Ordinarily, I wouldn’t overtly wax political on this site, but as I write this, we are going through a global crisis of corruption, racial tension, violence, and many other troubling things; these difficult times have partly come about by leaders who pursue exploiting their power at the expense of the public good. Naturally, people are standing up and fighting to help change things. In these troubled times, it is tempting to look to the world leaders of the past for inspiration and wonder how they would handle the current situation. Of course, the world of fiction–particularly through the lens of animation–is equally replete with role models of leadership. So, I think it appropriate to share with you the six animated characters from whom leaders in the real world could most stand to learn.
6. Wahunsenacah (Pocahontas)
The historical Wahunsenacah is best remembered as a competent military commander, but he was also a pragmatist; he was shrewd and far-sighted enough to make sure that both his people and others they met–whether they were neighboring Indigenous nations, or British invaders–could avoid bloodshed, whenever possible. His animated counterpart shares these traits, initially sending scouts to spy on the British rather than attacking them outright; only when the white colonists jump to conclusions and take arms against the Natives, resulting in the injury of Namontac and the death of Kocoum, does he decide to fight back, and then only in defense of his people and what they hold dear. Crucially, in an exchange with Pocahontas close to the climax, Wahunsenacah makes it clear that he wants to reach a more peaceful resolution just as much as she does (which they ultimately do, thanks to her timely intervention), but he is well aware that a good leader needs to carefully consider all available options.
5. Elinor (Brave)
While her husband Fergus is nominally the head honcho of Clan DunBroch (and, presumably, all of Scotland), it’s pretty obvious that Elinor is the real power behind the throne: It is she who keeps the peace between the clans, preventing war from breaking out on account of the men’s volatile temperaments. In addition, she well understands the value of history and tradition and tries to instill this in Merida. At first, this sets them at odds, as Elinor’s ideas of what a queen should be clash with her daughter’s desire to make her own choices, but Merida eventually realizes the importance of her mother’s teachings and puts them to effective use when the clan patriarchs are ready to kill each other. Elinor is the quintessential diplomat, and she always keeps one eye set on the future.
4. Aladar (Dinosaur)
What makes Aladar a great role model is the fact that he always sticks up for the underdog. After a meteor strike destroys their island home, he and his lemur family depend on one another for survival, and try to make sure that the older, slower members of the herd are not left behind. Naturally, this puts him at odds with the Darwinian-minded Kron, but his compassion strikes a chord with Neera, who begins to doubt whether “survival of the fittest” is the best way; as Aladar tells her, “[If] we watch out for each other, we all stand a better chance of getting to the Nesting Grounds.”
3. Moses (The Prince of Egypt)
As I’ve said before, what sets The Prince of Egypt apart from other adaptations of religious stories is that it humanizes its central characters. Moses starts out the movie as a brash, devil-may-care prince who doesn’t need to deal with all of the pressures of ruling Egypt and so enjoys more free rein than Ramses does. After discovering his true heritage, however, he undergoes a major paradigm shift, and he dedicates himself to securing his people’s freedom from bondage. All the while, he is conscious of the fact that he stands to lose the man he loved as a brother, and innocent people will bear the brunt of the consequences; nonetheless, under the circumstances, he must put aside his feelings. This is what makes Moses a great leader: He makes sacrifices for the greater good, and when people’s well-being is at stake, he doesn’t take “no” for an answer.
2. Goliath (Gargoyles)
After awakening in the 20th century, Goliath initially struggles to reconcile his medieval worldview with the realities of modern society, but with the help of his new human friend Elisa Maza, he comes to realize that if his clan is to survive, they will need to adapt their ways to suit their new surroundings; as the world changes, people must change, too. In addition, he takes the time to listen to others’ opinions and invariably elects to be the bigger man in a conflict. Above all else, Goliath maintains a high moral standard, adhering firmly to the central pillar of the gargoyle code: Protect those who can’t protect themselves. This is what makes us connect with him as a character; Goliath may look like a monster (and have the temper to match), but at his core, he is a true mensch.
1. Mufasa (The Lion King)
Like the other leaders on this list, Mufasa is wise, compassionate, tactful, strong, and morally unimpeachable; he also understands that being king is not an excuse to get whatever he wants, but an obligation to the best interests of both the pride and all the other animals. And perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t try to force-feed the message of responsibility to the naive and idealistic Simba–instead, he explains it to his son with utmost patience, encouraging him to stick to the straight and narrow path so that he can become a king to be proud of. (Clearly, Mufasa himself took such lessons to heart as a cub; more’s the pity, then, that Scar never learned.)
What do you think of this list? Is there another animated character who defines true leadership?
This is a user-submitted post by Jordan Hashemi-Briskin.
Edited by: Kelly Conley