Throughout the history of Disney animation, the company has told several stories with different types of characters. But the one that seems to pop up more often than the others is the classic outcast. Characters who for one reason or another find themselves ostracized from their community and yearn for a way to fit in.

Given that humans are a social species, it makes sense that we are drawn to stories where the protagonist wants to find his own people. Plus, Walt Disney and many of its animators could be considered outcasts overcoming their own trials and tribulations, so there was always a base of reference in the company.



‘Dumbo’ (1941)

Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo from Dumbo

A baby elephant is carried by crane to the circus with big ears. When his mother was taken away after trying to protect him from several children, he was left alone and shunned by his fellow elephants. A mouse named Timothy, however, sees the little elephant’s value, and wants to help him become famous and save his mother.

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Stupid is Disney’s best example of a story where outcasts help each other. With Dumbo being ostracized because of his ears, Timothy clearly wants to be part of the circus. The iconic moment when Dumbo learns to fly is the ultimate moment to turn someone’s perceived weakness into your greatest strength.

‘The Jungle Book’ (1967)

Baloo, Mowgli and Bagheera in The Jungle Book
Image via Disney

In the jungles of India, the panther Bagheera delivers an orphaned baby to a wolf family. Years later, word travels through the jungle that the man-hating tiger, Shere Khan, is nearby, so it is decided that Mowgli will be brought to a human village for protection. However, Mowgli does not want to leave the forest, and clashes with Bagheera along the way.

Even though Mowgli thinks the jungle is his home, some of the more sinister members of the jungle want to exploit or kill him just because he’s a boy. His companions are a committee of vultures and Baloo, a carefree bear called the hobo of the forest, who returns to reinforce the outcast’s idea of ​​helping one another.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ (1991)

Beauty and the Beast dancing in the 1991 Disney animated film Beauty and the Beast

Belle, the daughter of an eccentric inventor who dreams of a bigger life for herself, lives in a poor provincial town in France. When her father doesn’t come home from the fair, Belle follows his trail to a castle ruled by the beasts that held her father captive. He takes his place, and over time begins to see that his captor has much more to it than meets the eye.

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Both Belle and the Beast are great examples of outcast characters feeling trapped – both literally and metaphorically. Whether through a love of knowledge or an animalistic appearance, they discover that they are no match for others. The beauty and the Beast subsequently sold this with the use of color, as Belle and the Beast are the only characters to wear blue.

‘The Humpback of Notre Dame’ (1996)

Quasimodo released a small bird from the top of the bell tower.
Image via Buena Vista Image Distribution

High above Notra Dame cathedral lives the hunchback, Quazimodo. One day, he goes against the orders of his master, Judge Frollo, and attends a festival where he is harassed because of his appearance. When the dancer Esmeralda comes to his aid against Frollo’s wishes, he earns his wrath, and all of Paris will burn down unless Quazimodo can overcome his self-doubt.

The Humpback of Notre Dame is one of Disney’s darkest films, thanks mainly to its heavier and more mature themes. The look of fear and anguish on Quazimodo’s face as he stumbles back to Notre Dame is heartbreaking, but it makes his eventual acceptance by people all the more satisfying. The film also shows maturity by having Esmeralda choose another man over Quazimodo without any of the cast members feeling upset, a move rarely seen in films even today.

‘Hercules’ (1997)

Herc and Phil

From Mount Olympus, Zeus and Hera celebrate the birth of their son, Hercules. Sadly, he was soon stolen in the night by the minions of Hades, Lord of the Underworld, and turned into a human in an attempt to escape the prophecy that Hades would fall. Growing up among humans, Hercules finds he is no match thanks to his god-like powers and seeks to become a true hero in order to rejoin his biological parents.

The reason why Hercules was ostracized among humans was because of his extraordinary strength. With no proper outlet, he does more harm to his community than good, and is seen as a freak. Once he started training and learned to control his abilities, people were willing to give him a chance, and even worshiped him to the point of raising him to celebrity status.

