For Disney fans and those seeking nostalgia, we’re going to dive deep into what makes a Disney character a Disney character and why they’ve become timeless figures for many people who’ve watched them growing up.
Table of Contents
Designed To Be Relatable Characters
For a storyteller to engross their audience with a character, they often make that character human-like. What does this mean? The characters need to be relatable, meaning they should have human attributes: strengths, weaknesses, and all of the in-between. This is a character’s selling point, and there are many ways a storyteller can do this.
The team at Disney has mastered the art of archetypes. They take an archetype and mix it in with human characteristics. For example, Woody from Toy Story is a gallant, cheerful, humorous, and active toy cowboy. He embodies the cowboy archetype well, but he also displays human emotions like jealousy and fear of being abandoned.
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We digress. By designing relatable characters, it’s easier for Disney to capture its audience and make the character unforgettable. People, more often than not, try to find themselves in the characters that they watch. It’s the classic ‘Hero’s Journey.’ You have an underdeveloped character, faced with obstacles, only to overcome them and become a better person. This is relatable and memorable because most people will see themselves in that story. Everyone is facing their struggles and can find themselves empathizing with flawed characters.
On the other hand, there are stronger characters in Disney movies that people might idolize or want to emulate, which also gives these characters a point of relatability, but in an idealized way. Characters like Mufasa from Lion King fit this role. However, most Disney characters are going through some type of ‘Hero’s Journey,’ and that trope, even if it’s played out quite often, successfully makes characters unforgettable. For the most part, many people enjoy character development, so a story of a flawed hero can be more impactful than a story of someone who’s already ‘perfect.’ Growth and pain are two elements that everyone faces in life; with that in mind, it’s hard not to relate to these characters.
Simple & Captivating Designs
Disney designs characters in deceptively simple but captivating ways. Why do we say it’s deceptive? Because in simplicity lies the mastery behind it. Subtle but extremely impactful, Disney knows how to create a memorable character.
Let’s review these elements for a second:
- Versatile character design: If you refresh your memory, classic Disney movies often had an unquestionable stylistic ‘signature,’ but they never stuck to one rigid character design. For example, Mulan has an undeniable influence from oriental Chinese art, but Lilo & Stitch has a completely different character design, even if it still has that signature Disney look.
Disney subtly changes character design to incorporate it with the theme of the whole story so that all elements are coherent and in harmony. This is one of the main reasons why characters are easy to distinguish and leave a lasting impact on the viewer. Disney is a pro at handling concepts and designing conceptually.
- Evergreen: Disney has also mastered making somewhat timeless characters. For example, The Little Mermaid is quite old as a movie now. It can still be relevant to showcase the story of mermaids. The same goes for the other movies.
By making evergreen characters that stand the test of time, it’s hard for audiences to forget the characters and what they represent. Viewers can recognize these elements once they take a closer look at what’s unfolding when they watch a classic Disney movie.
Disney has formulated incredibly catchy catchphrases for characters, which, again, are quite simple but effective. For example, “Hakuna Matata!” and “To infinity and beyond!” are examples of these catchphrases. Most audiences will directly associate the catchphrase to the movie or the character it’s from, which adds to Disney characters’ unforgettableness.
The catchphrases also tend to reflect the overall theme and the character’s journey/personality. Some of them also stand for deeper themes in the movies. A good example of this is “Let it Go” from the Frozen movie.
It’s an effective catchphrase that touches on deeper issues like self-acceptance, self-love, authenticity, stepping into your power, and not letting others validate you. By incorporating these deep themes in a catchphrase, a character also leaves a bigger impact on the viewer and becomes more memorable.
The Power of Emotional Storylines
To capture an audience, you need them by the heart. The power of a well-crafted storyline that rouses emotions is what sells a Disney character and a whole movie. Emotion can typically always leave a deep impact on a viewer, which helps make a character unforgettable.
Tragedy, loss, victory, betrayal, redemption, and the will to fight are all themes you’ll find in Disney movies. Rousing people’s emotions and sentimentality by using these story elements strategically is a way to leave a lasting impression.
Universal themes interwoven with emotionality are also found in almost all Disney movies, which makes the movies’ relatability, timelessness, and memorability even higher. The themes have been designed to impact audiences from all age ranges, relying solely on tapping into what makes a human tick.
Marketing and Merchandising
As a huge company that’s been around for almost a century, Disney has the capital to heavily promote, market, and merchandise all of its characters and movies. Across the Globe, theme parks exist that promote and use the characters to further make them unforgettable. Visit a Disney World theme park, and you’ll understand. Merchandising, in the form of selling toys, clothes, and media, is also consistently done by Disney. It reinforces the fandom and makes them profit.
We’ve established that Disney is a master at what they do, and we’ve recognized the techniques they use throughout all their movies in the hopes of elevating their characters’ impact on the audience. It’s safe to say that most of the Disney characters will remain in many people’s memory even as time passes.