Mar 4, 2020
Top 5 (good guy) movie sidekicks
Throughout history, both in real life and otherwise, there have always been those who seem to be, intentionally or not, subordinate to someone else. The slang expression that describes such a person is “sidekick”. In literature, such characters include Sancho Panza from Miguel de Cervantes’s classic novel Don Quixote, as well as Dr. John Watson from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. The advent of cinema naturally also produced sidekicks both good and bad. Here are five of the best good guy sidekicks the silver screen has given us over the decades.
If there’s one sidekick that gets a lot of exposure, it’s the doctor who accompanies Sherlock Holmes on his cases. Watson not only serves as the everyman to Holmes’s brilliant intellect, he also narrates each of the stories in Conan Doyle’s Holmes canon. This allows readers and film audiences to experience the stories themselves with the same feeling of exhilaration that Watson is projecting as he narrates them to us. Sir Arthur, who was a doctor like Watson, supposedly based Watson on himself.
On the big screen, Watson has been played by numerous actors. Among the most memorable of these is Nigel Bruce, who was Watson to Basil Rathbone’s Holmes throughout the 1940s in numerous films released by Universal. Other actors who did the role justice include Patrick Macnee (opposite Sir Roger Moore’s Holmes in Sherlock Holmes in New York) and Andre Morell (opposite Peter Cushing’s Holmes in 1959’s The Hound of the Baskervilles).
Another rendition I especially liked was Sir Ben Kingsley’s Watson in the 1988 comedy Without a Clue. That film turns the Holmes universe on its ear by suggesting that Watson is the real genius when it comes to solving cases. Holmes himself (here played by Sir Michael Caine) is really a buffoonish, out of work actor whom, to Watson’s dismay, the public cheers as a hero.
Walt Disney made film history in 1937 with the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That film was the first-ever animated feature film and its great success naturally allowed Disney to make even more animated films over the next few decades.
The first such film was Pinocchio, based on the Carlo Collodi story of the same name and released three years after Snow White. Like that film, this story of a wooden boy who aspires to be worthy of the wish his creator/father made for him to become real was a huge hit (although not immediately; Pinocchio truly began bringing in the cash when it was re-released in 1945). Part of what makes the title character so memorable is his rapport with Jiminy Cricket, who, as he puts it, serves as his conscience (although that duty comes about because of how Jiminy is smitten with the Blue Fairy who gives Pinocchio life). The duo even sing “Always Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide” early in the film. Another song Jiminy sings, “When You Wish Upon a Star”, won the Best Original Song Oscar for that year.
While the seven dwarfs certainly give Snow White a hand, it’s Jiminy who truly set the standard for sidekicks in Disney movies. This could apply to some non-Disney movies as well, as there are many sidekicks who, just like Jiminy, end up ensuring that the hero’s heart is in the right place, and aren’t just someone for the hero to give lessons to. Heck, Steven Spielberg’s film AI: Artificial Intelligence makes numerous references to Pinocchio (and references to it can also be found in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Indeed, many subsequent Disney films, including Dumbo, Bambi, Cinderella, Peter Pan, The Lion King, and Cars owe the existence of their sidekicks to this little guy, who would re-appear in 1947’s Fun and Fancy Free and also go on to appear in a number of TV specials from Disney.
Let’s face it, Han Solo’s co-pilot is the textbook definition of what a sidekick should be. This towering bear-like alien is devoted to Han but is never afraid to disagree with him if the circumstances call for it. The fact that Han is able to perfectly understand Chewbacca’s Wookiee language, even though all we hear are subtitle-less growls and roars, only adds to the the appeal this duo holds for many of us.
Throughout the three original Star Wars films, Chewie (as Han and friends call him) helps out the other heroes through various means, including getting Imperial guards out of the way by knocking them down, and even commandeering a Scout Walker in order to blast other Walkers and stormtroopers to bits. He can even fix machinery and carry a dismembered C-3PO on his back in the midst of all this.
So memorable was Chewie’s impact that there was a fan uproar when he was killed off in the Star Wars novel The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime, published in 1999. So it probably shouldn’t be surprising that when The Force Awakens hit theaters 16 years later, the events of that book and all the others which comprise the New Jedi Order series were ignored (hence, why Han dies and not Chewie).
