I love my Disney just as much as the next girl. Okay, maybe that’s generalising, but I can’t bring to mind a single man I know who has Disney Princess posters tacked to his wall. I don’t either, but I make up for it by singing along to “Under the Sea” while driving my macho Ford Fiesta. So is Disney really the domain of women? That, I think, is a question for another time. For now, I’ll make do with talking about five of Disney’s men (and animals), because they need to get their own posters too.
Film: Aladdin (1992)
“I steal only what I can’t afford. That’s everything!” So exclaims Aladdin as he’s bouncing around rooftops, evading the cops for having stolen a loaf of bread. Here’s probably the poorest guy in the world, just trying to survive, singing in tune while running for his life, and when he finally has a chance to bite into his catch, what does he do? Give his share to a couple of starving kids. That’s a hero, folks.
It’s also part of what makes Aladdin such a fine gentleman of the Disney empire. His heart is in the right place from beginning to end. You couldn’t say the same for Mowgli, Pan, or even Beast. Aladdin churns out goodness from within; every decision he makes is subject to the laws of his heart. He helps Jasmine. He sacrifices himself. He frees the Genie. All with little self-benefit. When it comes to a memorable, funny, chivalrous guy, with nothing to lose, you can do no better than Aladdin.
Film: The Jungle Book (1967)
The Jungle Book’s got a great catalogue of outstanding male characters, from the absolutely vicious Shere Khan to the Vulture Beatles who just wanna be our friends. Even King Louie and Bagheera are worthy candidates. But of them all, only Baloo has managed to forget about his worry and his strife, which has granted him the permission to do just about whatever he pleases in the jungle.
The ultimate layabout, Baloo thrives on a strict policy of no-interference and complete relaxation. He lives off the land and not much else. Unlike Aladdin the choir boy, his heart is not always in balance, but he values his friends and is fully aware of his lines in the sand. Cross them, and he’ll swipe your face off. After all, he is a bear.
Film: Dumbo (1941)
Yes, yes, Bambi’s mother was shot and it was tragic, but Bambi didn’t have big floppy ears and no one to talk to. Dumbo, on the other hand, witnesses his dear sweet mother being taken away and practically institutionalised, is left to fend for himself, is ridiculed by just about everyone who meets him, and surely hits rock bottom without letting us know about it.
But it’s a Disney movie, so he’s awarded one friend who helps him regain his pride (and get drunk). It’s one of the all-time great comeback stories, partially because Dumbo actually flies, partially because Disney decided not to let him speak (his silence somehow makes him more pathetic, more sympathetic). You just wanna care for the little guy, which is why his eventual triumph resonates so profoundly.
Film: The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
The Emperor’s New Groove is essentially the Kuzco and Pacha story, but there’s so much melodrama between them they could make a cameo in The Bold and the Beautiful and no one would notice. Yzma and Kronk – that’s where the movie’s at. And of the two, Kronk is the bigger bundle of joy.
There isn’t a single moment Kronk’s on screen that he’s not doing something ludicrously hilarious, from communicating with – or believing he can communicate with – squirrels, to taking over as head chef of a restaurant in the middle of a daring mission. He is, basically, a child trapped in a super muscular body, with no intelligence to speak of but with a great understanding of right and wrong (his debates with tiny angel and devil Kronk are gold). It’s no mystery as to why he’s the one with his own sequel – one movie’s not enough to capture his personality. I’d also gladly patronise the restaurant I’m hoping he’ll open.
Film: The Lion King (1994)
No Disney movie is darker than The Lion King (save, perhaps, The Hunchback of Notre Dame). The witches in the early movies were mean SOBs. Bambi dealt with tragic murder. Beauty and the Beast was grim and gothic. But The Lion King journeys deeper into the realm of guilt and fear, dealing with themes of betrayal and redemption. Has there been a more bone-chilling Disney scene than the infamous stampede?
In the middle of it all is Simba, the young lion cub who has to deal early on with the responsibility of causing his father’s death. The guilt drives him into exile, where he effectively erases his identity and assumes the personality of Baloo (I’ve always wanted to see Baloo sing “Hakuna Matata”). It’s the age-old “You’re the Chosen One” angle, but it’s very dark – darker than anything Neo’s had to go through – and gets darker still when you realise Simba’s just a little baby lion; it’s a weighty burden to bear, not just for Simba, but for the kids in the crowd, and quite possibly their parents.
Images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures