Space Jam screens Saturday, February 29th
In just the past decade, conversations about childhood crushes have come to the forefront of the internet, especially thanks to listicles and the web’s unstoppable ability to churn out content for even the most obscure interests. Whether it’s innocent puppy love or something more “niche”, those of us born in the past forty years or so have likely had our own romantic awakening thanks to the sheer amount of media we consumed.
One of the most notorious cinematic crushes in recent history is Lola Bunny – the token female created especially for Space Jam that birthed a thousand furries. Seeing as Bombs Away! will be presenting Space Jam – in a month where we celebrate love no less – I decided to do some introspection and pay the dues owed to the characters that pioneered my ever-expanding list of crushes.
Prince Cornelius, Thumbelina (1994)
This movie may be a Razzie winner and the start of Don Bluth’s caving in to the Disney formula, but none of that matters to you when you’re five and enchanted by the world of fairies.
Having rented this movie every single time my family went to our local Hollywood Video for movie night, it’s no surprise I took an innocent fancy to Thumbelina’s love interest, the Prince of the Fairies himself, Prince Cornelius. His appeal comes not from title but from his boyish rebellion against the expectations of royal life, while still remaining cavalier all the while. He’s never where he’s supposed to be, missing important ceremonies in favor of exploration and adventure while riding an awesome bumblebee as his loyal steed. Cornelius’ other major draw is his magical essence which provides him with wings that allow him to dance with Thumbelina among the sparkles and moonlight, no magic carpet needed!
But honestly? It’s all about that bumblebee.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood (1973)
Skilled with his medieval weaponry, Robin is a roguishly playful yet dignified hero and a proponent of the fight for social justice and direct action against corruption. He uses his wit and skill over strength to defend the vulnerable folks of Nottingham. His romance with Maid Marien is endearing too, with it being established that they have a romantic history before we see them together in the film. Robin adores her so much that he competes in an archery tournament in disguise to whisk her away to freedom. The animation plays its part in this adaptation, with his personality shining through in every mannerism and his red fur looking so cuddly soft. This is definitely my most innocent infatuation; decades before I’d learn that furries were a thing, I just saw him as an awesome archer, and the fact that he was a fox often faded into the background. Obviously, it’s a hard fact to ignore at this point.
Prince Eric, The Little Mermaid (1989)
Prince Eric is a sweet romantic with a sense of humor and who wants to marry for love. He plays the flute, has a castle right on the beach, and rejects his princely duties for the life of a sailor. What more could anyone ask for?
Some may think him bland, but behind that overall chill demeanor is a lad ready to spring to action and save his crew and, more importantly, his beloved dog. With Disney princes barely having personalities until 2009, Eric was certainly a stand-out for all of this as well as his stellar brows, sun-kissed skin, and sailor garb.
Also, I’m completely certain that he’s the reason I find dimpled smiles so damn attractive. That’s childhood influence for you!
Will Turner, Pirates of the Caribbean (2003-2007)
Here we see the intersection of the traditionally chivalrous, sword-wielding hero and the rugged, high seas adventurer. William Turner may seem unspectacular next to the heart-snatching Jack Sparrow, but his arc as a cordial blacksmith thrust into the swashbuckling world of piracy is tinged with yearning and devotion for Elizabeth Swann. Childhood friends-to-lovers is top tier stuff and it certainly helps when both parties are in period costumes and incredibly hot. Actually, it’s only when I got older that I realized Kiera Knightly’s allure could be something more than wanting to be her. I mean, have you seen her in that casual pirate outfit? It’s no wonder a whole generation of girls attribute their lesbian awakenings to Kiera Knightly.
The Baker, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True (2002)
Okay, I lied: this humble guy from the first direct to video Cinderella sequel was my most innocent childhood crush. He doesn’t even have a name, but the fact that he was the first plus-sized character portrayed as a desirable love interest (in the context of the film, for the formerly-wicked Anastasia) really stood out. Look at him– he’s adorable! And that animated bread coming fresh out of the oven reminds everyone why a guy that bakes is such a catch.