While George Lucas created this character (inspired by his dog, Indiana), Peter Mayhew deserves credit for his amazing work while wearing what must’ve been a hot bear suit. But others who deserve credit for fleshing this character out are Stuart Freeborn, who designed the Chewbacca mask, and making it expressive so Mayhew could project emotion while playing the role, and Ben Burtt, who created the Wookiee language by splicing together the sounds of numerous animals, including bears, tigers, and walruses. Burtt’s work on this and other alien voices for Star Wars, such as Darth Vader’s breathing and the beeps for R2-D2, would earn him a special Academy Award.
Before Lucas made the misguided decision to show us Darth Vader and Boba Fett in their elementary school years, he gave Indiana Jones a grade-school aged sidekick.
Happily, Short Round, played by Ke Huy Quan, isn’t as intolerable as the younger versions of the aforementioned Star Wars villains. One reason for this is because, while gutsy, Short Round is never overly anxious to get into a fight (à la Scrappy-Doo). Even though Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a larger than life adventure, the character reacts to events the way a real person (especially a real child his age) would. Short Round even gets Indy out of his drug-induced hypnosis, allowing them to escape the title temple. He’s also downright scared in some sequences, such as when he almost falls though a hole he makes on a super high bridge and nearly becomes a meal for the crocodiles in the river below. He even calls out Indy’s desperate attempt to defeat the bad guys by chopping apart the bridge holding all of them with, “He’s not nuts, he’s crazy!”
In contrast, Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace reacts to what’s going on around him with all the urgency of a child playing a video game. And don’t even get me started on his non-reaction when he’s in a spaceship with fighters shooting all around him (must be those damn midicholrians).
While some took issue with Temple of Doom‘s intensity, the film itself, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, is happily reminiscent of the 1930s and ’40s Republic serials from which it drew its inspiration. One reason for this is the nice scenes between Ford and Quan. One minute Short Round is quickly driving Indy through Shanghai to elude bad guys (who cares if he’s too young to drive a car?), and the next he’s playing a card game with him, which ends with both accusing each other of cheating. Hence, this is a hero-sidekick bond that has both humor and heart.
The hobbit who accompanies Frodo Baggins on his quest to destroy the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings trilogy becomes a part of that adventure in an amusing way. He eavesdrops on a conversation between Frodo and the wizard Gandalf. But the wizard uses this as a chance for Sam (as everyone calls him) to prove his devotion to Frodo.
Throughout the three films, Sam, a gardener for Frodo, is constantly pushing his friend through the difficulties they encounter. He even physically carries Frodo at several points in the story. His devotion to Frodo is such that he’s willing and able to return the ring after safeguarding it for him. This stands out as Frodo himself, like the ring’s previous keeper Gollum, is so drawn to it that he cannot bear to be without it for long.
But Sam’s selflessness helps ensure that the ring is destroyed, even though it’s really Gollum’s interference that directly leads to its destruction. The trilogy ends with Sam and Frodo returning to their home, the Shire, and Sam reuniting with his love Rosie.
The trilogy’s author, J.R.R. Tolkien, once wrote that Sam was really the main hero of the story. Below is a quote from a letter Tolkien wrote.
My Sam Gamgee is indeed a reflexion of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and recognised as so far superior to myself.
The three books which comprise the trilogy—The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King—were all published in the mid-1950s. Ironically, Tolkien would receive a letter from a man named Sam Gamgee in 1956 regarding the name he shared with Tolkien’s creation. The author replied with:
Dear Mr. Gamgee,
It was very kind of you to write. You can imagine my astonishment when I saw your signature! I can only say, for your comfort, I hope, that the ‘Sam Gamgee’ of my story is a most heroic character, now widely beloved by many readers, even though his origins are rustic. So that perhaps you will not be displeased at the coincidence of the name of this imaginary character of supposedly many centuries ago being the same as yours.
These are just five examples of characters who actually made the term “second banana” sound good. In my next article, I’ll be going in the other direction, with the top 5 bad guy sidekicks from the movies.