‘Tarzan’ (1999)

Tarzans 2x1

When his parents are killed by a leopard, a human baby is adopted by a gorilla who lost her cubs to the same cat. He tries to fit in with his squad, but can’t seem to win the approval of his gorilla father. Then a researcher and his daughter arrive in the jungle to study gorillas, and the adult Tarzan finds himself torn between two worlds.

Through Tarzan, the audience is shown how outcasts often try to conform to the expectations of others. One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when a young Tarzan covers himself in mud to look like an ape. However, his mother brushes off the mud to remind him that changing yourself to please those who don’t understand you is not the right choice.

‘Lilo and the Sewing’ (2002)

Lilo and Stitch

On the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, a woman named Nani struggles to care for her younger sister, Lilo. Since Lilo was ostracized by her hula class because of her strange tendencies, Nani takes her to adopt a dog. Unfortunately, the dog he chooses is actually a deadly alien being hunted by representatives of the Galactic Federation.

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Lilo and Stitch dealing with the theme of outcasts helping outcasts, as well as challenging preconceptions about a person. Stitch was hunted because he was created to be a destructive evil force and was never given a chance to change. Through his time with Lilo, he discovers that there is more to life than destruction, and learns to use his gifts for more productive purposes.

‘Meet the Robinsons’ (2007)

Lewis and Wilbur

An orphaned boy named Louis builds a machine to find his birth mother Meet the Robinsons, but the man with the invention of the bowler hat caused it to fail. A boy from the future tells Louis to try again, but a fight results in his time machine being broken. Now stuck in the future while working on repairs, Louis meets the boy’s eccentric family as the bowler hat man tries to profit from his success.

The phrase “Keep Moving Forward”, is spoken throughout the film and attributed to a quote from Disney himself. This is true: often when a person feels out of place, it is easier to give up than to get up after every trip. Good or bad, you never know what will happen tomorrow.

‘Wreck-It Ralph’ (2010)

Wreck-It Ralph, Badanon
Image via Disney

Ralph has been the bad guy since the game was first installed and wants a change of pace. One day, he breaks the rules of the arcade and jumps into a shooter on the rails to win a medal. When he loses it in a racing game, he teams up with a glitch character to get it back, unaware that his actions spawned a dangerous virus and the video game is in danger of being taken down.

Wreck-It Ralph offers a picture of those who feel ostracized because of their profession. Ralph is the villain of the game, so his job is to be defeated again and again by the heroes. However, just because your work is selfless doesn’t mean it isn’t important, and your work shouldn’t define who you are as a person.

‘Encanto’ (2021)

Images Via Disney+

The Madrigals are an extraordinary Colombian family born with magical powers thanks to a candle given to the family’s grandmother. That is, except for Mirabel, who was born without them. Power or no power, when she realizes the magic is fading away and the family home is cracking, Mirabel does whatever it takes to save her family.

Encanto taking on an outcast focuses on feelings of being ostracized among one’s own family. Abuela wants nothing to do with Mirabel and often forces her on the sidelines of family events for something she has no control over. These themes were less frequently explored by Disney, and were frowned upon by audiences, who praised the film for its generational trauma.

‘The Little Mermaid’ (1989)

Ariel and Flounder smile and swim as they look up at the sky in 1989's The Little Mermaid
Image via Disney

In the historic first Disney Renaissance film, Ariel is an outcast from an underwater kingdom, over which her father, King Triton, is ruler. The little mermaid’s fascination with the world above is what gives her persona non grata, which eventually leads her to make a Faustian deal with the sea witch.

The best Disney films cut quickly and deeply to the most universal of human relationships and emotions.Little Mermaid is around the clock for its music, humor, and artistry — and because it’s a deeply affecting story about a father and daughter mending their relationship.

‘The Lion King’ (1994)

Simba, Rafiki and Nala in The Lion King

Simba was literally kicked out of Pride Rock after his father was murdered in one of Disney’s crown jewels. Lion King plays a little like Shakespeare‘S Hamlet, only with talking animals and a happy ending. This is certainly one of Disney’s most dramatic and weighty stories.

After leaving his kingdom and befriending Timon and Pumba, Simba finally faces his destiny as heir to the throne. It’s a touching, classically inspired story that will remain a crowd favorite for a long time to come.

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