Let’s be real. For all the talent that goes into creating movies, writing great stories and building theme park attractions, nothing about Disney would resonate with the public nearly as much if Disney characters were not so memorable. I said before that Steamboat Willie launched Walt Disney into stardom, but more accurately it was Mickey Mouse who launched Walt Disney into stardom, and ever since Mickey became a beloved and iconic celebrity on the level of Charlie Chaplin, Mae West and Clark Gable, Disney seemed to learn a valuable lesson that a good piece of entertainment can’t exist without a good character, as they have created some of the best fictional characters in modern history. It’s not an easy thing to create even one iconic character. Which is how you know Disney puts a lot of effort into it. Walt even believed that characters are more important than the plot. Something you can clearly see when you watch his films. Even as early as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs you can tell that Dopey swallowing a bar of soap was given more focus as a series of gags than any kind of development of a romance between Snow White and the Prince, which was of course the main plot but not where the meat of the story was. The huge success of that film tells you how much Walt was in tune with audiences and what they want out of a film. Dopey’s vaudeville-like pantomime slapstick was indeed among the highlights of that movie. It wasn’t so much that Walt valued comedy more than romance as he valued making you fall in love with fictional characters more than fictional characters falling in love with each other.

As for why Disney characters are so memorable, the best ones are often the ones we see ourselves in, who seem to be an extension of our humanity. You see it in Pluto’s eyes when he gets frustrated after getting stuck to flypaper as animated by Norm Ferguson in Playful Pluto, and you see it in Mickey Mouse’s optimism, Donald Duck’s short temper and Goofy’s clumsiness. You also see it in Figaro’s childish impatience, Tinker Bell’s burning hot jealousy, Baloo the Bear’s easygoing attitude towards life, Eddie Valiant’s mistrusting attitude towards toons, Simba’s fear of responsibility, and Elsa’s loneliness and eventual self-acceptance when she learns how to “Let It Go.” We can even recognize the worst of human qualities in Disney characters like Gaston, Kuzco and Mother Gothel. This familiarity is a large part of the appeal of Disney characters and probably why they endure for so many decades. The ones who remind me of myself, in ways both positive and negative, are certainly among my favorites.