Retired Disney Cartoon Characters
Why yes, I did just steal DarkNite’s article idea and add a Disney spin on it. Hey – I’m in between moving house and taking a long trip, I don’t have time to think!
It goes without saying that the Disney animated canon rank among the most recognisable images in the modern world, outstripping world leaders and religious figures as being easily identified. From Mickey and his friends through to the Princess cohort and the Villains receiving their own branding you’d be amazed at how many have been benched, shelved or buried in a shallow grave behind the castle.
Let’s start with one of those…
BR’ER RABBIT (AND FRIENDS)
Originating from stories told among the African American community of southern states, Br’er Rabbit and his friends Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear became part of Disney lore with the cinematic release of Song of the South, the film best known for being swept under the rug in the hope we forget that they accidentally made a happy slave story. It’s more boring than offensive, and leaving it to gather dust should have been that. Unless…
Splash Mountain is one of the all-time most popular rides of the Disney Parks. You sit in log and ride up and down the rails before being tipped over the edge and sent hurtling down a waterfall. Taking inspiration from Song of the South, riders are surrounded by Br’er Rabbit and his friends getting into madcap adventures. That’s kept the character and their simple looks hanging onto the zeitgeist. They’ll stick around right up until they re-theme this immensely popular ride and that’s never going to…oh.
Clarabelle mostly appears as an orbiting member of Mickey’s gang, sometimes even being tied romantically to Goofy, but aside from the odd cameo you’d mistake her for a stock design used to fill out the background. In reality, Clarabelle Cow predates Mickey Mouse in Walt Disney’s animated shorts and still makes the odd appearance to this day. After the Golden Age of Hollywood saw a diminished market for animated shorts, Clarabelle went a full 50 years without making an appearance anywhere. Her status as a ‘classic character’ saw her make guest appearances in the likes of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and the Epic Mickey game series.
If you’ve seen any of the more recent Mickey Mouse cartoon shows of the past decade, you’d have seen Clarabelle is some context. You may have even seen her in the Parks at the ‘Clarabelle Hand-Scooped Ice-Cream’, or alongside her boyfriend. That would be…
Clarabelle would often he paired with another classic and largely forgotten character, Horace. Once again, this character predates Mickey Mouse but would be later characterised as one of his best friends. Horace was something of a detective and would help Mickey solve mysteries (conversely he appeared as an enemy to Mickey’s predecessor), but that job reverted to Goofy as time went on. Rarely seen without Clarabelle, Horace never got well established and is best remembered for somehow shifting between farm animal and anthropomorphic human-horse figure in a rather Looney Tunes way. There was an unproduced concept for a series that provided a meta-examination of how his career died out but it never came to pass. Like so many others, Horace still appears in cameos, Easter Eggs and, of course, the Epic Mickey game series which features an alternate Disneyland populated by forgotten characters.
MORTY, FERDIE, MILLIE, MELODY, APRIL, MAY AND JUNE
These characters must look very familiar to you even if you can’t name them. You will already know Donald Duck’s triplet nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie. Initially interchangeable, they have evolved over time to become more distinct from each other, especially in the most recent rendition of Ducktales. These three young’ns, however, are the survivors of a nephews and niece cull that put another seven characters on the chopping block.
As you can no doubt guess, Morty and Ferdie are the nephew’s of Mickey Mouse (Morty being his original name, so a nice nod there), Minnie’s nieces are the twins Melody and Millie while Daisy Duck’s niece’s are April, May and June. None have much in the way of personality and only existed to create shenanigans for the main cast. Although we should note that Webbigail of Ducktales has been retconned to be one of three clones and the three are named April, May and June. So that happened.
HUMPHREY THE BEAR
Now this one hasn’t completely vanished, but the waters he exists in has become kinda muddy. This is due to his character and his name overlapping with other well known characters. Being debuted in the 1950s, Humphrey the Bear featured in a couple of animated shorts and then all but disappeared until a couple of appearances in the Disney Afternoon classic shows of the 1980s. If you’re familiar with the wild eyed, slack tongued face it’s because he still appears in the Parks at the Wilderness Lodge.
Humphrey would find it difficult to stand out in the field of cartoon animals when his routine was stolen by Yogi Bear a few years later. Both bears live in a National Park and spend their time trying to steal picnic baskets from park-goers. Australian kids had further confusion with popular television mascot Humphrey B. Bear stealing his name. Poor Humphrey couldn’t catch a break.
THE BIG BAD WOLF
One of the biggest animated hits by Disney during Walt’s lifetime was The Three Little Pigs, with one of the more memorable characters being the slavering hungry wolf. Big Bad Wolf made a couple of other appearances in films that followed and would become a rival for Mickey alongside Big Pete. While Pete managed to find a place in the modern canon as an antagonist for Goofy, Wolf has faded into the background. Without much personality beyond being evil and greedy there wasn’t much to sustain his presence.
We mentioned Song of the South earlier, and suggested that despite appearances Uncle Remus wasn’t actually a racist depiction. Sunflower, on the other hand, is pretty darn racist. In the Greek Mythology sequence of Fantasia we see centaurs of white, cream, blue, green, pink…none seem to be attributed to any culture or race. Expect for Sunflower, a minstrel-show styled centaur who appears to be sub-servant to the other centaurs. The only character in the story with a distinct racial appearance and they’re cast as some kind of handmaid to the other characters, helping brush their hair and groom them in preparation for the men arriving.
At this point you may be scratching your head because you have seen ‘The Pastoral Symphony’ in Fantasia and you don’t remember any blatantly racist stereotypes. That’s because they went to the effort of cropping the sides of the animation during restoration and re-editing the sequence (while keeping it set to music) to remove Sunflower. Pretty awkward.
OSWALD THE LUCKY RABBIT
If you’ve been paying attention you’d have seen some sly mentions of a Mickey Mouse predecessor, one who featured with Horace Horsecollar. We have obviously been saving this one until the end, because Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is the obvious conclusion to this article. Oswald was created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, only for them to lose the rights when they set up their own animation studio. With no choice but to repurpose the Oswald design and replace him with Mickey Mouse, the foundations of the Disney Animation Empire were built. It wasn’t until 2006, the best part of a century later, that Oswald was brought home to appear in Epic Mickey. Since then he’s become a regular part of the Disney story, getting his own shop and costumed character in the Parks.
Obviously Oswald is the end point of this article. I mean, it’s not like there’s another character who predates Oswald…
JULIUS THE CAT
Years before Mickey, years before even Oswald, there was Julius the Cat. First appearing all the way back in 1922, Julius was created by Disney and Iwerks in their original Laugh-O-Gram Studio and co-starred in the pioneering Alice comedies. Julius the animated cat would feature alongside a live action actress played by Virginia Davis in many outings. There’s some fun trivia about Julius, such as being the first character paired with the antagonistic Pete, being referenced in Disneyland with the name of ‘Julius Katz’ stores and his role in developing the classic Disney style.
Ultimately, Julius couldn’t escape being compared to Felix the Cat, who appeared a few years earlier. The similarity wasn’t a coincidence, as Disney used Felix as a template on which to create his own character. This is likely what led to Julius being shelved in favour of Oswald. Disney, meanwhile, continues lobbying politicians to help protect their character copyrights.