A Note of Recognition for…the Top 5 Fathers and Top 5 Father Figures in Animation
We had so much fun with the Top 5 Animated Mothers article for Mother’s Day that we decided that we had to do a follow-up for dads. Presented for your enjoyment are Toon Zone News’ opinionated picks for the top 5 animated dads in honor of Father’s Day, plus a collection of the top 5 animated father figures rather than the runner-up list provided the last time around for the top animated mothers article. In no particular order:
Finding Nemo (Disney/Pixar)
Voiced by Albert Brooks
Why: Nebbish, nerdish, neurotic, and wildly overprotective, Albert Brooks’ Marlin in Finding Nemo would be an easy character to dislike early on in the movie, if not for the terribly affecting opening sequence that neatly explains all his neurotic behaviors. Who wouldn’t be a bit overprotective after the loss of his wife and hundreds of eggs? At heart, Marlin wants safety and security for everybody (or at least his immediate circle of friends) and it’s hard to come down too hard on him for that.
He also has a wonderful story arc in a movie that is full of them, moving from a character frightened of the world to one willing to take on an entire ocean for the sake of his son. The true sign that you love someone is that you’re willing to change for them, so watching Marlin develop from a character driven by fear and paranoia into one driven by courage and trust is a wonderfully subtle way to communicate how much he truly loves Nemo.
(Yes, we could have gone with Mr. Incredible from The Incredibles, but we already picked Mrs. Incredible before and we hate to repeat ourselves.)
Professor Tatsuo Kusakabe
My Neighbor Totoro (Studio Ghibli)
Voiced by Shigesato Itoi (Japanese) and Tim Daly (English)
Why: In the average children’s animated work, when the kids claim to have met a big, furry, friendly imaginary monster in the forest, the parents take on a tone of either patronizing condescension (“Of COURSE, you saw a monster, dearie”) or open imagination-killing hostility (“You stop making up those silly stories right now, young lady!”). But not the father of Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro. Even though he is sometimes openly baffled by what his daughters are saying, he never, ever treats them with anything less than his full respect. Even though he never sees any of the magical creatures that seem to surround their countryside house, the good professor never seems to doubt his daughters or talk down to them.
This is even more praiseworthy when you consider that he has to cope with two boisterous, imaginative young girls, a wife in the hospital with tuberculosis, a move to the country, and a job at a far-away university. Despite whatever hardships life has thrown at him, he keeps his sunny disposition and an open mind to everything, which is something we should all aspire to.
Plus, if you squint and listen to the current English dub, you can pretend that he’s some kind of alternate universe Japanese version of Superman.
101 Dalmatians (Disney)
Voiced by Rod Taylor
Why: As with the Top Animated Mothers article, exploring the works of Walt Disney yields some pretty slim pickings as far as positive parental role models go. If you get a father at all, they are often well-meaning but largely ineffectual and buffoonish characters, as seen with Mr. Dr. Possible from Kim Possible, the patriarch of the Proud Family, Belle’s absent-minded father from Beauty and the Beast, or the Sultan in Aladdin. At worst, you get characters who are antagonists to their children, such as King Triton in The Little Mermaid.
However, there’s one dad truly worth the title in the Disney animated film canon and that’s Pongo, the brave dalmatian in 101 Dalmatians. He and his equally valiant wife Perdita take the pernicious Cruella De Vil and her cronies to save their puppies and a few more that happened to be around. Along the way, he suffers all manner of challenges and hardships, but still saves the day in the end. He may not have quite the same character development as Marlin in Finding Nemo, but the same fatherly concern for the kids is unmistakably there.
The Lion King‘s Mufasa fits many of the same characteristics, and could just as easily take Pongo’s place, but the dog beats the lion because Pongo gets to do a whole lot more in his movie than Mufasa does in his.
Sylvester the Cat
The Hippety Hopper Cartoons (Warner Brothers)
Voiced by Mel Blanc
Why: Another mark of a true father is in the willingness to sacrifice for one’s children so that they may have it better than you did. All fathers want to pass on what they know to their children, especially their sons. Sylvester the Cat’s better known role as the puddy tat in perpetual pursuit of Tweety means he’s often overlooked in the Looney Tunes shorts where he is trying to tutor his son Junior in the ways of being a cat.
He means well, of course, even though he often ends up demonstrating his own incompetence or his complete ineffectuality in the face of, say, a baby boxing kangaroo mistaken for an enormous mouse (such as in “Pop ‘Im Pop”). Still, despite his frequent pratfalls, failures, and humiliations, Sylvester continues to soldier on for his son, who is usually kind enough to look the other way so as to avoid wrecking the perception his father’s omniscience, no matter how misguided it might be.
The Herculoids (Hanna-Barbera Studios)
Voiced by Mike Road
Why: A more conventional choice from the Hanna-Barbera studios would have been Fred Flintstone or George Jetson. However, as a rule I think that “conventional” is highly overrated, so I’m going with this Conan-like ruler of a savage planet instead. If nothing else, you have to admit that he’s terrific for any little boy’s wish-fulfillment fantasies. He may be a king, but he doesn’t have to deal with the usual royal nonsense because of the perpetual struggle for survival on the planet Quasar. At his side is the totally hot mom and mistress of the slingshot Queen Tara and his mostly hostage-bait son Dorno, and five seriously weird-ass friends: Zok the dragon, Igoo the rock gorilla, Tundro the multi-legged rhino thing, and Gloop and Gleep the sentient shapeshifting blobs.
