12 Hero’s Journey Examples in Disney Movies

Looking for the hero’s journey examples in Disney movies? Discover our guide with our top picks!

The hero’s journey is a narrative structure that’s been used in literature for thousands of years. This structure and its inherent stages are discussed in the seminal work by Joseph Cambell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Checking out the best Disney movies can be helpful when writing essays about movies.

The hero’s journey structure can be identified in movies, too, and those from the Disney studio are no exception. Below you’ll find our selection of the top twelve Disney films that follow this distinctive pattern. And once you recognize the structure, you might start to spot it everywhere!

Here Are The Best Hero’s Journey Examples in Disney Movies

1. The Lion King

The Lion King is a much-loved Disney movie released in 1994. It follows a clear hero’s journey narrative structure. Simba’s Ordinary World is the Pride Lands, where he was born and lives with his family. We learn how important it is to him to grow to be as strong and competent as his father, Mufasa, who he will one day succeed as king.

Simba’s story progresses through all the stages of the hero’s journey. From the Call to Adventure, where Simba is encouraged to visit the elephant graveyard by his uncle Scar, to The Reward, which sees the young protagonist lose his self-doubt, the one thing holding him back from becoming a hero. Finally, the Return with the Elixir. Simba, taking up his father’s crown, restores his kingdom. His journey has healed both himself and the Pride Lands.

2. Mulan

Mulan is another Disney movie in which the hero’s journey is clearly evident. A couple of stages are particularly clear. Encountering Mushu the dragon is a comedic rendering of The Meeting of the Mentor part of the hero’s journey. At the same time, The Road Back is Mulan’s physical race against time as she dashes home to warn Shang of the Huns’ plan to storm the palace.

Mulan [Region 2]
  • Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, BD Wong (Actors)
  • Barry Cook (Director) - Alan Ormsby (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: G (General Audience)

3. Hercules

Pretty much the epitome of the hero’s journey, Hercules is a Disney classic from 1997 that literally follows a hero’s journey! While it departs a fair way from the twelve labors tale of the original legend, it still sticks to Joseph Campbell’s monomyth structure. Even the Crossing the First Threshold stage is clearly delineated, with Hercules engaging in a little warm-up roundhousing with a centaur to save Meg.

Hercules
  • Tate Donovan, Susan Egan, James Woods (Actors)
  • John Musker (Director) - Bob Shaw (Writer)
  • English, English (Subtitles)
  • Audience Rating: G (General Audience)

4. Aladdin

Hero’s journey examples in Disney movies: Aladdin
The title character of Aladdin begins life in Agrabah as a ‘street rat’

The hero’s journey can be simplified into three key stages: Departure, Initiation, and Return. The title character of Aladdin begins life in Agrabah as a ‘street rat’ – but we see him leave his ordinary world when he’s lured into entering the Cave of Wonders, sent on a mission by the villainous Jafar (Departure). 

Our hero meets the genie and sets off on a spectacular adventure, dealing with enemies and difficult matters of the heart (Initiation)! He triumphs in the end, though, defeating Jafar, winning over his true love, and finally becoming comfortable in his skin (Return).

5. Toy Story

It’s not just the narrative structure that can have an archetypal structure: the heroes themselves can often be categorized into archetypes, too, such as The Warrior (Hercules) or The Orphan (Aladdin). One of the lesser-seen hero archetypes is The Caregiver, represented in Toy Story by the character of Woody the cowboy, who oversees and generally looks after all of Andy’s other toys.

The arrival of Buzz Lightyear causes Woody’s consternation. Still, after many trials and challenges Woody has to face in rescuing the toy astronaut, the pair must team up to escape the cruel boy next door, Sid, and save his ill-treated toys.

6. Moana

In Moana, when a mysterious, dark force threatens her island, Moana is called to adventure to discover how to save her community. During her quest, the heroine faces multiple challenges, meets her mentor, the mighty Maui, and Returns with the Elixir, saving her island and coming home triumphantly, recognized as the firm leader she is. 

It’s worth mentioning that Moana actually has two mentors. As well as Maui, her grandmother, also embodies the role of mentor, demonstrating how the hero’s journey structure has a little give in it and can flex to the story’s needs.

Disney's Moana UHD [Blu-ray] [2021]
  • New Store Stock
  • Japanese, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic (Subtitles)

7. Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo is a classic hero’s quest tale – even if it features the most unlikely protagonists! The stages of the hero’s journey are nice and clear: Nemo is swept from his Ordinary World when he’s captured by a scuba diver and taken far from his home. His mission is to return to his dad, Marlin, who finds himself on the adventure of a lifetime as he seeks his lost son. 

