Disney is home to some of the most beloved characters in the realms of fiction, and that’s no understatement either. From princesses and pirates to heroes and villains alike, the artists, animators, and creative minds at the studio have been bringing imaginative characters to life for almost a century.
But where Disney’s creativity truly shines for some is their ability to create new beings, animals, and other brilliantly bizarre beasts from the imagination. There are loads of features, shows, and even Disney theme park attractions that have played host to a menagerie of gorgeously designed creature characters over the years.
Maleficent’s Dragon (Sleeping Beauty)
While there have been a whole horde of dragons introduced to the medium since Sleeping Beauty first premiered, there are few Disney dragons more recognizable than Maleficent’s final form. What makes it worth mentioning is how both Maleficent and her draconic transformation take use similar visual elements to stand out from other evil magic users.
A great deal of credit goes to the artist, Marc Davis, as it was his idea to incorporate the horns and flames into Maleficent’s humanoid design, making her less of an evil fairy and more of a sinister sorceress. The horns on her headdress, the spikes on her collar, and the green flame motifs are all seen making perfect transitions into the draconic form as if she was a dragon-in-waiting the entire time.
Bing-Bong (Inside Out)
Pixar has never had an issue coming up with new and creative characters for their animated adventures, but Inside Out took extra special attention to detail for the characters that live in Riley’s head. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear are all designed with creative purpose and intent, but it’s Riley’s imaginary friend that truly shows off the films attention to visual detail and development.
Psychology plays a huge role in the film, and especially so in its character designs. Case in point, Riley’s friend who likes to play, Bing-Bong. Bing-Bong is the amalgamation of everything a toddler could adore and be obsessed with. Part cat, part dolphin, part elephant, and mostly cotton candy, this lovable loaf is a colorful chimera of a child’s vivid imaginings.
The Trolls (Frozen)
While they’re certainly more lovable than the ones seen under bridges or in the caves of Middle-Earth, Pabbie and the rest of the trolls seen in the forests of Arendelle take more from mythology than some might think. In Norse folklore, rock and cave trolls like those seen in the movie are short, stumpy, and funny-looking creatures that tend to have more interactions with humans.
They also take a page from Tolkien’s work with their ability to turn to stone, but this is more of a disguise technique than a fatal flaw in their magic. Either way, it’s nice to see more animated fantasy trolls rather than ones with neon hair who sing pop songs.
The Backson (Winnie The Pooh)
Imagination is a wonderful thing, but sometimes it has the tendency to run rampant. The Backson might not be the most horrifying entity out there, just watch Winnie The Pooh‘s post-credits scene, but to the minds of Pooh, Piglet, Owl, and the rest of the Hundred Acre crew, he’s downright menacing.
To the viewer, the Backson is hardly a fright. To the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood, he’s the scariest thing their minds can fathom when it seems their friend Christopher Robin has disappeared. If anything else, the Backson is a fine representation of what can happen when imaginative people think together, much like the artists at Disney.
The Yeti (Expedition Everest)
Disney’s host of creative creatures doesn’t just stop at movies, the parks are also home to some of the most incredible creations thanks to the art of Disney Imagineering. One such example is the horrifying, and sometimes frozen, Yeti from Expedition Everest in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
The creature is massive and easily one of the most fearsome, drawing inspiration from various sources of cryptozoological folklore to create such an unforgettable character. The Yeti is one of the largest and most intense animatronics Disney has ever created, and it’s truly a testament to what the Imagineers can do.
Merlin’s Dragon (Disneyland Paris)
The Yeti isn’t the only incredible creature born from Disney Imagineering, across the pond lives a large and intimidating beast lying just beneath Cinderella’s castle in Disneyland Paris. Merlin’s Dragon, as she’s named, is an incredibly lifelike animatronic dragon that can interact with guests brave enough to enter her keep.
Taking a few cues from Maleficent, this scaly nightmare is the main feature of the Dragon’s Lair walkthrough attraction. From her classic draconian design to the way she moves and gnashes her teeth in true reptilian fashion, she’s truly one of the closest things Disney fans can experience to a true dragon encounter.
Harlequin Demon (The Nightmare Before Christmas)
Sometimes the most inventive creatures are those where it’s unknown exactly what they’re supposed to be. Case in point, the stripey and singing Harlequin Demon from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Anything with Tim Burton’s name attached is bound to be a feast for the eyes regardless, but this guy looks like the Picasso of Burton creatures.
Equipped with claws, feathers, fangs, and a trio of tendrils coming out his head, the Harlequin Demon is a delightful mishmash of monsters that could only call Halloween Town home. Despite his ghoulish appearance, he seems quite the fun-loving creature during the “Making Christmas” sequence.
Corey The Manticore (Onward)
If a fire-breathing winged lion with a scorpion’s tail isn’t considered an amazing creature, it’s hard telling what is. Manticores are one of the least-represented monsters in mythology, but leave it to Disney and Pixar to bring one to the big screen with an identity crisis and a whole lot of personality.
Corey the Manticore is one of Pixar’s most underrated side characters, bar none. Along with being one of the most enchanting creatures Ian and Barley encounter on their quest, she’s also a living representation of the film’s world. A proud adventurer trading in her quest for a nine-to-five lifestyle shows what happens when complacency is chosen over passion.
The Beast (Beauty And The Beast)
Of the classic Disney creatures, the Beast deserves some sort of award simply due to the fact that it took so many creative choices to get him right. Where most previous versions of the tale as old as time had the character resembling everything from a lion to a boar, Disney essentially decided to do anything and everything at once.
Based on the sketches by Glen Keane, he has the tusks of a boar, a lion’s mane, a gorilla’s brow, and a wolf’s haunches just to name a few. Thanks to this rainbow of different animals, fans have the Beast they fell in love with way back in the ’90s.
Dean Hardscrabble (Monsters University)
Where Bing-Bong might have been everything a young child would adore, Dean Hardscrabble from Monsters University is a concoction of everything they might be afraid of. While her posh and proper voice is provided by the legendary Helen Mirren, her fiendish form is a mixture of the monstrous and macabre.
Dragon wings, a scaly serpent-like lower body, and centipede legs are what made Hardscrabble one of the best scarers in the monster world, and it’s easy to see why. On a visual level, she’s naturally intimidating. But when that vision is paired with the unsettling noise of her flying screech or the sound of her legs crawling the floor, it becomes something all the more unsettling. She’s pretty scary for something from a colorful Pixar movie.
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