Aladdin, Basil, Beauty and the Beast, Captain Phoebus, Disney, Flynn Ryder, Peter Pan, Prince Naveen, Prince Philip, Quasimodo, Robin Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Tangled, The Beast, The Great Mouse Detective, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Princess and the Frog
We’ve already covered the best of the worst in the Top Ten Disney Villains, now it’s time to honour the most chivalrous. For the purposes of this list we will only be looking at male heroes, I’ll do a Top Ten Disney Heroines post another time. The following ten characters are the most memorable and most heroic of Disney’s many leading men.
WARNING – THIS POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
10. Prince Naveen – The Princess and the Frog
We begin with one of the more recent heroes, the charming but very flawed Prince Naveen of Meldonia, a man who parties, enjoys jazz music and chases women. This prince isn’t the dashing romantic hero who rides a white horse Disney tradition would have us expect but a spoiled playboy entirely dependent on servants who can’t even chop a mushroom without breaking a sweat. His character arc in The Princess and the Frog is fairly obvious but he earns his place on the list for his cheery nature of good will and amusing personality given life by Bruno Campos.
9. Prince Philip – Sleeping Beauty
On the other end of the princely scale from Naveen is Prince Philip. No, not the Duke of Edinburgh but the heroic love interest for Princess Aurora who is the epitome of the dashing romantic hero who rides a white horse. On the surface Philip appears to do little more with his character than was already shown by Prince Charming or the prince form Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but his epic battle with the dragon form of the witch Maleficent is more than enough to justify his appearance in the list. His considerable courage and ability with a sword confirm Philip as the cream of handsome, chivalrous royalty in Disney films.
8. Quasimodo – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Not every great Disney hero is handsome and in Quasimodo’s case that’s the whole point of his character. The bell-ringing hunchback has absolutely no trouble getting us on his side thanks to his simple humanity and his suffering at the hands of Judge Claude Frollo who we’ve already established is the studio’s nastiest villain. His very simple desires, to spend single day outside of Notre Dame, to attend the Festival of Fools, to help people in need are endearing and his gymnastic capabilities and strength give him plenty of scope for heroic acts. His rescue of Esmerelda near the film’s end and cries of ‘Sanctuary!’ while he holds her unconscious form above his head is tremendously stirring.
7. Peter Pan – Peter Pan
The boy who never grew up is, of course, a creation of J M Barrie rather than Disney but the Mouse House’s exuberant and, yes, heroic depiction of the character is undeniably memorable. The devil-may-care attitude and inability to take anything seriously is in tact and his tormenting of Captain Hook and the pirates never fails to amuse. This Peter Pan can most definitely be considered the spirit of youth and adventure, a being of endless appeal that personifies the basic need to continue playing forever. Disney’s Pan nails that character.
6. Basil – The Great Mouse Detective
A good way to judge a character’s impact on a film is to imagine them without it and it’s fair to say The Great Mouse Detective wouldn’t be half the film it is without Basil. This rodent depiction of one of literature’s most popular figures takes the best elements of the Holmes persona and dials them up giving us a wonderfully intellectual, contrary and difficult hero. The mastery of disguise is there, his deductive powers are extraordinary and his whole demeanour is bold and brilliant making him one of the most entertaining heroes on this list.
5. The Beast – Beauty and the Beast
The male lead of Disney’s finest film was always going to be a tricky one to get right. He needed to be threatening without being to scary. He needed to look monstrous but still possible for a young woman to fall for. Above all he needed humanity to penetrate his beastly exterior and Disney nailed all of these things with their interpretation of the classic character. His struggles to woo Belle are charming but not half so much as his wonderful gift of an entire library for her. Props must also go to Robby Benson for his nuanced and subtle vocal performance.
4. Aladdin – Aladdin
This penniless street-urchin defines the spirit of the bright-eyed underdog in Disney’s 31st feature. Aladdin’s resourcefulness and bold spirit make him impossible not to root for and he makes a great companion to enjoy some of the studio’s best adventures with. In many ways he is the archetypal hero, romantic, capable, decent and sympathetic and his compassionate decision to free the genie instead of pursuing his own selfish desires add another layer to his heroism.
3. Captain Phoebus – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Two heroes from the same film on the list? Why not? Hunchbacks’s Captain Pheobus, wonderfully voiced by Kevin Kline places so high for his admirable humanity and personal humility. This self-deprecating champion of the people begins the film in the employ of Frollo but his distaste at the self-righteous judge’s cruelty soon sees him abandoning his post, his ‘highest honour’, before fighting for the freedom of the people of Paris. From his compassionate efforts to protect Esmerelda to his tendency towards light humour and his ability to tell the quality of wine poured on a wound Phoebus is a wonderfully real and sympathetic hero and a tower of decency.
2. Robin Hood – Robin Hood
It can be no surprise that one of the greatest hero characters from legend makes it high on this list but Disney’s Robin Hood really earns it. Aside from robbing from the rich to give to the poor and effortlessly winning archery tournaments this foxy Robin places himself in serious danger and battles rhinos to help the innocent and downtrodden. His thrilling escape at the film’s climax is about as exciting a heroic moment as the studio has produced for one of it heroes and comes with a very real sense of danger. Everybody loves an underdog and they don’t come much better than this.
1. Flynn Ryder – Tangled
Flynn is the third thief to make it onto this list. Perhaps it’s because the unconstrained life of a rogue makes for appealing adventurers or maybe it’s because everybody loves a rebel. Either way the orphan Eugene Fitzherbert represents the best romantic lead Disney has to offer and much of that is due to Zachary Levi’s peerlessly entertaining vocal characterisation. Flynn’s cocksure confidence is more than enough to get us interested in him and his swagger leads to plenty of comic moments (see the smoulder) but he conceals depths that ultimately make him an altogether more worthwhile character. His touching moment with Rapunzel in the slowly flooding cave where he reveals his real name is among Disney’s best character moments and his slapstick rivalry with Maximus the horse brings brilliant comic value throughout the film. Then there’s the sweet way his heart is melted by the long-haired lovely and his epiphany during ‘I See the Light’. But the main reason why Flynn comes top of this list is that he performs the single most heroic and selfless act of any Disney hero in cutting Rapunzel’s hair to prevent her from saving his life and freeing her from Mother Gothel. It’s a genuinely surprising twist in the tail end of the film and it is this that marks him out as Disney’s greatest hero.