I Love to Laugh: Disney’s Funniest Characters
Disney films are full of music and magic, worming their way into our hearts with their warmth and familiarity. One of the best parts of a Disney film are the characters that make us laugh, breaking the tension of the serious and emotional moments with humor and unforgettable characterizations. My column today celebrates the funniest of these Disney characters. Watch the clips and tell me that you don’t agree that these creations are not side-splitting with their ability to make you giggle and guffaw.
The Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland
Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (1951) is full of zany, surreal characters who make us laugh at their absurdity. One of the most-iconic comedians in this film is the Cheshire Cat, a sadistic feline who is constantly putting the title character in dangerous positions with his skewed logic and frank observations. Distinctively voiced by the incomparable Sterling Holloway, his daffy rendition of “The Jabberwocky” set to music is a highlight of the film and his lunacy.
Smee in Peter Pan
Has there ever been a more loveably incompetent sidekick than Mr. Smee in Disney’s 1953 classic Peter Pan. A loyal, but addled, first mate to the dastardly pirate Captain Hook, Smee bungles everything he touches and is often the reason why the villain’s plans fall apart. The character is voiced by the spitting and sputtering Bill Thompson. A scene where the first mate shaves his mighty captain has always been one of his most laugh-inducing moments.
Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather in Sleeping Beauty
1959’s Sleeping Beauty introduced us to the quarrelsome duo of fairies Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. The bossy Flora (Verna Felton), the daffy Fauna (Barbara Jo Allen) and the tempestuous Merryweather (Barbara Luddy) are delight to watch getting on each other’s nerves as they do their best to protect the Princess Aurora from the evil Maleficent. In preparing for the princess’s 16th Birthday, they decide to give her a party and a new dress, without using their wands. What follows is a delicious sequence of comedic bliss.
Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story
How sad it is that we lost Don Rickles, since he brought such a memorable characterization to the Toy Story (1995) franchise as Mr. Potato Head. Crotchety, yet lovable, this iconic spud was always the unbridled voice of cynicism in the series. Always quick with a sarcastic comeback, the character capitalized on Rickles’ brand of stand-up comedy, even going so far as to include some of his famous wisecracks.
Mushu in Mulan
Mulan (1998) is one of the more serious Disney films, full of adventure and internal conflict for the title character. How wonderful that we have Mushu (Eddie Murphy) to slice through the pathos and give us plenty of laughs for levity’s sake. When the Chinese ancestors wake up, the twitchy dragon with no filter comes with the package and is sent along to watch over Mulan when she goes to serve the army in her father’s stead. Lacking subtlety and grace, Mushu keeps the energy crackling and the laughs coming.
Roz in Monsters, Inc.
Though she has very little screen time, Roz in Monsters, Inc. (2001) certainly leaves an impression with her gravelly voice, bespectacled visage, and her stern demeanor. Voiced with prickly perfection by Bob Peterson, we all love Roz because we all know a battle axe just like her, and we know she’s a softy at heart. Have you ever known a co-worker like this?
Genie in Aladdin
Rub a magic lamp and out pops the most amazing genie voiced by the late Robin Williams for Aladdin (1992). I think most of us would love to be able to materialize this hyper-kinetic character who makes our wishes come true with comedic aplomb. From his first entrance, we are rolling on the floor, enjoying his impersonations and his rapid one-liners with gut-wrenching ecstasy. We’ve never had a friend like him.
Scuttle in The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid (1989) resurrected the Disney film musical and began a long-line of new Disney films that were box office and critical magic. Never suffering from a shortage of humor, the film has many comic moments, many of the most-memorable served by the seagull Scuttle. Voiced by Buddy Hackett, the character was never funnier than when he explained to Ariel (the title character) the purpose and names of several human items she finds in a shipwreck. “Dinglehopper”? “Snarfblat? Indeed.
Grumpy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Of all the seven sidekicks in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Dopey gets the most love from audiences, but Grumpy gets the most laughs. Masking a heart of gold, the fussy curmudgeon complains about Snow White staying in their tiny cottage, but is perhaps her fiercest protector. Voiced by Pinto Colvig, we chuckle at each of his tantrums and passive-aggressive remarks.
The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland
Saving my personal favorite for last, The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland (1951) is a lunatic, but one of Disney’s funniest characterizations. The brilliant comedian Ed Wynn provided the voice for the Hatter, one of the studio’s first attempts at using celebrities to voice their animated creations. Laugh for laugh, the Mad Tea Party is Disney’s funniest sequence ever in a film, and The Mad Hatter is the chief reason for every chortle and belly laugh.