Hercules & Megara, Hercules (1997)
Hercules is a go-to comfort film for me, which is fitting since it came out the year I was born. However, on top of the completely unique musical styles and character design, it’s the dynamic between the main dyad that really stands out to me. Hercules starts out as a clumsy dork, outcast for destroying practically everything he touches despite his desire for friendship and community. Even with knobby knees and minimal muscle, you can’t help but feel for him in his struggle to fit in and find friends, and what’s most refreshing is that once he’s jacked, that doesn’t change! Even once he gets caught up in the world of super-stardom and brand deals, Herc is still the sheepish, over-eager and optimistic kid on a quest.
And Meg? Oh, she was mesmerizing. A complete departure from the typical G-rated female character, Meg’s persona was cynical and sarcastic, jaded by her past romantic partner who took advantage of her despite her selflessness towards him. Not only was she atypical from the naive, demure princess archetype, but it was eye-opening to see a guy be the one to help the lady get comfortable with feeling again. What really sealed the deal though, was her R&B musical number that had her sultry, deep voice belting out to the heavens. Thank you for your service to mezzo-sopranos everywhere, Susan Egan!
Jack Skellington, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Right… so, here’s where things start to take a turn from the knights in shining armor of the early years.
While a lot of us have an emo, goth, or scene phase, I definitely had a Tim Burton one, which was ignited by watching The Nightmare Before Christmas for the first time around fourth grade. The once “edgy” qualities that made Tim Burton captivating to kids seeking something different certainly extended to the protagonist of the film given that he’s… well, a skeleton. But despite being a deceased “master of fright” that can turn into a flaming pumpkin-head, Jack isn’t all that scary! He’s another dog-lover with a spider-like grace, stylishly spooky suit, and Danny Elfman’s pipes which grant him an all-around elegance rather than an off-putting aura. Once he’s done moping about his dissatisfaction and discovers Christmas, Jack’s nothing but contagious, effervescent joy.
Sure, this charm overshadows the fact that he jumped the gun with his own desires, hijacking Christmas and nearly getting Santa Claus killed, but he handled it well enough in the end.
Prince Naveen, The Princess and The Frog (2009)
The last Disney prince (but certainly not the least) is Naveen, from the fictional country of Maldonia. Though Disney insists his heritage is completely made up, his name is of South Asian origin, his voice actor is Brazilian, and the character speaks some amalgamation of Latin languages as his native tongue. One thing isn’t vague, however, and it’s that he’s ridiculously good-looking. Sure, he’s a prince, but the character designers in the late 2000s really went all-out to create the most infuriatingly pretty prince to date, which actually fits his character really well.
He starts out the film as an entitled, spoiled party boy who relies on his parents to fund his bachelor lifestyle, yet maintains that annoying likeability. Turns out, the only thing better than a romantic who wants to marry for love is an arc that begins with the opposite, as Naveen wants to marry a girl with money to make his parents satisfied. His stubborn nonchalance comes to a complete halt though, when he meets a woman that shows him the real world and the value of hard work. A casanova suddenly way out of his element, he falls hard for the strong, persistent, and talented Tiana, despite barely seeing each other as humans. Even though he spends most of the movie in amphibian form, his smile remains his most prominent and charming trait.
Believing his new dream of being with her would get in the way of Tiana’s goals, he’s prepared to let her go before they eventually get married as frogs, fully prepared to live their lives out together in the bayou. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is!
Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
This addition to the list might feel like it’s coming out of left field, but I assure you that folks who read Mockingbird in school fell in love just as I did upon watching its film adaptation for class. A quick Google search will lead you down the Tumblr rabbit hole with such gems as “Atticus Finch was the original hot dad”, and “‘Not all men’, you’re right, Atticus Finch would never do this”. There are even testimonies from anonymous teachers online, such as this one detailing the ninth graders’ response to the protagonist: “The thirst is real and multi-generational. Recently, some freshmen dubbed Atticus Finch ‘Daddycus Finch’ and I cannot disagree with them.”