Marlin finds his mentor, Dory. Together they navigate many dangers until they eventually find Nemo and return to their home in the reef. And the Elixir? Marlin is a way more chilled-out dad and enjoys a closer relationship with his son due to the quest.

Finding Nemo [DVD]
  • Lee Unkrich, Andrew Stanton (Actors)
  • English, Dutch (Subtitles)
  • English (Publication Language)

8. Up

In Up, another unlikely hero, Carl, lives alone following the death of his beloved wife. The Call to Adventure takes the form of a construction company trying to force Carl out of his home to redevelop the land. And Carl’s having none of it. Faced with the prospect of a move to the Shady Oaks retirement home, Carl takes extreme action, attaching thousands of helium balloons to his house. There’s no going back once his adventure has literally taken flight!

Up [DVD] [2009]
  • DVD
  • Running time 96 minutes
  • Edward Asner, Jordan Nagai, John Ratzenberger (Actors)
  • Bob Peterson (Director) - Bob Peterson (Writer) - Andrew Stanton (Producer)
  • English (Subtitle)

9. Pocahontas

Released in 1995, Disney’s Pocahontas may have raised eyebrows with its re-writing of history. Still, in terms of its adherence to the hero’s journey structure, it’s authentic. It features Captain Smith, the stereotypical brave explorer-type hero, and Pocahontas, the heroine of this tale.

The story focuses on the importance of remaining open-minded, accepting of differences, and knowing oneself – deeply – this is a hero’s journey story with a difference – but a hero’s journey story all the same.

Pocahontas /Pocahontas 2 Double Pack [DVD]
  • Polish Release, cover may contain Polish text/markings. The disk has English audio and subtitles.
  • English, Spanish, Dutch (Subtitles)

10. Coco

Coco
The young hero literally crosses the threshold when he enters the Land of the Dead in search of the truth about his family history and why music is such a taboo

A beautifully vibrant movie, Coco’s plot follows Miguel, who loves music but has the misfortune of growing up in a family where music is banned. The young hero literally crosses the threshold when he enters the Land of the Dead in search of the truth about his family history and why music is such a taboo.

The Return with the Elixir stage is particularly magical in Coco: upon returning to the world of the living, there is reconciliation within Hector’s family, and music flows through the house once more – for good.

Sale
Coco [DVD] [2018]
  • Lee Unkrich (Director) - Adrian Molina (Writer) - Darla K. Anderson (Producer)
  • English (Subtitle)

11. Brave

Step into the land of Brave, where a Scottish medieval Princess named Merida is frustrated at the fate being imposed upon her. She has no wish to marry and, to defy her family’s wishes, runs away to escape the betrothal. 

In the forest, Merida meets a witch and makes a life-changing (literally) bargain with her. Returning to the castle, she presents her mother, Queen Elinor, with the cake the witch has given her, promising that it will alter the situation. But this ‘alteration’ is not what Merida imagined.

Brave [DVD] [2012]
  • Polish Release, cover may contain Polish text/markings. The disk has English audio and subtitles.
  • Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson (Actors)
  • Brenda Chapman (Director) - Brenda Chapman (Writer) - Andrew Stanton (Producer)
  • English, French (Subtitles)
  • English (Publication Language)

12. The Jungle Book

Released in 1967, the original The Jungle Book movie remains much loved by audiences and features many unforgettable characters. In many ways, the movie reverses the traditional hero’s journey. Young Mowgli’s Ordinary World – the jungle – is anything but ordinary. And the narrative arc is driven by his journey (physically and spiritually) to a destination entirely alien to him: the human world. Looking for more? Check out our guide with movies that follow the hero’s journey!

Sale
The Jungle Book [DVD] [1967]
  • UK Import Exclusive Disney Villains Gloss Slipcover
  • Region B/2
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, Portugese
  • Audio: English, Spanish, Portugese
  • Phil Harris, Bruce Reitherman, George Sanders (Actors)

Join over 15,000 writers today

Get a FREE book of writing prompts and learn how to make more money from your writing.

Powered by ConvertKit

Author

  • Melanie Smith is a freelance content and creative writer from Gloucestershire, UK, where she lives with her daughter, long-suffering partner, and cat, The Magical Mr. Bobo. Her blog posts and articles feature regularly in magazines and websites around the world.