When we talk Disney, it's not all princes and princesses. In fact, this year, the studio powerhouse's movie calendar is dominated by the unconventional.
From feline royalty in The Lion King to talking toys in Toy Story 4, 2019 promises to be jam-packed full of Disney joy. And don't forget that this year also brings us a blue Will Smith as the Genie in Aladdin.
Amid this year's line-up of Disney heroes there's hardly a dashing prince charming or damsel in distress in sight. And next week, the first of this year's alternative Disney heroes soars into Cineworld cinemas.
Dumbo, the plucky little protagonist and one of Walt's most wonderfully offbeat creations, returns in live-action form nearly 80 years after he first graced the silver screen. Expanding on the fantastical 1941 tale of family, flying and finding that special thing that makes you, you, Tim Burton's widely-anticipated take on Dumbo boasts the impressive talents of Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Colin Farrell and Michael Keaton.
A largely silent elephant with oversized ears and the ability to take to the skies should never work. Yet it remains one of cinema's greatest triumphs that the eponymous pachyderm, who doesn't utter a single word (save for a few hiccups), has captivated audiences young and old for generations.
In the world of Disney, however, Dumbo isn't the only one to champion the unorthodox. To get you geared up for the film's release on 29th March, here are five other unconventional Disney heroes we absolutely adore…
The main player in Victor Hugo's 19th century novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Quasimodo has a rather rich cinematic heritage. His appearances range from a 1905 French silent short to a 1997 television film from New Zealand, with actors such as Lon Chaney – known popularly as 'the man of a thousand faces' – Anthony Hopkins and Inigo Montoya himself Mandy Patinkin all having portrayed the hunchback.
In total, the bell-ringer (voiced by Tom Hulce) who resides in the famous Paris cathedral has appeared on screen no fewer than 15 times and counting. However, along with the Chaney-led 1923 film, arguably the most well-known of Quasimodo's iterations came in 1996 when he got the Disney treatment in its take on The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
An outcast who is assumed to be a monster because of his physicality, the animated musical drama – and its direct-to-video 2002 sequel – celebrate Quasimodo as a kind and gentle soul who dreams of one day being accepted into society. Reinforcing the notion of 'don't judge a book by its cover', Quasimodo is adored by many for all the ways he's different from the dashing princes of other Disney classics.
We can't remember – or maybe we can – a movie fish as beloved as Disney's Dory. First swimming into our hearts in Disney-Pixar's aquatic adventure Finding Nemo, the regal blue tang with short-term memory loss (voiced impeccably by Ellen DeGeneres) made such a splash with audiences – even in a film that had vegetarian sharks, sinister seagulls and surfer-dude turtles – that she earned her own sequel/spin-off in 2016.
Eccentric, good-natured and wonderfully whimsical, Dory is a most unlikely hero in the best way possible. The perfect foil to clownfish Marlin's (Albert Brooks) overprotective paranoia, Dory makes us laugh just as much as she melts our hearts. And, thanks to her, we all now have a shared life goal: to one day own a property where the address reads P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney.
A solitary rubbish compactor roaming a desolate, dystopian, uninhabitable earth longing for company is a character you might expect to find in a 1970s science-fiction drama (Silent Running springs to mind), but probably not a Disney film. Well, in 2008, Disney-Pixar defied expectations by putting said robotic bin-man front and centre of their film.
The result: one of the most beautifully realised romance stories to ever grace a cinema screen. And at its heart is a Waste Allocation Load-Lifter (Earth Class) – a.k.a. Wall-E. Despite an anatomy consisting exclusively of metal and rubber, Wall-E is entirely human. It's Pixar's intricate construction of the proverbial nuts and bolts - the deeply expressive eyes; the body language that transcends dialogue – that makes Wall-E so enchanting. He feels loneliness, he feels love, and he can dance. What's not to love?
4. Wreck-It Ralph
Sometimes, villains make the best heroes. And Wreck-It Ralph, the eponymous star of Disney's two arcade game-themed adventures, is testament to that notion. Beginning life as the bulking antagonist of the game Fix-It Felix Jr., Ralph – brought to life via the distinctive vocals of John C. Reilly – soon hops about the arcade in which he resides, venturing across numerous other games, smashing convention on his way to proving that he possesses something bigger than his fists: his heart.
Kindness is most certainly not a glitch here, as the gentle giant finds new-found friendship and respect in the form of racer Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). Much like Dumbo, Wreck-It Ralph wholeheartedly celebrates the underdog. Even in the world of video games, appearances aren't always everything.
In Disney-Pixar's audacious and moving Inside Out, Joy is, as her name suggests, the personification of the very same emotion. The film, set primarily in the mind of a young girl named Riley, is arguably the company's most imaginative to date. As she grows, Riley's personality goes through significant change; in her mind's headquarters, chaos ensues.
Joy (voiced by a buoyant Amy Poehler), along with other core emotions Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness, must navigate the deepest recesses of Riley's psyche – including her subconscious and memory dump – to help understand the changes and learn to appreciate the important role all emotions have to play in life. Optimistic and eccentric, as one might expect, Joy is the infectious energy fuelling Inside Out from minute one.
It's a credit to Disney-Pixar's craft that a character who, by definition, should be little more than one dimensional, becomes so layered. In a film that brilliantly balances funnies and feels, it's hardly a coincidence that as Riley matures, so too do those who call her mind home.
George Nash is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.