Cartoons never fail to offer a variety of unique characters that can cater to the different preferences of the beloved audience. From heroic protagonists, snarky sidekicks, and amoral villains to ditzy love interests, there’s something for everyone. In today’s article, we’ll be looking into an iconic character trope that remains beloved across all genres and media of entertainment- the ‘Old Man’. Often serving as the moralistic mentor figure, gentle guide, comical grump, and many more, the ‘Old Guy’ role retains a consistent charm familiar to viewers across generations. And of course, here are some of the elite from that list!
Popular Old Man Cartoon Characters
1. Grandpa Max Tennyson from Ben 10
With Ben 10 being a loved, core TV show for any kid growing up in the early 2000s, it is no question that the reckless teen protagonist’s grandfather and mentor would go on to be something of an iconic character recognizable by name alone. Upon his grandson Ben’s access to the Omnitrix’s powers, Grandpa Max takes it upon himself to train and look after Ben as he learns to use his powers for the greater good. He handles arguments between Ben and his cousin, Gwen with a firm but gentle voice, for which he remains respected in all situations.
Jumping in to give the last helping hand just when Ben might finally succumb to the consequences of his own decisions or fall prey to the underestimated episodic villain- Grandpa Max Tennyson forever lives on as the reliable, protecting, and caring grandfather everyone loves.
2. Uncle Iroh from Avatar The Last Airbender
Less of a cartoon and more of a cultural phenomenon, Avatar The Last Airbender is an immersive, fantastical journey following the adventures of 12-year-old Avatar Aang and his gang of unruly kids around the world in order to master the elements and restore balance and peace to the divided nations. In the midst of it all, Uncle Iroh appears as the much-needed lighthearted mentor figure for the disillusioned but eventually reformed nephew of his who is tasked with capturing the avatar.
Often comfortable with remaining in the background and observing everyone around him, he doesn’t hesitate to step into the spotlight when his loved ones are threatened. His influence remains a vital factor in his nephew Zuko’s character development and story arc, displaying how a good mentor can change even the hardest of hearts. With his charming indulgence for tea, music, food, and a good game of Pai Sho, Uncle Iroh remains a fan favorite in the rankings and won’t be going away anytime soon!
3. Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty
Adult comedy just doesn’t get better than Rick and Morty- is what fans love to say about this quirky, satirical animated comedy. The show follows the many questionable shenanigans of well-meaning but dim-witted Morty, goaded on by his cynical, alcoholic grandfather, Rick as they weigh their time between regular life and interdimensional misadventures starring in different planets and dimensions.
While the ‘old man’ figures are usually written to be wise, kind, and reliable, Rick is anything but. He displays a nihilistic attitude towards the world and harbors a morally ambiguous and reckless personality. Emotionally jaded and fatally flawed, there is nothing meant to be liked about Rick but he’s loved anyway for his entertaining actions, catty remarks and occasional introspective monologues.
Rick stands out for his character trope regardless of whether he is liked or not, and his role in the story despite his trope gives way to novel, exciting and engaging plots that keep viewers coming back for more.
4. Uncle Scrooge from Disney’s Duck Tales
Although not a ‘man’ but very much a duck, Uncle Scrooge is a timeless face across children’s cartoons and media. From witnessing and getting in between the various mischief caused by his three mischief-loving grandkids, Scrooge lives in the fictional universe of Donald Duck as a humorous and ironic deuteragonist.
Leaning more towards a characterization type similar to Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty, Uncle Scrooge is a money-loving business magnate, with a pension for viewing his capitalistic tendencies as a self-righteous adventure. He’s a classic skinflint who displays selfish tendencies but eventually comes around at the adoration of his playful grandchildren Huey, Dewey, and Louie Duck.
Through his role and experiences in the story, Duck Tales explores the reality of wealth and the importance of family as Uncle Scrooge navigates his privileged life and questionable morals, hence passing on a family-friendly message for all the young viewers watching.
5. Papa Smurf from The Smurfs
Growing up in the 80s, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t know The Smurfs. Set in a fictional world, the colorful blue-tinted cast is led by 543-year-old Papa Smurf as the community leads their peaceful lives and occasionally battles against the evil wizard Garagmel and his wicked feline companion, Azrael.
While the Smurfs are usually depicted as being childlike, campy, and innocent- Papa Smurf stays ahead with his level-headed, knowledgeable, and humble nature. Despite not taking part in the antics of his fellow Smurfs, he watches over them and intervenes when his aid is required, ideally dubbing him as something of a father figure to the rest of the Smurf community. He advocates for a harmonious life in connection and collaboration with others in peace, imparting positive messages and qualities for the naive Smurfs and younger viewers alike. Due to this, he’s viewed favorably by parents and children alike. With the passing of the decades, his impact on the generations is yet to fall behind.
