If Only For That One Weakness: The Achilles Heel in Disney Characters – Part One


April 27, 2021

Written by: Jim Smith

Everyone has a weakness. It’s the vulnerability that makes us real and human. It’s also another piece of our personality that makes us each unique. Otherwise, in the chilling words of Mr. Incredible’s nemesis Syndrome “When everyone is super, then no one will be.” 

Image: Disney

When we describe a character’s weakness in storytelling, that weakness is often magnified, taking on a far greater role in the character’s overall personality than a typical human weakness would represent. This glaring weakness in an otherwise strong character has been present since the earliest days of storytelling – back to Greek mythology.

The Achilles Heel

An Achilles Heel – with which most of us are familiar – is defined as a weakness in spite of overall strength, and can lead to character hardship and possibly downfall. It is named after the Greek mythological half-god Achilles. When Achilles was an infant, his mother wanted to protect him from harm, so she held him by his heel and dipped him into the river Styx, which had magical powers. After being dipped into the river, Achilles became invulnerable everywhere but at his heel where his mother held him. It was his one weakness, which was ultimately exploited and led to his death.

While the mythological origin of Achilles Heel refers to a physical vulnerability, the term has come to refer to other attributes or qualities that can lead to a failure or downfall, whether those be personality shortcomings or even outside influences that continue to plague a character.

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When you look around the Disney universe, you can see the Achilles Heel present in countless characters. Some are very obvious and well known, while others are subtle and not as easily identified.

In Part One of a two part series, let’s take a look at some of the more well known physical character weaknesses while we explore the worlds of Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars. We’ll focus on the mental game in The Achilles Heel in Disney Characters – Part Two.

Physical Glitches

Every character has a limit to their physical abilities, but for this group, there is always that one very unique restriction that holds them down.


“Maui can do anything but float!” There’s no better way to say it, this Polynesian folk hero has a tough time with water.

Image: Disney

The same can be said for experiment 626 – otherwise known as Stitch.

Image: Disney

Neither of these fan favorites can swim!

The Nose Knows

Could you imagine an absolute inability to tell a lie? Jim Carrey flirted with the concept in hilarious fashion in the film Liar Liar. George Washington swore he could not tell a lie.

Image: Disney

Pinocchio was actually able to lie, but alas, he paid the price when his lies grew as clear as the nose on his face.

Proof that Tony Stark Has a Heart

Perhaps the most widely known Achilles Heel in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is the constant threat to Tony’s Stark’s heart – an explosion shrapnel wound he sustained before developing his Iron Man suit. Tony’s arc reactor was the only thing keeping him from cardiac failure.

Image: Disney

He eventually found a way to remove the shrapnel from the vicinity of his heart, and the arc reactor that once kept his heart from certain death was then simply used to power his awesome Iron Man suits.

The Fountain of Youth

This mythical spring that can restore youth to those who bathe in it was never actually real, much to the chagrin of Juan Ponce de Leon. But Mother Gothel hoarded her own private fountain of youth in the form of the golden locks of her adopted (or should we say kidnapped) daughter Rapunzel.

Image: Disney

Mother knew best, until she was deprived of her precious strands, at which point age caught up with her (quite quickly, we might add).

It’s All in the Name

Mickey’s pal Goofy is a true blue friend, but he’s also black and blue being the clutz that he is.

Image: Disney

Thankfully, his animated nature heals those bumps and bruises quite nicely!

“Excuse me while I let out some air”

Our favorite healthcare provider Baymax has one major weakness – his thin latex-like skin is the only thing keeping this inflatable hero from being the world’s whitest kite.

Image: Disney

An exoskeleton suit of protective armor allows Baymax to avoid typical latex superhero threats (like glass, pins, and bees).

Outside Influences

File under “nemesis.” When certain threats present themselves, these characters have no choice but to run the other way.

Oh my God, it’s DIP! 

Fans of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? know if there’s one thing lethal to all “toons” it’s Dip. In Toontown, where cartoons live, breathe, and work just like any actual human, this mixture of turpentine, acetone, and benzine spells certain doom. After all, these are paint thinners, and cartoon characters are traditionally painted. I wonder how this premise would apply in the age of computer generated imaging?

On a related note – want a sure fire way to nab a toon? Use the Shave-and-a-Haircut trick.

Two Bits!
Image: Disney

Tick Tock, Tick Tock, Tick Tock

We hear him coming. The faintest hint of this sound is enough to drive Captain Hook insane.

Image: Disney

Perpetually targeted by the croc who once took his left hand, Hook is forever haunted by the hungry carnivore who wants the rest of his meal. “I’ll get you for this, Peter Pan!”

“It Could Let In a Child!”

The City of Monstropolis once collectively thought the touch of a human child was enough to kill a resident scarer. For decades, the monsters of this world lived in fear that those they scare (because they care) could so easily harm them. Then along came Boo.

Image: Disney

Sulley and Mike Wazowski took a chance on perhaps the most adorable character in all of Pixar, and as a result learned the value of laughter (mathematically speaking, it is ten times more powerful than scaring).

Do Not Touch Until Sixteen

Maleficent’s looming threat of certain death at the prick of a spinning wheel was enough to cause King Stefan to hide his only daughter for sixteen years.

Image: Disney

That’s half a lifetime in those medieval days!

“I’m Guessing You Don’t Have Much Experience With Heat”

“Nope!” The whimsy that is Olaf. How amazing would it be to live a life blissfully unaware of something that is – by nature – designed to destroy you.

Image: Disney

Thankfully, Elsa keeps him constantly cool with his own personal flurry.

Just a Smackerel

Winnie-the-Pooh loves his honey. While honey is not directly dangerous to Pooh’s health, his obsession with this golden sweet treat leads him on many different adventures. And let’s be honest, Pooh’s adventures usually get him into trouble. It’s a good thing he has many friends in the Hundred Acre Wood to help him out of these tummy-induced troubles.

Image: Disney

In Part Two of our series of Achilles Heels in Disney characters, where we will explore the mental side of this weakness. Who do you think will top the list?

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