I’m paying a late homage to Father’s Day by listing here the top 5 animated dads of all time. Now, there were a lot of other contestants like Papa Smurf, Fred Flinstone and even Bible-thumping Ned Flanders who were considered but just didn’t make the cut. But better to be on this boat than the other one – WORST DADS IN ALL OF HISTORY AND FILM! Sorry Jack Torrance, Darth Vader, Homer Simpson, Agamemnon, Victor Frankenstein and the Biblical Abraham. I realize that Father’s Day might’ve been awkward for you after you tried to axe your kid in half or just straight up abandoned him just because he was kind of ugly.
So! In no particular order…
#5 – Marlin from Finding Nemo
My heart really goes out to this dad who’s overly protective of his son for good reason (the rest of his 399 unborn children AND his wife were murdered by a Barracuda so…you can imagine). Marlin proves that he will go to any length to find his lost boy. Not only does he run into sharks, struggles with an Anglerfish in the deep sea and dodges hypnotic, zapping jellyfish…he does this all while dealing with a naïve and chatty Regal Tang with short-term memory loss. THEN he has to deal with the very likely possibility that he will be shaken to death by an overly-excited Darla and makes a traumatic escape out of the sink plug-hole (which in reality might not have worked because of the level of treatment water goes through before leading to the ocean). Wow, all this for a baby clownfish? Some dads won’t even change a diaper (cough…David Bowie…cough).
#4 – The Great Prince of the Forest from Bambi
Here’s a father who reminds me of my own – calm, very quiet and a little bit mysterious. He’s the oldest and most powerful stag in the forest and doesn’t make a real appearance until after Bambi’s mother is shot (a depressing scene we all remember too well that left us doe-eyed and maimed…pretty sure the five year old me was writhing on the floor, foaming at the mouth). There is a short scene before this where Bambi’s father arrives just in time to press Bambi and his mother out of the meadow before a hunter can shoot them (his first patriarchal performance). And even though he wasn’t really there for the first half of Bambi’s life, he was there when Bambi most needed him (telling him that “Your mother can’t be with you anymore”…a very chilling moment that gave me goosebumps as a kid). I imagine the father-son relationship must’ve been solemn but true (where they occasionally butted antlers for fun and told deer-jokes in hushed tones). At the end of the film, Faline (Bambi’s…wife?) gives birth to twin fawns, a boy and a girl. Bambi stands watch on a large hill, all proud and mighty, while the Great Prince silently turns and walks away, signaling the era of a new prince. Oh it’s all very magestic.
#3 – Popeye the Sailor Man
Here’s a fictional hero who you wouldn’t imagine as being the fatherly type, but low and behold Popeye is the foster father of Swee’Pea, an infant foundling left on his doorstep in a 1933 strip. According to Wiki: “Popeye adopts and raises (Swee’Pea) as his son, or, as he puts it “boy-kid.” Initially, Swee’Pea’s speech consisted entirely of the sound “glop”. As the years went on, Swee’Pea apparently aged enough to speak normally and could throw punches if necessary; however, his appearance remained that of a crawling baby. In the strip for August 17, 1933, Popeye christens Swee’Pea as ‘Scooner Seawell Georgia Washenting Christiffer Columbia Daniel Boom’. Although Swee’Pea remains his most common sobriquet, he is occasionally referred to as Scooner by Popeye.” To me, Popeye always seemed like the stereotypical “tough dad” with his grossly beefy forearms, anchor tattoos, mumbled speech and corncob pipe which he toots like a steamship’s whistle (so cool!) But the fact that he’s raising a kid not of his own blood makes him all the more admirable. And you know that when he feeds Swee’Pea a spoonful of spinach, it’s really coming from the heart.
#2 – Ward Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver
Okay, so he isn’t a cartoon character but he might as well be. Mr. Cleaver…you know he’s got a sense of humor for giving his son that nick name. My dad would always watch this show, every night without fail (I think he still does) and I thought the whole thing was very square at first. Set in a period where it’s perfectly normal for Ward and his wife to sleep in separate twin beds, Mr. Cleaver is a good-natured, understanding man who gives his sons moral instructions regarding their choices and behavior in pretty much every episode. Beaver always gets into some kind of a rut, whether it’s hiding a pet alligator in his room or getting a black eye and then getting lessons from his dad on how to defend himself. But now looking back, I really like Ward and June’s unruffled, pleasantly stern method of child rearing which of course reflected the whole iconic postwar American family dream (better than watching that angry mom beat her kids up in the cereal aisle eh?) Mr. Beaver always made a concerted effort to have conversations with his kids, sometimes at the dinner table or off to side, one on one. And we all know…communication is key!
#1 – MUFASA from the Lion King
This father needs no intro. He was so proud with the birth of his son that he had the entire animal kingdom bow down before him while he dangled Simba over the edge of a cliff (after the giant monkey slapped some goo on his forehead). As if to say “Look, me make baby, good work papa lion. Rawr.” And on a personal note, after seeing Mufasa I never thought Simba’s mane matched up to his father’s (it never looked as big and full…don’t you agree?) Mufasa not only teaches his son the delicate balance of all living things, talks to him about the fine line between bravery and arrogance, and warmly teaches Simba that the great kings of the past are always up in the stars, but he lays his life down for the little guy during a wildebeest stampede (does anyone see a trend in cartoon parent deaths? Mufasa, Bambi’s mom, Littlefoot’s mom…) Anyways, Mufasa is pretty much the most macho dad ever, voiced by a not-so-good dad from the space age. I find it impossible to say his name really fast without giggling like a hyena.