Last week, I wrote about the best sidekicks in comic books. As I was working on my list, I remembered a lot of great sidekicks that have appeared in other media. Instead of tossing them all into one big list, I decided to split them off with a second list. So here you go, my list of the best sidekicks in movies, television, cartoons and classic literature.
15. Sylvester Jr.: Sylvester Jr. fulfills a classic sidekick role: the sidekick who’s actually smarter than the mentor. In this case, Sylvester Sr. tries to teach his son how to catch a kickboxing kangaroo and fails miserably. The son sees through his father’s shenanigans. He puts up with his dad because that’s what sons are supposed to do and he’s often more successful than the senior Sylvester. It’s a quietly subversive role, upending the status quo to great delight.
14. Marcus Brody: Marcus Brody experienced a grand transformation from the first Indiana Jones movie to the third. In the first movie, Brody was a bit of a mentor. He was the one who offered advice at home before Indy raced off on another grand adventure. In the third movie, Brody got caught up in the adventure as well and found himself halfway around the world. He was the comic relief, ruining the heroic ride into the sunset by riding his horse backwards. Yet he also provided a positive function as an academic expert.
13. Scrappy Doo: Scrappy is one of the more contentious choices on my list. When he was added to the Scooby Doo show, he was one of the first sidekicks to be widely panned. Fans didn’t like the way he seemed to push Scooby, the titular star of the series, out of the spotlight. But I was young enough to love the brash, young character. I liked his fighting spirit, his put-up-your-dukes attitude and his willingness to rush headlong into trouble. Believe it or not, I still own the Scrappy Doo statue I bought as a kid.
12. Morgan Grimes: Sidekicks may have fallen out of favor in comic books, but they seem to be growing in importance on television. After all, every good hero needs someone to hang out with. One of my recent favorites is Chuck’s boyhood best friend, Morgan Grimes. “The beard” is a wonderful source of comic relief. But he’s also there to challenge Chuck when Chuck’s new spy life draws him too far away from his friends and family. Morgan has perhaps the greatest character arc of anyone on the show, eventually becoming the responsible manager of the BuyMore and an effective member of the spy team.
11. Hadji: I debated whether or not to include Hadji on this list. My concern wasn’t about Hadji’s qualifications as a cool character. He’s definitely cool- and that’s not easy to pull off with an Indian accent. He was smart, inventive and calm under pressure. He was also one of the first international characters that I was exposed to in my young life. No, my concern is that Hadji doesn’t qualify as a sidekick as I could see the argument that he was Jonny Quest’s partner rather than his tagalong.
10. Jan, Jace and Blip/Zan, Jayna and Gleek: Here’s another potentially contentious choice. In the 1960s, Hanna-Barbera introduced the outer space superhero Space Ghost and gave him not one but three sidekicks: the teenaged twins Jan and Jace and the sputtering space monkey Blip. Hanna-Barbera later used the same formula on Super Friends. This time, the twin teenagers, Zan and Jayna, were aliens with their own set of superpowers. Gleek, however, was still a sputtering monkey. I’ll admit that I like Zan and Jayna. I was a kid at the time and, if you were my age, you would have probably liked them too. They also had a memorable catchphrase- “super powers activate!”- that was easy to emulate as a kid, and easy to mock as an adult.
9. Tonto: Tonto is one of the greatest sidekicks in any medium. He’s the Lone Ranger’s silent partner and, like many great sidekicks, often smarter than his lead. At the very least, Tonto is well versed in hunting, tracking and other skills of the wild. However, Tonto is held back by the racial stereotypes of the time. His pidgin English is embarrassing. It remains to be seen whether Johnny Depp can rehabilitate the character for a modern audience in the upcoming Lone Ranger movie.
8. Falstaff: That’s right: I included the Super Friends and Shakespeare on the same list. Falstaff is one of the earliest sidekicks. Shakespeare included a lot of clown characters as comic relief in his plays. But Falstaff became more than a source of occasional laughter. He was a truehearted friend. He was a brave warrior, if prone to bouts of braggadocio. And he was one of the first supporting characters to become a star in his own right. He’s the model for many a sidekick today. Plus, like a lot of great sidekicks, he’s instantly recognizable.
