9 Great Surprise Checks From Disney

Who let these guys in?

(Why not the top 10? Because everybody argues about it. What should be there, what doesn’t deserve it, why #6 should be #1, and on and on. Taste is a funny thing, and arguing about trivia on the internet is pointless. So to make this easier for everyone here’s nine instead, in no particular order. You decide which one I’ve missed, put them in whatever order you feel is right for you, and debate with your co-workers at the water cooler.)

Disney is never far from the headlines nowadays. They could be opening or closing a park. They could be opening or closing a movie. They could be starting or killing a franchise (*cough*GinaCarano*cough*). Regardless, Disney is an inescapable force at this point. 

The omnipresence of Disney means something fun if you drill into the workings of Hollywood. Sooner or later, everybody gets a check from (which is to say ends up working for) Disney. You can almost play it like the Kevin Bacon game: what project scored this entertainer a check from Disney? That might be direct, like in an animated feature. Or it could be in a project done by a Disney arm of some sort (Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Touchstone, Hollywood Pictures, ABC, etc.). But somehow, some way, everybody who’s anybody in Hollywood eventually ends up dipping their beak in the Mouse’s accounts. 

Some of them are surprising, because they probably have no business being around kids. Not that they’re physically dangerous, mind you. This is not an Epstein Island list. But some entertainers who’ve swung a check from Disney are entertainers whose “typical” work is not what you might call family friendly. Let’s consider a few.

Don RicklesToy Story

An old-school borscht-belt insult comic, Rickles is famous for some of the most outrageous jokes you’ll ever hear. When this guy took the mic you were going to hear something manically offensive, typically along racial lines. This is the guy who once roasted Sammy Davis with, “we need black people--the Jews will never make up the trains.” He’d never get away with it today. But decades ago, he was brutally hilarious. Putting him in Toy Story was an act of mad genius. Rickles’ style was all rapid-fire punchline. He had the Robin Williams-esque ability to riff his dialogue. And he turned Mr. Potato Head into the wisecracking all-punchline mainstay of the toy crew. 

Bobcat GoldthwaitHercules

This is all voice. Admittedly, most of this list is all voice; these are people with recognizable voices. Goldthwait’s trademark whine was at the top of the list in the 1990s. Goldthwait always felt like he was on the tail end of a massive amphetamine bender and could have a complete meltdown at any moment. He blinked hard, grabbed his head, stumbled around the stage--his performances were always right on the edge. And his voice, that ever-cracking half-falsetto, was uniquely hypnotic. As Pain, one of the pair of comic relief sidekicks of Hades (voiced by the unsurpassed James Woods), he was flawless, exactly the right tone and touch for a simpering stooge serving the lord of the underworld. 

Louis Prima - The Jungle Book

Modern audiences don’t really know Louis Prima. A smooth-swinging Italian jazzman from the late 50s/early 60s, he hit the scene just a few years too early to be part of what would turn into the Dave Brubeck/Rat Pack era, but he was still absurdly (and very adult-ly) cool. This is the dude who turned “Just a Gigolo” into a huge hit in 1956. Yeah, he’s that kind of swinging cat. If you know who Prima is, Jungle Book’s King Louie turns into a sinful pied piper. He may want fire from Mowgli, but only so he can smoke dope and get laid. There’s no telling where the man-cub will end up once Louie’s got what he wants, and the kid’s friends have good reason to get him the heck out of there.  

Bill Burr  - The Mandalorian

One might argue that Bill Burr is the current iteration of Don Rickles--a white comic unafraid to go face first into social taboos to mine the humor. This is a guy who has bits about when it’s okay to hit a woman and how slavery inadvertently created black superstar athletes. Burr’s biting sarcasm and acidic profanity make him just about as NSFW as it gets. As Migs Mayfeld, Burr is the source of Easter egg fanservice disses about things Star Wars fans love to mock (Stormtroopers, Canto Bight, Gungans, etc.). He gets to engage in edgy veiled meta insults and pack around a third blaster on a robot arm. On anybody else, it would be a little silly. But Burr is so devil-may-care it works.   

Keith David - The Princess and the Frog 

It’s tempting to go with Emeril Lagasse in this movie, because that’s just so out of left field it’s hard to describe. But Keith David is way more fun. Keith David is a genre stalwart--the kind of guy who’s in another direct-to-video action or sci-fi flick every other year. He was the other guy in They Live. Yeah, the black one that wasn’t Roddy Piper, who did that 20-minute ridiculous fight scene with him. The point is, Keith David is a guy who just doesn’t care what you think about him. He’s doing his thing, and if you don’t like it he’s got no time for you. And you know who else doesn’t care what people think about him? Doctor Facilier. He’s got friends on the other side. What do you matter? 

Cheech MarinOliver and Company

There are a lot of people out there who beef about cultural representation in movies, and stereotype portrayals, and one-note sidekick disrespect. But you know what? If you aren’t part of that group, who cares what you think? Cheech Marin sure doesn’t seem to. He is a mythic figure, the Platonic Ideal of the SoCal Chicano Stoner. It’s a stereotype he has embraced his entire career. Is he actually like that? No. In fact, he’s an art collector and philanthropist (he’s working on endowing his own museum of Chicano art), and all-around cool guy. But you know you love “Mexican Americans” just as much as everybody else. Oliver and Company was largely garbage, but Tito was a bright spot. 

Scatman Crothers - The Aristocats

There are people in the world who don’t seem like people. They are elemental forces, beings who exist outside of normal space, time, and social order. People so uniquely cool they don’t need any backstory. They exist in a perpetual now, transcendently timeless. Scatman Crothers was one of those people. He’s unmistakable as Scat Cat, even if he was brought in at the last minute to replace an ailing Louis Armstrong (who would totally have been on this list otherwise). Crothers lent The Aristocats a streetwise verite it would have otherwise lacked. RIP, Scatman. 

Gilbert Gottfried - Aladdin

In the 1970s things got weird for Disney. In the 1980s things got bleak. It was easy to believe Disney had reached the end of its creative life. But then in 1989 the house of mouse dropped The Little Mermaid, and the magic came roaring back. Into the 1990s Disney took some huge risks and they paid off huge, with Aladdin a massive hit right in the middle of that wave. Gottfried’s Iago is a great example of the go-for-broke risk-taking Disney was engaging in. Gottfried was a gimmick comic with a late-night camp vibe who gave us the “You Fool” sequence on Hollywood Squares. This is not a guy you want around kids. But then, neither is Iago.  

Larry the Cable GuyCars

I don’t care who you are, Larry the Cable Guy is funny. He’s got something for everyone. The central conceit of the persona, the tubby redneck with his sleeves tore off and his butttcrack hangin’ out and his so-dirty-it’s-got-its-own-ecosystem ballcap, is funny on many levels to many people. However, he’s also a little crude. It’s part of the package. He’s not vulgar, but he’s not a kid-show first choice. He’s the weird uncle you don’t trust with your kids because you know he’ll start talking about his navy days and that one time at this Indonesian brothel. Until Mater, anyway. Nothing could have polished Larry the Cable Guy into a family-friendly act faster or more thoroughly than voicing a beloved sidekick in a monster-hit of a movie.