TOP 7 Animal Characters in Movies

We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10.

With Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa and Bolt creeping up on us, we started thinking about the top 7 animal characters in film, either real or animated. I trusted Bayer with the top 7 animated films and he didn’t even mention Spirited Away or Ghost in the Shell, so I realized I’d have to take this list into my own two hands.

So, here is the official countdown to the King of all Animalian Stardom. I’ve tried to capture a nice blend of “classic” (a.k.a., unknown to anyone born after 1980) and modern, in an effort to please both the kiddies and the fogies. The rules: the character has to be a real animal (so, no Shrek, folks, sorry); the character has to either achieve a level of distinct uniqueness or has to be a dominating force in our popular culture; and last, but not least, the character has to have been a named protagonist/antagonist—otherwise, I would’ve included T-Rex from Jurassic Park (Eat the lawyer!) and the Great White shark from Jaws (Eat the lifeguard!). Maybe I can convince Bayer to let me do a top 7 monsters/creatures list … if he’s still willing to employ me …

7. Elsa the Lion from Born Free

Recap: The true story of Joy (Virginia McKenna) and George Adamson (Bill Travers) living on a ranch in Kenya, Africa, where George is the game warden. When George is forced to kill a mother lion, George and Joy adopt a lion cub named Elsa.

Reason: Elsa is precious and dear, and unlike all the other characters on this list, she really lived. As a rambunctious cub, she runs rampant through the Adamson house; and as an adult, long and tawny, she coos and purrs and thinks it’s funny to scare away the visitors. For anyone who was touched by the youtube footage of Christian the Lion, you should check out Born Free for the lion story that came first.

6. Little Foot in The Land Before Time

Recap: The earth’s climate is changing and a mismatched group of young dinosaurs must find their way to the Great Valley, where food is still plentiful. Little Foot is the reluctant leader of Cera, Ducky and Petrie.

Reason: A lovely Scottish man once admitted to me, albeit reluctantly, that as a child, he cried when Little Foot lost his mom. And, since I’m still working through that exact same scene in therapy, it occurred to me that bawling your heart out at Little Foot’s plight might just be a universal experience. Picture Little Foot curled up in his deceased mom’s footprint, sobbing, “Mother!” It’s okay if you’re choked up—I actually started sucking my thumb a little. By the way, I’m referring only to the first in the series, not the subsequent installments that had Little Foot singing and dancing. Here’s how you can determine the authenticity: if it’s appropriate for children, it’s not the original.

5. Donkey in Shrek

Recap: Shrek, the ogre (voice—Mike Myers), and his relentlessly annoying sidekick, Donkey (voice—Eddie Murphy) agree to rescue a princess from a distant castle in order to get rid of the fairy-tale squatters encroaching on Shrek’s swamp.

Reason:Donkey is a wonderful character. He’s sweet, manic, yappy, cheerful, lonely, vulnerable, and good-hearted all at once—try that sometime. He’s clingy and needy and insecure and loud and funny and wacky! He’s Donkey! Shrek is gruff and Puss n’ Boots is suave, and Donkey is the grating glue that holds the band together. Shrek 3 couldn’t stand up to the first two in terms of comedy and flow, but Donkey singing “Cat’s in the Cradle” to cheer up Shrek? I passed out laughing.

4. King Kong in any King Kong film

Recap:King Kong, a giant gorilla, is worshiped by natives on a remote island. When filmmakers uncover the island and its enormous secret, Kong is captured and transported to New York to exploit the amazing discovery. Kong’s one weakness is pretty blondes. Freudian, much? Much too much.

Reason: It’s Kong, dudes. Maybe you see King Kong as a big, obvious metaphor for the primitive masculine id; or maybe you prefer the kick ass, take-no-prisoners, gorilla o’ fury version. Either way, King Kong rocks the Kasbah. Deny him that, and he’ll squish us like the ants we are.

3. Nemo in Finding Nemo

Recap: Nemo, a clownfish (voice—Alexander Gould), is captured by divers while defying his overprotective clownfish father, Marlin (voice—Albert Brooks). Marlin has to overcome his fears to rescue his son.

