Sometimes the characters that say nothing can be the most compelling. We can only gauge their emotions through their movements, reactions or the musical score, if we can gauge anything about them at all. I thought I would give a nod to my top five Disney characters who never utter a word and can therefore be universally understood.
#5: Dopey the Dwarf
If Dopey doesn’t at least raise a smile, then you have no soul.
It’s not just his silliness that makes him endearing, it’s the fact that he’s as innocent and good-natured as Snow White, so when he does something daft you think “aww, you adorable scamp,” rather than “good God you’re an idiot” before ramming your palm through your face. This also works in his favour when it comes to Snow White, as he’s the only dwarf she doesn’t tut at for having dirty hands – she’s distracted by laughing – and manages to steal more than one kiss when she leaves, probably because she’s thinking the same thing as above. Perhaps there’s more going on than meets the eye with this one?
#4: Dumbo (aka Jumbo Jr.)
When was the last time you saw a Disney film where the main character never said a word? (No, Wall-E doesn’t count, he can at least say his name.) Somehow this little elephant keeps us engaged for a full hour and a half simply by being cute and vulnerable, and reminding us of what it was like to be a small child in a world full of towering adults. Being separated from your mum and laughed at by everyone, and certainly not in a Dopey way, is most children’s worst nightmare, so our hearts go out to Dumbo, especially in that tear-jerking scene when he’s briefly re-united with his mother. In short, we don’t need a self-pitying or melodramatic diatribe to know or care about his problems, just as we don’t need him to burst into song to know how happy he is flying with his own set of wings at the end of the film.
Film: Sleeping Beauty
The more subtle ancestor of Maximus from Tangled, Samson represents how I and many other children felt while watching yet another pretty princess film. He rolls his eyes at her beautiful singing, is visibly irritated by Prince Phillip’s desire to meet her, and is far more interested in helping him battle a demonic dragon or escape a crumbling castle. Also, any character whose mood utterly changes at the thought of food has a special place in my heart. But, for all his grumpiness, Samson is a brave and loyal steed, and judging by his reaction to Phillip’s late night date, he would be an awesome wingman for many a bachelor. If, you know, he weren’t a horse.
#2: Rapunzel’s Parents
This pair are only on screen for about two minutes in total, but in that time they convey so much with so little, especially Rapunzel’s father. There’s a heavy sadness to their facial expressions and movements, so like Dumbo we don’t need to hear them mourn the loss of their daughter, or vocalise a plan to find her. In fact, one of the reasons they stand out is because they are the only characters that seem to show any sadness in the film – Rapunzel and Flynn are both quite chatty and happy-go-lucky despite their situations, making the monarchs’ silent tears, reassurance and inner reflection even more resonant.
Film: The Rescuers Down Under
Marahute is one of the only Disney animals that isn’t anthropomorphised (much) and yet still manages to connect with the audience. Her eyes, vocalisations and body language tell you everything you need to know about her state of mind, recent widowhood and hope for her offspring, while still reminding you she’s a huge eagle, and she deserves far more screen time in my opinion. What’s more, she can fly you high up into the clouds with no ill effects from lack of oxygen and take you water skiing while defying the laws of physics, so why wouldn’t you want to spend time with her? Choosing her as number one is also another excuse to remind people how good the second Rescuers film is and to go and watch it, right now.
Are there any mute Disney characters you’d like to shout about?