The con artist is a beloved trope. A character swans onto screen and starts weaving a tale about charities and priceless antiques and being the lost son of a Nigerian prince. But o-ho! We’ve been duped! Swindled! Bamboozled! What the character is saying is not true after all, but part of a larger scheme. My, what a delightful turn of events.
But sometimes these characters are more than just con artists. Sometimes they step into the role of a major character. We get to know them better, and along the way, we discover their backstory. And this is when our chuckles turn to tears, because sometimes those backstories are tragic. So for your reading pleasure, here are the ranking of five animated con artists with tragic backstories.
5. Eddy from Ed, Edd, and Eddy
Eddy is a schoolyard scammer. He constantly tries to con fellow kids into giving him money, and he doesn’t care who he hurts in the process. But it’s slowly revealed that he’s a con artist because his ruthless, bullying older brother was a con artist as well. His brother is loved and adored, and Eddy desperately tries to be like him to gain the same attention, but is instead belittled and hated.
But while sad, his backstory doesn’t quite reach the same level of tragedy as others on the list. Let’s continue.
4. Toph from Avatar: The Last Airbender
Toph isn’t a consistent con artist, but she dabbles in the art in the season 3 episode The Runaway. She uses her blindness and earth bending to execute her schemes, such as guessing which cup a stone is in or convincing a rich guy that he ran her over and needed to pay her grieving father. (Played by someone four years older than her and with a drastically different appearance and a glued on beard—don’t worry about the details, it doesn’t need to be a flawless plan for it to work.)
But Toph is acting out because she has unresolved guilt and other messy emotions toward her parents. Growing up, her parents assumed she was helpless and fragile because she was blind, so they confined her to the house and didn’t tell anyone else she even existed. She was forced to sneak out to teach herself earth bending and gain a small measure of freedom. When she finally got the chance to prove herself, her parents ignored the reality of her strength and instead wanted to smother her even more, forcing her to run away. And of course, like all loving parents, they hired two master earth benders two kidnap her and transport her home in a giant metal box.
While this is a very unfortunate backstory, it’s ultimately not a story of tragedy, but of triumph. Toph proves that she’s strong and claims her spot as the best earth bender in the world, so it’s hard to feel sad for too long.
3. Nick Wilde from Zootopia
Nick Wilde is introduced as a shifty fox entering a Popsicle place for elephants. Then he’s a loving father just trying to get a Popsicle for his little boy on his birthday. And then the little boy is a full-grown mammal, and he’s melting the Popsicle down and selling smaller versions to a line of lemmings for a hefty profit, with a little extra money from selling the Popsicle sticks as lumber on the side. After that, he becomes the annoying civilian dragged along on a case, doing everything in his power to slow down the indomitable rabbit cop, Judy Hopps.
And then his backstory comes out. Now, he’s a young child who just wants to join the Junior Ranger Scouts and be “brave, loyal, helpful, and trustworthy.” Unfortunately, the prey members spit back that a fox could never be trustworthy. They knock him to the ground and force a muzzle around his mouth as he desperately asks what he did wrong. After that moment, he decides that if he’s going to be judged for his species, he may as well embrace the stereotype and be untrustworthy as possible. It’s tragic to see something like that happen to an excited young child, and even more tragic when we understand how the traumatic event shaped him into the cynical mammal he is today.
2. Stanley Pines from Gravity Falls
Stanley “Stan” Pines spent his life as second best. He grew up alongside his twin brother, Stanford “Ford” Pines, who had an abnormally large IQ in addition to his abnormal six-fingered hand. To schoolyard bullies, Ford is a freak and Stan is a dumber version of him. To the school, Ford is a genius and Stan is too dumb to dream beyond a job scraping barnacles. To their parents, Ford is their ticket to a million dollars and Stan is useless waste clinging to his brother’s coat tails.
These perspectives didn’t matter too much when they were inseparable kids, but a misunderstanding leads to Stan getting kicked out of his house with nothing more than a duffel bag and his car. He’s seventeen at this point. What follows is ten years of scams, schemes, and homelessness. He hops in and out of jail, spends time with unsavory characters, and at one point has to chew his way out of the trunk of a car. He constantly searches for ways to earn more money to buy back his family’s acceptance and love.