Reason: A friend of mine, who worked with children living with disabilities, fell in love with the film Finding Nemo, because almost all of the main characters were dealing with their own emotional or physical disability. Nemo was born with a stunted fin; Marlin is paralyzed by fear and uncertainty; Dory has no short-term memory; Bruce the Shark is overcoming ichthyology…oholism? Anyway, the point being, Nemo was a particular inspiration for children living with their own disabilities. So, the number 3 spot goes to Nemo, because he overcame everyone else’s perception of him, broke out of the confines of his sheltered upbringing, and he saved the day.

2. Kermit the Frog in The Muppet Movie

Recap: Kermit, Fonzie, Gonzo, Miss Piggy, Animal and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew with his sidekick Beaker travel cross-country to make their mark in Hollywood, while Kermit tries to outsmart a frog-legs merchant in hot pursuit.

Reason:Honestly, Kermit the Frog could be the only name on this list—I’d call it the top 7 reasons we love Kermit the Frog, or 7 reasons I’d dig being green, or 7 reasons Kermit the Frog should take his place as our benevolent, omnipotent ruler. Kermit the Frog was our sensitive, sexy, pacifist, and he lives on today (somewhat hollowly) without Jim Henson’s ludic and magnificent passion for the frog…The…Frog.

1. Mickey Mouse in Fantasia

Recap: An incredibly imaginative collection of short animated pieces, Fantasia gives us a familiar face, Mickey Mouse, as the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

Reason: Mickey Mouse truly started it all. He made his debut in the cartoon “Steamboat Willie,” in 1928, and his popularity was the cementing foundation for Walt Disney’s growing empire. As one of Disney’s most beloved creations, Disney himself originally did the voice for Mickey Mouse. Today, Mickey Mouse is one of the most recognizable characters in the world and so, out of sheer longevity and staying power Mickey’s our numero uno.

There’s the Top 7, now what should be in the Top 10?

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13 Comments

  1. Remy!

    Blue rats that become master chefs?!

    AWESOMENESS EXPLOSION!!!

  2. Morrow says:

    I know, I know…Bugs Bunny was also cut, to my chagrin, because I ended up with too many animated characters and not enough real characters. Just to tip the scales, I also wanted to include the Black Stallion…

    In retrospect we should have done a top 7 animated animal characters and a top 7 real animal characters. It was just too painful combining them.

  3. brian says:

    my 2 favorite canine characters growing up were omitted from the list, and i think they need a quick mention.

    shadow from homeward bound. i don’t remember much of that movie other than sobbing like a child when shadow came up over the horizon at the end. i was just so proud of him. both chance (michael j fox) and i thought he didn’t make it.

    chomps (canine home protection system) if you’ve never seen this, go and rent it now. chomps is a robot benji, and he rocks. i think i cried in that one too.

  4. BRIAN IS SO RIGHT

    morrow, did you consider shadow?1?!?!

  5. Morrow says:

    Bri, you were a college graduate when you cried at the end of Homeward Bound.

  6. Morrow says:

    But, then again, The Land Before Time still gives me a complex, so who am I to judge?

  7. Morrow says:

    Nicholas,

    Where in the heck would you put Shadow on my list? Why don’t we just make him the unofficial #8.

  8. Morrow says:

    And why aren’t you guys more upset about Bugs Bunny? Really? Shadow, but not Bugs Bunny? What is wrong with you people!

  9. Jeff Bayer says:

    That’ll do pig. That’ll do.

  10. Diana says:

    I would include Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron, from the same movie :)

    Just me an Brian saw C.H.O.M.P.S? That was an awesome movie for those times…

  11. Jessie says:

    I think Simba from Lion King and Bolt should be on the list!!

  12. Nick Allen says:

    BEETHOVEN, the last star of silent film

  13. Craig A. says:

    I can’t deny the impact of Born Free, and yet I have to say that it is a movie _about_ a true story. There is a documentary video with real footage of what happened to the lions that were used to make the movie Born Free–it is called The Lions Are Free and it shows the lions after they were turned over to George Adamson to rehabilitate them into the wild. The Lions Are Free includes a reunion scene between some of the lions and Bill Travers, who played Adamson in the movie.

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