest social intelligences of any Disney character. He allows and deflects interaction with Gaston from outsiders with apparent ease, convinces Belle’s father to reveal details about the Beast, and even pulls Gaston out of a major hissy fit to refocus and inspire him (via rousing bar song, no less!).
Worst: Pain & Panic (Hercules)
There are two things that make a bad sidekick- inconsistency, and uselessness to their superior. And boy, do these two deliver.
They fail Hades at absolutely every turn, from the “murder” of a baby, to their sniveling attepts thereafter.
As for loyalty, they start rocking their boss’ greatest enemy’s merch at the drop of a hat! Though, to be fair, those sandals were pretty sweet.
Now, they do bring shape-shifting abilities to the table, which would normally be a boon for a henchman… if they could do anything about those voices. Seriously, Pain is voiced by Bobcat Goldthwait, arguably one of the most recognizable (and grating) voices in history. Not a great cover, boys.
Best: Snow White (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves)
C’mon, how are you gonna top the original?
Snow is the quintessential Disney princess for many reasons, not least of which is that every other one has followed her lead. As the OG, she defined what would become the bread-and-butter traits in Disney films for decades.
Judging her strictly as a monarch, she has qualities you’d really hope for in a ruling class member- sympathy for the common laborer, an affection for the arts, a sense of duty to care, and the ability to bend nature to her will (Just like Queen Elizabeth I. Read a history book.).
Worst: Ariel (The Little Mermaid)
The moment you know you’ve reached adulthood is the moment you start agreeing with King Triton’s parenting. Here’s a single father, raising seven children and running a kingdom single handedly. Then, his weird klepto kid runs off and gets a crush on a member of an entirely different species (that eats most of his subjects, mind you), clicks “accept” on Ursula’s Terms and Conditions without giving it even a cursory read-through, and gets a bad case of fin-split and acute laryngitis before running away to an entirely different biome.
Ariel’s just the worst, guys.
Best: Lewis “Cornelius” Robinson (Meet the Robinsons)
In the most generic of terms, a hero is the one who makes things right. Now, the good majority of Disney heroes and heroines achieve this, so the question is, who makes it the most right?
Enter Lewis, the plucky orphan with a knack for invention. Compared to some of the other titans in consideration for this accolade, he may not seem the most formidable. Plus, he has stupid hair, which is an absolute hero no-go.
But look at the world around Lewis, and it’s very clear that he affected more change in his lifetime than most heroes could ever hope for.
If you’re shoddy on the storyline, Lewis befriends his future son via time-travel, makes an enemy out of his roomate with an evil hat, and attends the world’s wackiest family reunion (with a T-rex).
If you haven’t seen, it’s awesome, really.
The proof that Lewis is the greatest hero is in the story’s main plot-device: time travel. In the prime timeline, the future is an absolute utopia, and (unbeknownst to him) Lewis’ life and work seems to be at the center of it. When that timeline is altered by removing Lewis’ initial successes, we see a dystopia. What changed? Just Lewis’ presence.
To add to it, Lewis saves the villain of the story, even though he doesn’t really need to. He re-inserts a moment of positivity in the villains life early on, changing the spark of evil to a victory.
He made things right.
Worst: Bob “Mr. Incredible” Parr (The Incredibles)
I know, I know, Mr. Incredible is, well, incredible. Super strong, super durable, all that. But hero? Hear me out.
Our first impression of Bob is as a rather egotistical standalone superhero. He seems confident, sure, but would you want to have lunch with the guy? Probably not. It makes you wonder how he wooed Elastigirl in the first place.
Speaking of his wife, he is arguably pretty awful to her for most of the movie. He lies to her constantly, first about illegally moonlighting in heroics with an old super-buddy, then taking gigs and requisitioning new equipment, all behind his wife’s back. Most of the conflict between them centers on the suspicion that he is being unfaithful, and she’s kinda right. He’s cheating on her with heroics, something she loved as well, and excluding her entirely.
And that’s not even touching on the origins of Syndrome (who was in the running for best villain, as he’s really the only other bad guy who’s committed something as heinous as genocide), who he arguably created by his arrogance.
So, superhero? Maybe. Hero? Not so much.
Best: Nani Pelekai (Lilo and Stitch)
While not a “mom,” technically, Nani is easily one of the most caring, accepting, and protective characters in the Disney canon. After the passing of her parents, she takes her young sister Lilo in, and does everything she can to love and raise her. She scrambles to find work, bends over backwards to make her sister happy, and only loses her composure when she is threatened with the prospect of losing her.
Also, Nani embraces Lilo’s numerous quirks, and handles them brilliantly. A great example of this comes out when Lilo is at the shelter, adopting and naming Stitch. The shelter attendant begins to tell Lilo that her choice isn’t a “real name,” which Nani quietly interrupts. She lets Lilo be creative, and validates and empowers her decision-making abilities.
