What is a brave heroine or dashing hero without a plucky ally who sticks with them through thick and thin? Whilst superhero sidekicks seem to be largely out of fashion as cinematic Batman continues to distance himself from his ward, we can always turn to the world of animation to get our fill of hilarious, wisecracking sidekicks. From Dory in Finding Nemo, to Iago in Aladdin, to Sven in Frozenhere are ten of the very best.
Dory in Finding Nemo (2003)
Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is lovable, frustrating, kind, hilarious, brave, and ditzy in equal measure. Even by normal fish standards, she suffers from short-term memory loss and can easily forget what she is doing in the middle of the activity. She joins Marlin (Albert Brooks) on his titular mission and proves herself invaluable when she reveals unexpectedly that she can read English. As well as bringing laughs throughout the film, her condition, her relentless optimism and friendliness, and her blooming friendship with Marlin provide plenty of those trademarked Pixar feels. She also has the rare sidekick accolade of her own spin-off sequel. So remember: When life gets you down, Just Keep Swimming… Just Keep Swimming… Just Keep Swimming, Swimming, Swimming!
Mushu in Mulan (1998)
There is a button on every casting director’s phone marked “Wisecracking Sidekick” that gets them through to Eddie Murphy‘s agent immediately. His first swing of the bat came in the form Mulan’s smart-alec sidekick named Mushu, the motor-mouthed Chinese dragon who is determined to regain his status as family guardian. Much like Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin, Mushu is a vehicle for the talented comic to reel off gags and keep the tone of the movie light. Unusually, Mushu also has his own sidekick, Cri-Kee, the lucky cricket. Joe Pesci was also considered for the role, which would have made for a very different movie altogether.
Donkey in Shrek (2001)
Eddie Murphy stretches his acting muscles and steps outside his comfort zone to portray a wisecracking sidekick, this time in the form of a Donkey. The character must have been influenced by his performance in Mulanas it is very similar, but Murphy pulls out all the stops, goes even bigger and shines in this classic romantic fairytale. Going up against Mike Myers in his prime and stealing the show is no mean feat, but Murphy achieves it effortlessly.
Iago in Aladdin (1992)
Speaking of loud, broad comic performances, Gilbert Gottfried does his level best to destroy your TV’s speakers in this screeching outing. Perfectly cast as the cantankerous, obnoxious parrot assistant to the antagonist Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), this legendary comedian brings humor and a little cynicism to the film, as Iago offers a sarcastic commentary on proceedings whenever he hasn’t had his mouth stuffed full of dry crackers. It is a rite of passage into adulthood to discover that Iago’s voice is provided by a comic whose act is about as far distant from the clean Disney animated production as it is possible to go.
Abu in Aladdin (1992)
Sticking with the 1992 classic, we can’t put the dastardly Iago in this list without also considering the kleptomaniac monkey with a heart of gold, Abu. Always by Aladdin’s side – well, until he is under Aladdin when transformed into an elephant — he nevertheless frequently gets the pair into unnecessary trouble due to his larcenous tendencies. However, when he offers (albeit reluctantly) some stolen bread to starving children, it is clear there is a heart of gold in there somewhere, and he provides a lot of the humor in the movie in the tradition of the silent comedy greats.
Gromit in Wallace and Gromit (2005)
A masterclass in understatement and visual comedy from the kings of stop-motion entertainment, Aardman Animation, their flagship characters Wallace and Gromit have been with them from the early days and gone from strength to strength with each new iteration of the franchise. Whilst quips and one-liners have their place, director Nick Park knows that sometimes, less is more, and in the case of the silent beagle Gromit, a dead-pan look to the camera is often all that is needed to bring the house down. The comic foil to Wallace’s eccentric inventor, Gromit is as expressive a character as ever imagined without ever having to say a word.
Sebastian in The Little Mermaid (1989)
Samuel E. Wright is absolutely joyful as the Trinidadian reggae crab who tries, unsuccessfully, to persuade Ariel to remain under the sea, arguing convincingly that it is better down where it’s wetter whilst playing a clam like it’s a steel pan. Sebastian makes the most of his limited screen-time, primarily appearing in the first act before Ariel undergoes the magic spell that gives her the opportunity to walk around on those… what do you call them? Oh, feet. It could be argued that the sidekick in The Little Mermaid is Flounder, but does Flounder have an awesome cod-reggae song about devotin’ full time to floatin’? No? Case closed.
Timon and Pumbaa in The Lion King (1994)
Further strengthening the argument that Disney do the best animal sidekicks, who could fail to love the dynamic duo of philosophical wisecracking meerkat Timon (Nathan Lane) and the bug-snuffling, flatulent warthog Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella)? Introduced after the dark and heavy stampede scene and Simba’s (Jonathan TaylorThomas) subsequent banishment, they mark a return to the light and breezy tone of the first act, especially when they introduce their mantra in tremendously catchy style — “Hakuna Matata”. Providing comic relief in some scarier parts of the ending, perhaps their biggest laugh comes when they dress in drag and perform the hula to distract the evil hyenas. “He’s a big pig.” “Yup, yup.” “You could be a big pig too!”
Louis and Ray in The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Another winsome comic duo from Disney, this time in the criminally underrated The Princess and the Frog, a beautifully hand-drawn adventure in the traditional style of early Disney animation. The New Orleans setting gives Randy Newman plenty of influence for the foot-tapping, jazzy songs, and the animators named greedy, neurotic alligator trumpeter Louis after Louis Armstrong, the legendary New Orleans trumpeter. The biggest laughs are reserved for Jim Cummings as Ray (as in Ray Charles), a gap-toothed firefly with a gigantic glowing posterior.
Sven in Frozen (2013)
Sven follows in the well-established tradition of non-speaking Disney sidekicks to humans. From his adorable introduction as a chubby calf in the opening moments, to his welcome comic relief and sweet relationship with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), loyalty, determination to help Anna (Kristen Bell), and his generally disheveled appearance as a weather-beaten adult reindeer, he is one of the non-musical highlights of Frozen. It’s easy to agree with Kristoff — reindeers are better than people!
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