7. Amy Pond and Rory Williams (Or Your Favorite Dr. Who Companion): I’ve heard it said that you never forget your first doctor but I found my first exposure to Dr. Who to be uninspiring. However, the infectious delight of my daughters rubbed off on me and I’ve enjoyed recent episodes, despite my own intransigence. My third doctor (the eleventh overall) is my favorite. Similarly, I’m fond of his two companions: the young couple Rory Williams and Amy Pond. Their relationship is as interesting to me as their adventures. I’m especially intrigued by their indecision whether to embrace the exotic adventures of the Doctor or the comfortable surroundings of home. Feel free to insert your favorite Doctor Who companion in this space, whether it’s Sarah Jane, K-9 or Rose.
6. Kato: The best sidekicks often outshine their mentors. That’s often been the case with Kato, the regular companion to the Green Hornet. At first, Kato was little more than a butler. But in the live action series, Kato learned to kick butt. He was played by martial arts expert Bruce Lee and quickly became a fan favorite. Now, it’s hard to imagine the Green Hornet without his quiet right hand man.
5. Dr. Watson: There are a number of reasons why sidekicks are introduced. One of the most persistent is that the hero needs someone to talk to. That’s why Batman was paired with Robin and Bucky was given to Captain America. And that’s why Sherlock Holmes has Dr. Watson at his side. Dr. Watson is our window into the weird world and impenetrable mind of the great detective. We learn what Holmes is thinking because he has to explain it to Watson. Yet the best Watsons are more than windows. They give as good as they get- teasing Sherlock with friendly familiarity. Plus, as a former soldier and a doctor, Watson is a valuable guy to have around.
4. C-3PO and R2-D2: Another persistent reason to introduce a sidekick is the need to ground the story in reality and humanity. George Lucas ironically did this by giving us a couple of droids. Despite his bumbling nature, C-3PO often spoke for us by commenting on the unbelievable nature of events and expressing the fears we might have in his place. R2-D2 was even better as C-3PO’s counterpoint. He was incredibly expressive and sarcastic, despite speaking only in squeaks and whistles. Plus, his plucky attitude was inspirational for those of us who didn’t have the Force.
3. The Scoobies: Joss Whedon put together the perfect team of sidekicks for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, in doing so, showed us the greatest reason why these types of characters exist. They are companions in the truest sense of the word. They are friends that become family. Robin is like a son to Batman. Watson is like a brother to Holmes. The Scoobies are Buffy’s best friends and the family she makes for herself: Willow, Xander, Cordelia, Oz, Anya, Tara, Dawn, Spike and yes, even Andrew.
2. Sancho Panza: Sancho Panza is the Platonic ideal of a sidekick. He’s the original. Those who came before him are like prototypes before he perfected the form. He’s comic relief. He’s smarter than the lead character. He’s world-wise and world-weary. He’s our point of view into the oddness that surrounds us. He is the sidekick of sidekicks.
Yet, despite those praises, I’d put one sidekick ahead of Sancho Panza…
1. Samwise Gamgee: Can you think of another character that you’d rather have at your side? JRR Tolkien reputedly based the character on the concept of the batman- the military assistant in the British army. The batman takes care of his master’s needs so that he can focus on the fight ahead. In the Lord of the Rings, Sam takes care of the Frodo’s needs so that Frodo can focus on his quest to destroy the ring. Sam is the one who cooks. Sam is the one who stands guard so his master can sleep. Sam is the one who sings a song to brighten his master’s mood. Sam is the one who rations the food so that they’ll have enough for the trip back. Yet Tolkien elevated Sam beyond a simple servant. Sam sees the world with wonder in his eyes, marveling at elves and later oliphaunts. Sam is also wise beyond his years, as evidenced by his commentary upon the difference in stories between those reading them and those living in them. And Sam becomes the true hero, rescuing Frodo from captivity and carrying him on his back to their final destination.
That’s my list. Who’s on yours?