6. Grunkle Stan from Gravity Falls
With another misery-loving elder on the list, it truly goes to show fans love trope controversial characters. Grunkle Stan or better known as Stan Pines is a central character in the whimsical world of Gravity Falls despite not being the protagonist.
Typically coming off as a gruff and grumpy old man with a selfish streak, he enjoys his various money-making tactics, most of which are unethical and often get him into trouble. Not that it stops him, of course. His scheming nature becomes useful to the plot progression as the show’s protagonists and his grand-nephew and grand-niece Dipper and Mabel become closer to him and his initially hard exterior gives way to the caring and protective soul underneath.
Despite his sarcastic and unserious attitude, Stan serves as a key provider of wisdom over the course of the series as his knowledge of the strange occurrences in Gravity Falls becomes crucial in uncovering the secrets buried under the town. By combining elements of humor and mystery, Stan is a pioneering trope for shows like Gravity Falls that wishes to deviate from the norms surrounding character tropes and utilize them in broader ways.
7. Eustace Bagg from Courage the Cowardly Dog
Most people who’ve watched the show Courage the Cowardly Dog will reminisce about its bizarre and distinctive animation peppered with elements of horror, dark comedy and surrealism. With its inclusion of supernatural themes, the show does well in exercising the extensions of childhood fear through the cowardly canine hero, Courage. However, the real prize goes to the old man who shares the dog with his wife- Eustace Bagg. On a surface level, his character is enjoyed as a stereotypical old man, he’s easily irritable, stingy, and skeptical and does not care much for Courage, unlike his wife.
But his refusal to acknowledge the possible and otherworldly serves as a pivotal and recurring comic point throughout the show where his otherwise ‘normal’ and ‘stereotypical’ personality sticks out like a sore thumb in a show where the very course and existence of reality is continuously questioned. This is what makes Eustace Bagg an enjoyable character as his jaded responses uproot even the sense of normalcy in a surreal world.
8. Uncle Chan from Jackie Chan Adventures
Jackie Chan, world acclaimed actor has carved a heart out for himself in the acting and entertainment industry for generations to come but this did not stop him from having his life dipped into fiction as well. With his popular cartoon, Jackie Chan Adventures following the various adventures of chief protagonist Jackie Chan, his fiery niece Jade and nagging old geezer, known simply as Uncle Chan as they fight against supernatural forces.
Uncle Chan serves as the main provider of information, with his dedicated and knowledgeable personality, his character provides context and solutions to varying degrees of problems. But it doesn’t stop there, something unique about Uncle Chan is not just his role as a mentor but his reverence for tradition. Since the show is set in an Asian context, Uncle Chan serves as mediatory access to understand the cultural influence, folklore, mythology, and social norms behind the setting of the world.
His presence in the show makes the entire narrative more digestible to a wide audience as it can be followed along with the progression of the plot. Moreover, it’s never not fun to see his misunderstandings at the hands of his cheeky grand-niece and fun-loving nephew.
9. Master Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Every word in the show title of ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’ is one smack to the face after the other. Despite the seemingly odd premise of the show, it has stolen the hearts of millions of martial arts-loving kids growing up from the 80s to early 2000s. Following the lives of four mutant sentient turtles who live in the sewers of New York City, the small but feisty gang fights crime on the streets, gets into family squabbles and works to defeat the city’s evil mastermind- The Shredder, all while in the never-ending pursuit of good pizza.
The character who serves as the father figure for these titular turtles is Master Splinter. Wise, patient and protective of his adoptive sons, Master Splinter was once human who fell prey to the poison of his own creation, now dedicating his life to training his sons to protect themselves and the city he loves. His serene demeanor in dangerous situations often serves as a calming catalyst for the turtles to step back and reassess their next moves more considerately. He provides emotional support and guidance while urging them to remain formidable.
Although Master Splinter’s story is often explored alongside or in relation to the turtles themselves, his pragmatic and strong presence in the story makes him an ever-interesting character to go back to, making him another fan-approved mentor in the growing list.
10. Master Shifu from Kung Fu Panda
Kung Fu Panda is one of the major examples used when talking about the evolution of animation and the pizzazz of 3D. With its cultivated storyline, diverse characters, exploratory motives and fun-loving moments, the movie series is a star-studded jewel amongst all ages. Viewers follow the journey of Po, a lazy but lovable panda who has been chosen to walk the path of a legendary kung fu warrior.
His clumsy nature is both cherished and admonished by characters, particularly by his martial arts master, the wise red panda named Master Shifu. Master Shifu advocates for pure discipline, a virtue he struggles to instill in his naive pupil. His frustration gives way to dry and sarcastic humor that adds depth and ease to the plot as it progresses, giving viewers glimpses into the character’s different faces.
He works as a key strategist and quick thinker in urgent situations, a trait Po eventually works on himself out of respect, admiration and necessity for his master. The movies and series also choose to explore the nuances and delicate balance in the relationship between Po and Master Shifu, as they both learn what it means to be both student and teacher.
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