Peck’s intense eyes, velvety voice, and distinguished three-piece suit can’t be ignored, but what makes him “a character I would die for”, as the kids say, is beyond his embodiment of classical Hollywood masculinity. Anyone who’s seen the film knows that his character is a dignified and wise man, using his position as a lawyer to represent those unjustly targeted by institutionalized racism. He’s a realist, but a figure of hope using his position to move towards a compassionate society. Atticus is one of the best father figures in fiction– a single dad who exudes a quiet, but fierce love for his children that we don’t too often see portrayed. So, shout out to Gregory Peck for being so much of a dreamboat, that I can’t even watch The Omen without wishing he was at my side at a hospital bed, soothingly stroking my hair after nearly getting killed by a tricycle.
Roger & Jessica Rabbit, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Jessica is no stranger to these types of lists on the internet, but Roger is sorely missing from almost all of them. The duo is a force to be reckoned with– one a femme fatal lounge singer, the other a lovable goofball who makes the world a better place through laughter. They’re both huge movie stars, but completely and totally committed to one another and happy in their own unconventional way. I obviously have a soft spot for optimistic, cheerful male characters who are just all-around kind and sweet, and determined ladies who take no sh*t from anyone.
Morticia & Gomez Addams, The Addams Family (1991)
Not a lot to say here, because everyone already knows what’s up! The Addams’ are another pair in an ideal marriage oozing with passion that only flourishes as the years pass and children grow. But, you also want to be both of them at the same time. Morticia is powerful, gothic beauty incarnate thanks to Anjelica Huston’s bewitching features, while Raul Julia’s Gomez is the boisterous, Latin Lover archetype with a heart of gold. Most importantly, they don’t give a single damn what anyone thinks about their happiness or their family, and simply continue to do their “kooky” thing. We should all strive to be a little more like these two.
Bruce Banner, The Avengers (2012)
Mark Ruffalo is a top-tier crush in his own right but his role as Bruce Banner is what made me catch feelings for him. Sure, my favorite color is purple, but I also fell for his quiet yet playful personality, which we saw for most of the movie when he wasn’t hulking out. For a guy who can turn into a rage machine on a dime, he was surprisingly gentle in The Avengers despite all the emotional suffering he endured. He’s just a scientist, with no rippling muscles or fancy supersuit: frankly, he’d rather not be in this situation. But he’s “cursed” as he sees it, and you just want to be there for him as a friend and comfort him, potentially providing a new chance for the family life he’s always wanted.
If only I could have warned my past self from getting my hopes up about Age of Ultron. Thank God fanfiction exists to fix everything, because yikes!
Manolo Sanchez, The Book of Life (2014)
It’s kind of weird that there’s three undead characters on this but this one only half-counts.
To sum up his entire character: he’s a lover, not a fighter. Born into a long line of matadors, Manolo hates violence and wants to be a musician instead. Another dreamer and romantic, he serenades his childhood sweetheart and illustrates his talent at showmanship. What’s most amazing though, is he does what men have a hard time doing sometimes: he apologizes. He apologizes on behalf of all men for the cruelty inflicted upon nature and her creatures. Despite centuries of tradition, he breaks the cycle of bloodshed through sympathy and vulnerability rather than creating more pain. Manny loves his best friend and respects his family but realizes that one must do what’s just rather than what’s easy. He’s also voiced by Diego Luna, who doesn’t even need to be seen to make you swoon.
Helen Parr, The Incredibles 2 (2018)
Pixar really did give The Incredibles cast the glow-up of the decade, and also managed to make me love Mrs. Incredible more than I already did. As the main protagonist of the film, we get to see that she’s not only a badass, loving mom but also knows her way around a sick motorcycle and can take down foes well enough all on her own. She’s hot, voiced by Holly Hunter, and it seems like if she wasn’t married, she just might’ve had a thing with Evylyn Deavor before things went sour, all factors that definitely make her the best part of an otherwise fine sequel.
Now that that self-inflicted embarrassment is over, I encourage anyone who’s ever had a habit of wearing their heart on their sleeve to think back to “exes” of simpler times that never hurt you, and that you may have liked just a touch too much. Maybe pour one out tonight, for the folks of film that taught you a little more about yourself and, more importantly, how to love.