Disney’s 7 Best Eco Heroes and 7 Worst Climate Villains

The Eco Experts

Moana is our top eco hero

The worst climate villain is Governor Ratcliffe from Pocahontas

Our researchers spent countless hours investigating Disney films

We’ve combed through Disney’s many dozens of films to find the heroes and villains that our climate-threatened times deserve.

These are the characters who do everything in their power to either protect nature and help it thrive, or destroy it for their own selfish reasons.

There will, naturally, be spoilers for several Disney films.

If you’re hoping against hope that your favourite character is featured among the heroes, it’s time to wish upon a star and find out.

Disney’s 7 best eco heroes

1. Moana
2. WALL-E and EVE
3. Pocahontas
4. Elsa
5. Cody
6. Anita and Roger
7. Simba

moana from disney film moana, against a blue sky and sea

Moana restores nature to its best state (Disney)

1. Moana (Moana)

Moana is easily Disney’s best eco hero, restoring the heart of nature goddess Te Fiti to revive her dying island and make the ocean safe to travel on again.

The 16-year-old has to overcome the resistance of her people and – initially – demi-god Maui to complete this quest, just like the many climate activists who struggle to be taken seriously.

And after Moana realises that vengeful lava demon Te Kā is actually Te Fiti without her heart, she bravely tells the ocean to let the giant deity come to her, and meets Te Kā’s aggression with courage, kindness, and literal heart.

She’s not even born with the power to commune with the ocean; she gains the privilege by saving a turtle from predators. Moana, you’re our hero.

2. WALL-E and EVE (WALL-E)

WALL-E and EVE find and use the plant that enables humanity to retake its place on Earth and help the planet to flourish once again.

Throughout the latter part of the film, WALL-E and EVE repeatedly have to save each other and a fragile plant.

They’re fighting for love – a human characteristic that the people on board the Axiom starliner have lost – and keeping the plant safe becomes a crucial part of this battle, just as saving the climate is a vital part of protecting each other in the real world.

They succeed, and help the inhabitants of the Axiom to turn the Earth green again, finally reversing the destruction caused by the rampant capitalism of Buy n Large.

3. Pocahontas (Pocahontas)

Pocahontas stands as the protector of nature and humanity, in the face of the English invaders’ rampant colonialism and capitalism.

The chief’s daughter correctly accuses John Smith of thinking “the Earth is just a dead thing you can claim,” and teaches him that humans should live in harmony with nature and each other.

She proceeds to save John’s life, prevent war, and stop the terrible mining operation started by the English.

4. Elsa (Frozen)

Bear with us here.

Because sure, Elsa accidentally plunges Arendelle into an icy winter in July – but only for a few days, or a week at most. The humans and animals there would have been fine for that long.

And since she clearly only freezes the top of the lake as she runs across it, the fish underneath will also continue as normal.

Once she’s free to use her snow and ice powers – to be “one with the wind and sky” – she becomes a force of nature, and a constructive one at that.

Elsa forms a bridge and a massive palace out of natural resources, making her the most sustainable builder we’ve ever seen – and she even creates life, turning a pile of snow into a living, breathing creature called Olaf.

cody from a disney film called the rescuers down under, being held by an eagle's talons

Cody protects animals, no matter the danger (Disney)

5. Cody (The Rescuers Down Under)

This small Australian child spends his days saving animals who’ve been caught in poachers’ traps, so he’s already a hero at the beginning of the film.

He’s captured by a poacher – Percival C. McLeach – but refuses to reveal the location of the golden eagle he wants to trap and sell despite McLeach trying to torture the information out of him.

He ignores the ongoing threat of violence by attempting to free the animals that McLeach keeps him trapped with.

At the end of the film, the Rescuers twice foil McLeach’s plans to kill Cody, then free the golden eagle, who saves Cody. The child’s love of animals is thus repaid.

6. Anita and Roger (One Hundred and One Dalmatians)

Roger and Anita repeatedly refuse to sell their dalmatians to Cruella De Vil, despite her offering twice as much as they’re worth.

They stop her from turning them into a coat initially, and then when Pongo, Perdita, and London’s dogs free them from Cruella’s clutches at the end of the film, they realise they have 101 dogs.

Like the animal-loving heroes they are, they decide to move to a bigger house in the country so they can keep all of them in a safe, warm home.

7. Simba (The Lion King)

Simba leads the way towards a more environmentally friendly world by embracing sustainable eating.

Despite his initial reluctance, he’s convinced by Timon and Pumbaa to try a grub, and discovers that bugs are a tasty, plentiful source of nutrients.

By making this choice and continuing to do so into adulthood, Simba shows there are meaningful alternatives to our current overbreeding and overconsumption of animals.

If kids and adults can accept that bugs could be a food source – which is true – they’re likely to also accept vegetarian or vegan food as legitimate choices. Simba is a role model.

governor john ratcliffe in pocahontas

Ratcliffe: lucky not to be flayed (Disney)

1. Governor John Ratcliffe (Pocahontas)

Ratcliffe doesn’t care for nature or the Native Americans who protect it; he just wants the gold he thinks lies beneath, to burnish his reputation.

