The Fifty Greatest American Animated Characters

We all love animation, whether American, Japanese, or otherwise. (And if you don't, then I don't like you anyway. So there!) What follows is an extremely subjective list of the greatest American animated characters in history. I also have a Japanese list, which can be found here. Although you will probably disagree with a few most of the rankings, I hope you will enjoy the list.

A couple of notes regarding eligibility for the list: First, this is specifically animated characters. Comic book and comic strip characters are excluded, although their animated adaptations are of course eligible (without regard to the originals). Puppet characters are likewise excluded. Second, I limited the roster to one listing per title, though I occasionally bent that rule. Basically, any two characters who appeared together regularly either must be a single item, or cannot both appear. So that will probably explain a few notable exclusions.

Also, please note that the debut year listed specifically refers to the character's earliest widely-distributed appearance in an animated format, and does not necessarily refer to the best-known incarnation of the character. Thus, different debut years may be valid for some characters.


Name: Goliath
Primary Voice: Keith David
Title: Gargoyles
Debut: 1994

Goliath was a little darker than most American animated heroes. He was quite literally a gothic character, who had endured nightmares and curses that would have destroyed mere humans. Yet he did not fall into the emo trap that so many darker characters do; he remained warm and compassionate, and always held true to his morals.


Name: Jonny Quest
Primary Voice: Tim Matheson
Title: Jonny Quest
Debut: 1964

Did you ever notice that it's usually the kids, not their adult guardians, who manage to find the trouble? The same held true with JQ, but with a twist: it wasn't the adults who had to resolve it. Jonny's spirit made him the model for decades of animated kid adventurers, while his wide array of skills helped keep the escapades from being boring or preposterous.


Name: Bob Parr / Mr. Incredible
Primary Voice: Craig T. Nelson
Title: The Incredibles
Debut: 2004

Most superheroes are either clearly heroic (Superman was only disguised as Clark Kent) or somehow tortured (Spider-Man's nonstop problems or Batman's brooding.) But Mr. Incredible gave us a new version: a superhero who wasn't allowed to do the one thing that made him special. It was his desire to be something more - to be himself - that drove the plot of the movie. His name may mean "average," but as any golfer can tell you, par is damn good.


Name: Rainbow Brite
Primary Voice: Bettina Bush
Title: Rainbow Brite
Debut: 1984

Rainbow Brite, née Wisp, wasn't precisely the best choice to teach kids about photodynamics. Nonetheless, she was sweet and colorful (pun intended), and happily invited children to share in her world. I suspect there were more than a few boys who refused to admit to being loyal fans of the princess.


Name: Abigail "Abby" Lincoln / Numbuh Five
Primary Voice: Cree Summer
Title: Codename: Kids Next Door
Debut: 2002

Remember the show Happy Days? Remember how Fonzie wasn't the focus (at least not until later), but he was just so cool that you didn't much care about anyone else? That's Numbuh Five. Always calm and collected, and one of the most skilled operatives, she made everyone else look like, well, a bunch of kids.


Name: Baloo
Primary Voice: Phil Harris
Title: The Jungle Book
Debut: 1967

The main character of The Jungle Book, Mowgli, didn't talk. But Baloo made up for it. It wasn't mindless babble, though, as he taught the man-cub how to kick back and relax, and only worry about the "bear necessities."


Name: Angelica Pickles
Primary Voice: Cheryl Chase
Title: Rugrats
Debut: 1991

It is a long-held truism of fiction writing that brats are more interesting than good kids. Given that, how could Angelica have been anything other than the most popular Rugrat? In some episodes, she caused the problem; in others, she was the problem. Yet somehow, she never made herself despicable. We always wanted to see more of her - just so long as she got her comeuppance in the end.


Name: Felix the Cat
Primary Voice: none
Title: cartoons by Pat Sullivan
Debut: 1919

The world's first major cartoon star, and easily the greatest animated character of the silent-film era, Felix remains highly recognizable over ninety years later. The surrealism and absurdity of his early cartoons went a long way toward establishing the visual potential of the young medium. Even his trademark pacing continues to be emulated today.


Name: Homer Simpson
Primary Voice: Dan Castellaneta
Title: The Simpsons
Debut: 1987

Back in the '80's and earlier, cartoon parents were always positive figures, if sometimes a bit clueless. Homer was a social worker's nightmare - and completely clueless. He only taught lessons by (bad) example, and the concept of self-sacrifice never even seemed to enter into his limited mind. As for his professional ability, the less said, the more accurate. Yet despite this - or more likely because of it - he has inspired multiple generations to laugh, and has made creator Matt Groening plenty of "D'oh!"


Name: Red & Yellow
Primary Voice: Billy West & J.K. Simmons
Title: commercials for M&M's candies
Debut: 1995

The first of three advertising mascots on this list. A fairly typical buddy combo, Red was the would-be slick, streetwise one, while Yellow was the slow, good-hearted one. Their commercials featured them playing off each other, the other colors, and various celebrities, and they even showed us the one thing that would actually shock Santa. And they're chocolate!

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