By definition, we can't know how many unsung heroes are there. How could we? Their names are often forgotten and unspoken, dwelling in the shadows of larger names. This, however, is only a matter of (relative) size, as heroism is directly related to greatness, which in turn is manifested in almost every possible niche in real life and fiction. On the other side, heroism isn't defined by popularity, although there is a high correlation of (known) heroes with popular praises from the mortals and/or the gods.
Today I want to talk about one unsung hero, a character that shines not because of his charisma, but because his actions are extraordinary when faced with danger. This character is a cartoon cat, named Sargeant Tibbs.
If you've seen the animated version of 101 Dalmatians
you'll remember how Pongo's call for help reaches the Captain, who in turn sends the Sargeant to inform the Colonel about the missing puppies. Sargeant Tibbs is also the one who recalls hearing puppies and seeing smoke coming out of the old De Vil
Place, known as Hell Hall. Tibbs has done his usual scouting routine of the surrounding area and is quick to point out the potential connection between the announcement and the events at the regularly abandoned mansion.
When the Colonel and Tibbs get to the De Vil Place they find not just the fifteen reported puppies, but other 84 (supposedly bought from stores) for a grand total of 99 dalmatian puppies. When they learn about Cruella's plan to use the puppies skins for a fur coat, the Colonel goes back to the farm to send a message through the Barking Chain, leaving Tibbs with the task of rescuing the puppies before the Baduns have the chance to kill and skin them.
Now, the real heroism is shown during this rescue scene. In a matter of minutes, Tibbs is tasked with rescuing the equivalent of 99 children, which is easier said than done. Even though the prime directive is cristal clear, the details of the plan have to be made up on the spot, leaving Tibbs with little more than intuition to figure out his next move. Most heroes face increasing dangers during their quest, but Tibbs jumps right into a life-or-death situation where his best abilities (namely, reflexes and agility) are of no use at all for the rest of the team.
After a small cartoony chase sequence, Tibbs and the puppies are literally cornered by the Baduns. Modern cats are still predators, but even the fiercest domestic cat has a huge disadvantage against two grown men armed and willing to kill a small animal. What does Tibbs do now, at the end of his rope? He stands between the Baduns and the puppies. Even when all is lost, he clings to his purpose: to keep the puppies safe, no matter what. At this point he has literally no idea of what's going to happen and how they're going to make it out of this one.
That, my friends, is pure, undiluted heroism. The fact that Pongo and Perdita jump in at the last second doesn't take away from the fact that Tibbs was willing to give his life for the puppies' when all was lost. Sure, help was on it way, but without Tibbs, the film would have been much shorter and titled "2 Dalmatians and one exotic fur coat". Pongo and Perdita are helped all through their quest, but no one helped Tibbs during their short (ableit much more dangerous) quest, he is responsible for both the characters and the entire plot for a few minutes, which might seem as an eternity to him. And he makes it through.
The Disney Wiki entry for Sargeant Tibbs lists his personality as: "Cowardly, loyal, respectful, heroic, clever, jumpy" which further proves my point that it cannot be taken as a good resource for all things Disney. "Coward" and "Heroic" are, in my opinion, mutually exclusive characteristics. The modern Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a coward as:
: someone who is too afraid to do what is right or expected
: someone who is not at all brave or courageous
"Coward." Merriam-Webster.com. Accessed June 13, 2014. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/coward
And E2's own Webster 1913 says:
A person who lacks courage; a timid or pusillanimous person; a poltroon.
A fool is nauseous, but a coward worse.
Syn. -- Craven; poltroon; dastard.
© Webster 1913.
Tibbs might be easily scared, but he does what he thinks is right, which disqualifies him as a Coward on the first definition. Tibbs faces the danger head on out of necessity and never leaves the puppies' side, which is courageous and disqualifies him as a Coward by 1913's definition. I understand him being scared, confused and making less-than-perfect decisions, but I'm on the big peanut gallery of the audience, which often clouds our judgement. Tibbs might have only a few minutes of screen time, but almost every single one of those portray a heroic cat, making a quest far greater than himself, falling short and fighting through for a greater good.