Even in the relatively brief Herculoids shorts, you get the sense that Zok, Igoo, Tundro, and the Shmoo wannabes are indeed King Zandor’s friends, not his subjects or his servants, and it must take some heavy-duty natural leadership chops to keep such a disparate band together and on the same side. As much as we may love Fred and George, all they can manage is to repeatedly screw up their assorted plans to get rick quick or deceive their spouses. King Zandor can meet aliens, get taken in by them due to his generous nature, plan a rescue, and pull it off in about half the time. As a dad, Zandor rules.
Top 5 Father Figures
While not really fathers, there are characters that serve as parental surrogates to the leading characters. So, rather than focus on the ones who didn’t make the cut, we’ve picked some of the best father figures in animation to round out our list.
Avatar: The Last Airbender (Nickelodeon)
Voiced by Mako
Why: Witty, wily, wacky, and wiser than he usually lets on, Uncle Iroh of Avatar the Last Airbender is one of the greatest characters in modern animation. He also tries his best to serve as mentor and guardian to the headstrong Prince Zuko, maintaining his patience and sympathy even when Zuko totally doesn’t deserve it. Perhaps it was the loss of his beloved son Lu Ten or the bits of himself he sees in his nephew, but Uncle Iroh never gives up on Zuko and truly has his best interests at heart.
This isn’t to suggest that he’s just some old softie, though. Push him into a corner and you’ll find out exactly what the Dragon of the West is capable of. There’s steel behind the tenderness, and characters who underestimate Iroh never come out ahead in the end.
Professor Charles Xavier
X-Men Evolution (Film Roman/Marvel)
Voiced by David Kaye
Dr. Kozaburo Nambu
Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (Tatsunoko Productions)
Voiced by Oohira Tohru
Why: Take a batch of orphaned kids and teach them to use their innate abilities in the name of protecting the innocent. It’s a wonderful formula for cartoons that also happens to lend itself to creating great father figures like X-Men Evolution‘s Professor X and Gatchaman‘s Dr. Nambu. Professor X remains the eternal optimist, hoping against all evidence that humans and mutants will learn to live in peace, while Dr. Nambu organizes his team of teenagers to protect the world against the sinister forces of Galactor.
If there is any mark to how successful these father figures are at raising and training their charges, it’s that their respective teams both managed to do just fine when, for one reason or another, the father figure was lost to them and they were on their own. Someday, all fathers have to let their children fly on their own, and it’s always a bittersweet moment to see that they can manage it.
Jackie Chan Adventures (Adelaide Productions/Columbia TriStar)
Voiced by Sab Shimono
Why: He’s abrasive, rude, grumpy, and apparently smells funny. He’s also a good Chi wizard and has to put up with a slightly bumbling nephew and the nephew’s bratty, trouble-prone niece. The delightfully crotchety Uncle is a reliable source of exposition and a “Yu Mo Gwai Gui Fai Di Zao” at just the right time to banish demons and make good Chi magic. If not for Professor X and Dr. Nambu, Uncle would top the list because of the number of people he is a father figure for — in addition to Jackie, he also has to mentor and scold Jade and the man-mountain Tohru.
Don’t think so? You need to do more reeeee-search!! How can you turn him down after seeing how funky Uncle was back in the 70’s?
Roger “Race” Bannon
Jonny Quest (Hanna-Barbera)
Voiced by Mike Road
Why: Jonny Quest is the ultimate show for boys who haven’t hit puberty and still think that girls are yucky. It’s a perfect combination of high adventure, monsters, pirates, and chases with no prominent female figures anywhere in sight. So Jonny and his adopted brother Hadji get not one but two father figures in the form of Dr. Benton Quest and bodyguard/driver/confidant/whatever Roger “Race” Bannon.
Dr. Quest very nearly took a spot on the Top 5 Animated Fathers list, but if you think about it a bit, he’s really not a very good father. While he seems to be independently wealthy and doesn’t seem to deprive Jonny or Hadji of anything (except maybe different outfits), he also hauls his kids all around the world to follow him instead of putting them in school, and then leaves them entirely unattended to let them get into more trouble than they can handle on their own. Social services would have been all over him.
Race, on the other hand, is the cool uncle every kid wishes they had — nice to the kids and a terror to anybody who means them harm. He can fly anything with wings and drive anything on wheels, and knows about 17 different ways to pound the living crap out of the bad guys. Sorry, Dr. Quest, but Race makes a much better father figure than you do as a father. It’s kind of hard to look at the extended Quest clan the same way in the wake of The Venture Bros (Race Bannon substitute Brock Samson very nearly took this spot instead, for mostly the same reasons), but sometimes you have to go with the originals.
So there’s our incomplete list of fathers and father figures. All of us at Toon Zone News wish all our readers a happy Father’s Day!