And then, out of the blue, Ford contacts him. Stan is thrilled that his brother wants to spend time with him again, but it turns out Ford just wants him to take his research and go as far away as possible so a malicious third party doesn’t find it. Stan gets angry, they fight, and then Ford gets sucked into an interdimensional portal—you know, normal sibling conflicts. Stan then spends the next 30 years of his life trying to fix the portal to bring his brother back. The “dumb” twin forces himself to learn complex astrophysics to save his brother. Along the way, he founds a con artist’s dream home, an overpriced tourist trap aptly named the Mystery Shack.
Stan finally fixes the portal. He risks losing the trust of his beloved great niece and nephew. Ford returns, only to punch him in the face and tell him he shouldn’t have rebuilt the portal. He grapples with self-worth and mortality. A malicious demon drags the town into the apocalypse. And then, to top it all off, Stan has to sacrifice all of his memories and sense of self in order to defeat the demon. Yeah, excuse me while I cry into my overpriced Mystery Shack brand handkerchief.
It seems like his life is one never-ending stream of painful events. But he didn’t make the top of the list because forty years is actually short when compared to how long the number one choice had to suffer.
1. Héctor Rivera from Coco
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I have come to tell the tale of how a gangly skeleton with gold teeth and ripped pants makes me want to cry.
Héctor is introduced as a con artist who wants to cross the bridge to get to the land of the living. In an attempt to cross, he decides to cross-dress; he decks himself in a Frida Kahlo costume and attempts to walk past the guards without facing the facial recognition software. He, predictably, gets dragged away, where he then tries to convince a guard to let him go in exchange for tickets to the famous musician Ernesto de la Cruz’s show. He’s clearly lying through his teeth. It’s not a particularly impressive introduction, and audiences may be tempted to write him off as the goofy comic relief character dragged along on Miguel’s journey. But just you wait.
It turns out that Héctor was a loving husband and a doting father of a four-year-old daughter named Coco. He wanted to travel to earn a better living for his family, so he left town with an old friend Ernesto de la Cruz. But he missed his family, so after only a couple months he packed up his songbook and tried to go back home. Ernesto, realizing it was his chance to seize the asshole of the century award, asked Héctor to join him for a toast. He then poisoned his best friend and stole his songbook, using his lyrics to become rich and famous. Ernesto never told Héctor’s family what happened to him, letting his wife and daughter assume he had abandoned him. His wife, Imelda, was forced to harden her heart to music and the world. His daughter was forced to keep her love for him buried deep inside at risk of igniting her mother’s rage. Ernesto profited from the murder for years, and after his death was remembered as a talented and beloved musician. And Héctor died alone, at twenty-one years old, face down on the street in a town he was trying to leave behind.
But wait, there’s more! In the afterlife, Héctor is belittled and shunted to the side of society. Musicians mock him for his death and his belief that he got food poisoning from chorizo. He wears tattered clothes and lives in a run down shantytown on the edges of town. Imelda refuses to speak with him or hear his side of the story, so he never meets his granddaughter or extended family. He regularly loses friends to the final death. All he wants is to see his daughter one last time before he succumbs to the final death himself, but that seems less and less likely. He tries to confront Ernesto, and then gets thrown into a cenote for his troubles.
But he was still kind! And he still wanted to help Miguel! And he taught him to sing! And he gently stroked the picture of Coco and remembered the song he used to sing to her! The same song that Ernesto stole and bastardized, the song he was forced to hear all the time, each time another stab in his heart! And he apologized to Imelda and didn’t ask for her forgiveness! Her anger at him is the reason that he wasn’t able to see his daughter for OVER 95 YEARS! But he wasn’t angry, only sorry for his part in leaving them behind! HE LOVED HIS DAUGHTER AND WIFE SO MUCH! AND HE SUFFERED SO MUCH! BUT HE NEVER TOOK THAT SUFFERING OUT ON ANYONE ELSE! AND EVEN AS HE WAS DYING, HE SUMMONED A SMILE FOR MIGUEL AND TRIED TO SEND HIM HOME!
Ahem. Excuse me. I got a little emotional there. But after a being murdered at a young age and then suffering for 95 years in the after life, I hope you can understand why Héctor Rivera is the most tragic animated con artist on this list.
Now excuse me, I have to go start a petition to drop another bell on Ernesto de la Cruz.