25 Disney characters that are actually good role models

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On the set of The Nightmare Before Christmas, a stop motion musical fantasy film written and produced by Tim Burton and directed by Henry Selick. (Photo by Touchstone Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

You may be surprised by some of the complex and engaging Disney role models included in this list

The entire concept of “role models” is complicated, to say the least. You might have a very different idea of what’s appropriate for someone, given your personal ethics. What pleases one person may horrify another. Even within Walt Disney Studios, different creators have clearly had different ideas on the same subject.

Still, I think there must be some core characteristics of a good role model. They should be fundamentally good in some way. They should not actively try to hurt others or keep another person from leading a happy, healthy life. Also, a role model doesn’t have to be perfect; in fact, it may even be better for a given role model to work through significant change. That said, I reserve the right to make exceptions to these rules here and there.

Notice that I haven’t specified kids here. Role models, however you want to define them, are for everyone. If we’re being totally honest with ourselves, us adults could use a little course correction now and again. Now, it’s not as if a Disney movie is going to change your life or anything, but surely it won’t hurt to think of certain characters as aspirational figures.

As you read, you’ll surely notice that there are precious few Disney princesses on this list. There are already plenty of articles out there concerning said princesses. Some defend them with real intensity that may be unknown to those of you who escaped the Princess Complex. Others deride the princesses with the same kind of verve also forged in the Princess Mines.

There’s plenty to like about them, like the common princess traits of bravery, independence, and good singing voices. Unfortunately, there’s also an awful lot of sexist nonsense in their stories. Ariel, after all, gives up her voice and eventually her place in an ocean kingdom in order to marry a guy she’s known for a month at most. Snow White just sort of lies around the woods crying until someone comes to save her. Too often, there’s an overly romantic focus to the stories, as if that’s the only thing that young girls should aspire to.

Fortunately, a lot has changed since the days of Snow White and Ariel. Disney characters have generally gotten more complicated and interesting, with a less intense emphasis on the lovey-dovey stuff. To that end, you’ll see a few princesses here or there. Just don’t expect this to be a defense of Cinderella, not to mention her uncomfortable footwear and unfortunate prince obsession.