His racism and greed leads him to paranoia, warmongering, and attempted murder, until his compatriots eventually get fed up and ship him back to England.

He calls the area’s inhabitants “bloodthirsty savages” who are “barely even human” and dismisses his attendant Wiggins’ observation that “we invaded their land and cut down their trees and dug up their earth,” instead concluding that they’re hoarding the gold he wants.

“I’ll just have to take it by force then, won’t I?” Ratcliffe concludes.

He’s a product of his society, but unlike the film’s other colonists, he doesn’t change his behaviour when faced with peaceful Native Americans or the beauty of nature.

The actual John Radcliffe was flayed. His on-screen counterpart is lucky not to receive the same fate.

2. Cruella De Vil (One Hundred and One Dalmatians)

Cruella wants to kill dozens and dozens of dogs to make some coats – a barely exaggerated satire of humanity’s desperation to destroy nature to feed its superficial, superfluous desires.

For someone with no superpowers apart from wealth, she’s about as villainous as you can be towards the natural world, with her love of fur, smoking, and driving in the most gas-guzzling style.

She hires henchmen to steal 15 puppies away from their loving parents and owners, to go with the 84 she’s already keeping in her home and wants to turn into clothes.

When the henchmen ask how they’re meant to kill the dogs, she says: “Poison them, drown them, bash them in the head. You got any chloroform?”

She adds: “I don’t care how you kill the little beasts, but do it, and do it now!” Cruella displays disgust for all humans and animals she meets in the film, and calls fur “my only true love.”

3. Clayton (Tarzan)

Clayton secretly plans to kidnap gorillas and sell them to a zoo. He provides an alternate version of the man Tarzan could be, which he ultimately rejects.

The poacher views animals as a commodity to be exploited, dominated, and disposed of when humans feel like it, as shown by his attempted murder of gorilla leader Kerchak.

Clayton, like Ratcliffe, is the personification of western colonists’ predatory pillaging. His greedy attack on the natural world leads to his death, as he’s symbolically hanged by a vine while still trying to destroy nature.

4. Scar (The Lion King)

Scar drops Mufasa to his death and upsets the circle of life to suit his selfish, power-hungry desires.

It’s not just that he murders his way to the throne; he also lets the hyenas loose on the local ecosystem. They predictably react by overhunting, which thrusts the pride into famine.

The lesson is clear: if you change the natural setup, it’ll have unintended consequences – so be careful, and act with pure intentions.

Henry J. Waternoose III from disney film Monsters, Inc. facing the viewer

This monster would rather kidnap kids than give up a fuel that hurts people (Disney)

5. Henry J. Waternoose III (Monsters, Inc.)

At its heart, Monsters, Inc. is about the destructiveness of a long-established fuel, and the many positive reasons for switching to sustainable energy sources.

Laughter is 10 times more powerful than screams and doesn’t traumatise children, who aren’t toxic beings and shouldn’t be exploited.

At the head of this clear analogy for the way fossil fuel corporations affect society and the planet is Monsters, Inc. CEO Henry J. Waternoose III, who ends the film by yelling: “I’ll kidnap a thousand children before I let this company die, and I’ll silence anyone who gets in my way!”

Waternoose has plenty of real-life equivalents in the fossil fuel industry, like the folks at Exxon who knew in the 1970s how disastrous climate change would be, but spent the next decades trashing such claims in public.

We still have to fight back against people like Waternoose, who try to protest that oil and coal remain necessary – because just as there was no need to rely on children’s screams, there’s also no need for fossil fuels anymore.

6. Percival C. McLeach (The Rescuers Down Under)

McLeach is a poacher who knows the animals that surround him are sentient, which is already evil enough to justify his place on this list.

He hunts rare animals, threatening the continued existence of those species, and seems to take enormous, sadistic pleasure out of this pursuit.

McLeach also tries to kill Cody, a small boy who’s just trying to protect the great golden eagle Marahute, by lowering him into crocodile-infested waters.

As with Clayton, his opposition to nature ultimately kills him – in this case, he’s swept off the edge of a waterfall, thanks to the mice who make up the Rescuers and some crocodiles – with his gun and other pieces of technology rendered useless.

7. Sir Miles Axlerod (Cars 2)

Out of this bizarre spy/sports comedy comes Sir Miles Axlerod, an oil baron who isn’t content to simply enjoy his riches.

Instead, he creates an eco-friendly fuel that combusts when hit by an electromagnetic pulse, and then arranges for that mishap to occur during the World Grand Prix he organises – all as a ploy to turn the world against green energy.

The fifth British villain on this list is a depiction of the fossil fuel industry’s panicked efforts to deceive the world so it can continue exploiting people and the natural world for financial gain.

Written by:
josh jackman
Josh has written about eco-friendly home improvements and climate change for the past four years. His work has been displayed on the front page of the Financial Times, he's been interviewed by BBC One's Rip-Off Britain, and he regularly features in The Telegraph and on BBC Radio.
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