Worst: Mother Gothel (Tangled)
While she could have been in the running for best villain, Gothel is easily the worst maternal figure for one very horrible reason: She made Rapunzel legitimately love her. Watch Rapunzel when Gothel falls at the end. She still tries to save her. It’s heartbreaking.
Never mind that she horded a precious resource for presumed decades, stole a child, and committed numerous acts of treason.
Her only redeeming quality is her impressive skill as a stonemason. Really, murdering an entire team of construction workers would have been hard to keep off the radar, so who else built that tower to the exact specifications needed for a magical hair-child?
Best: Pridelands, under the rule of Mufasa (Lion King)
Look, city government is hard. There’s municipal services, sanitation, community events… hard for anyone to manage. But under Mufasa’s guidance, the Pridelands actually make for a well-oiled machine. They’re eco-sustainable and green (circle of life), community-centric (everyone was invited to the baby shower), and equal-opportunity (he could have just hired a lion for the position of majordomo, but instead went with the hornbill Zazu).
Mufasa even discusses the importance of high concept politics with his son, like imposed term-limits. Sure, he was talking about his death (he was a monarch, after all), but he saw a society lasting beyond his rule. I can dig it!
Worst: Halloween Town (The Nightmare Before Christmas)
The land of Halloween from Tim Burton’s masterpiece is a horror-show, and not just because of the spooky stuff. Halloween Town is highly disturbing conceptually, in that members of the community never, ever leave. Why? They have been socially conditioned not to. So much pressure and importance has been put on the ritual surrounding preparation, that they can no longer fathom having the time. And sure, they appear to enjoy it, but so does anyone who knows that their peers will judge them if they’re not.
There are only two characters apparently immune to the groupthink of the town from the start (not counting Jack, who’s journey of self-discovery is explored in the film)- Dr. Finkelstein and Sally, his creation. Of the two, only the “good” doctor is apparently aware of the wrongness of his community, locking his pseudo-daughter away from the world in fear of it. His reclusive behavior is only allowed by his neighbors as he is useful. Messed up.
And we haven’t even discussed the puppet government of “elected” officials, military law (Jack has all the power, and is the one truly in control because of it), tainted morality, disregard for anything “other,” and the exclusion and subjugation of an entire species (Oogie Boogie is not one person, but a society, as we’ve previously discussed) for no crime other than being unlikeable.
Best: Rapunzel’s hair (Tangled)
You know what the worst part about most weapons is? No matter how good they are, you’re bound to lose them (other than Prince Phillip’s magical-boomerang Sword of Truth, which should not have worked because magic doesn’t affect Maleficent. I’m not bitter.). Easy solution. Make sure your weapon of choice is attached to you.
Rapunzel’s mane is enough to make even the most dedicated glam rockers jealous, and is a veritable multi-tool off uses. She lassos, whips, swings, grips, and ties with it, all with the dexterity of any skilled weapon-wielder.
There’s also the small matter of immortality.
I’m gonna bring up something very important about the world of Tangled: It’s never stated that Rapunzel’s flower powers don’t work on herself. In theory, her main weapon is as much shield as sword, as it can heal EVERYTHING, including DEATH.
So, basically, Tangled II better be about the slow realization, and heavy burden of being an immortal.
Worst: Rapunzel’s frying pan (Tangled)
Okay, yes. Hitting someone with a frying pan is effective. It’s heavy. That’s how hitting works.
That’s not the problem.
In the movie, it is used as a surprise attack method, and briefly as a dueling weapon (against a horse. A talented horse, sure, but still a horse.).
It is then UNILATERALLY USED by the ENTIRE kingdom’s armed forces. What happens when another nation attacks? With, you know, weapons? More specifically, ranged weapons?
That’s a lot of broken eggs in one basket, if you catch my drift.
Best: Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins)
For any Doctor Who fans reading, I’m going to state the obvious: Mary Poppins is a Time Lord. Ageless, a bag that’s “bigger on the inside,” a handheld device capable of miraculous feats, near-infinite knowledge of the world around them, kindness for the least members of society, British… Add to that the new “regeneration” of Ms. Poppins in the latest film, and you’ve got one mighty hero of Gallifrey.
Most importantly, Mary has complete control over her faculties. No kryptonite, no Hulk anger issues.
She is practically perfect in every way.
Worst: Genie (Aladdin)
Now this one’s a toughie. Technically, Genie is one of the most powerful forces in all of Disney lore. Anyone with a wish to use can have literally anything they want. Anything. Up to, and including the creation of an entire country to subjugate, just to impress some girl (really, think about it. When Aladdin becomes Prince Ali, he asked to be a real prince. That means a country to rule. There was a country, a people, a culture snapped in to existence, for the sole purpose of getting a date. That’s… dark).
Here’s the kicker, though- Genie has infinite cosmic power, but can never use it for himself. Other than some shtick to explain his abilities, Genie is still only able to use his powers at the whim of whoever controls him at the moment. So, in truth, best superpowers, but absolute worst restrictions.
Have a different opinion? Think I missed a subject worthy of finding the best and worst in? Comment your opinions/suggestions below!