What Makes Disney Characters Compelling?

Chanel Tasker was a panelist at FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention 2018.

This was one of her panels, along with Adrian Ropp, Shane Lewis, and Heather Dixon Wallwork.

Left to Right: Heather, Chanel, Shane, Adrian

We all know how influential Disney has been since their beginnings in 1923, and it seems like there is no stopping them now. No matter your opinion on the company itself, there is no denying how Disney has lead the way for animation, feature length films, and beloved characters. But what makes their characters so memorable?

Steamboat Willie

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to mostly be focusing on Walt Disney Studios with a *little* of Pixar Animation Studios; there would just be too much to unpack with all of their recent merges of several other companies and studios. I’m also going to stay away from live-action Disney, but that doesn’t mean they are any less memorable!

Disproportionate Animation

Since the beginning of animation, there has been a race to find the best ways to show real life and be the first to make new breakthroughs. But one thing Disney has done and continues to do is make their characters a little less realistic to show their emotions more. For example, they’ll take characters that are animals and make their limbs a little shorter, while giving them a bigger face, cheeks, and eyes to show feelings easier. Thus making them more appealing to audiences and very cute!


For this next one, as far as personifying literally everything, we’re giving kudos to Pixar. For those who don’t know, personification is taking things that are not human and adding human emotion to them. Personifying complex emotions really brings life to any character, and that can range from toys to cars to animals to robots to even office objects. This may seem like an obvious one, but some animation studios almost forget to add real emotion to characters, and that can sometimes make the story less interesting.


Hopes and Dreams

Now we’re going to dive a little deeper; anyone can easily draw something disproportionate and add some simple emotions to a character, but what really makes a character worthwhile?

Well, it’s what makes them who they are on the inside and what motivates them. We all have our own hopes and dreams and when there is a character that has similar goals suddenly you have an emotional connection to them and it means something more than just a cartoon. When you were a kid maybe you felt like Peter Pan wanting to fly away and not grow up, or maybe as a teenager you felt like Ariel in that you never felt like anyone was listening to what you wanted. The attention to detail in what motivates these characters varies wildly, and that is important in reaching out to a broader audience. Not only do these characters reach the hopes and dreams of children, but they extend to adults as well. Which leads us into…



We like characters because they can be funny, have fun songs, and have cool stories; but we love characters because they are relatable. Are you someone who is an underdog wanting to go on an adventure? Or someone looking for a family or friends or love? Or maybe you’ve lost someone in your life you loved and you’re trying to find meaning? We’ve all dealt with struggles in our lives that are unique to us; but as a kid who can’t express the complex feeling they are having, seeing a character on screen dealing with the same or similar issues is almost cathartic. People ask a lot why Disney characters seem to have missing or deceased family, but if you think about it, that’s how life can be. Many families are broken and many of us deal with problems that we shouldn’t have to. But seeing these characters overcome their issues and achieve something great gives us hope for ourselves.

Iconic Moments

While we’re on the tear-jerker train, let’s talk about iconic moments. Some of our favorite Disney characters can be traced down to some specific moments in films that define who they are to us. Sometimes that can mean the lowest point for the character in the film, or at a drastic turning point that leads the rest of their story. It can also be one of the highlights of the film, where the character is finally able to achieve something, but it ultimately makes that character more memorable overall. Instead of explaining it more, maybe looking at some of these pictures can help you remember awesome moments in a character’s story:


For those that really love Disney, it typically has been apart of your life since you can remember. Then once you’re a little older, seeing these older movies again suddenly hits a chord with you and you start to feel nostalgic. Even if you’re new to the Disney scene, many of their stories are already filled with sentiment because they’re old fairy tales. In our society, we love to tell and retell stories. It’s how we pass along our funny jokes, memories and morals. The fact that Disney takes old stories from legends and lore- it automatically adds another layer to the characters, and we’re familiar with them. The classic hero or heroine with an amusing sidekick and a villain is an idea we’re already keen to, and it makes the characters more compelling right from the get-go.

What Do You Think?

Think of who your favorite Disney characters are. Who is the best sidekick? The best villain? The best family members? Why do they happen to be your favorites? There are so many to choose from, and we want to know what you think!

Who is your favorite Disney character, and why? Let us know in the comments below!

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