When you have an animation studio that’s been around since the 1930’s, and has released 56 feature films, you’re bound to have at least a few good villains. Whether it’s classic style Fairytale villains or the more modern, complex villain, Disney has quite the legacy. You’ve got several master manipulators. You’ve got schemers committing acts of treason. You’ve got powerful magical users that are meant to represent all that’s evil. And you’ve even got some very complex villains used to explore surprisingly dark themes for a family film. Unfortunately Disney hasn’t given us too many good villains in the last decade. Instead, they’ve given us a bunch of last minute plot twist villains, most of which are underdeveloped. Although two early Disney Revival villains did make this list.
Although I’m titling this post as the best Disney Villains, this is more in personal taste. And like my Favourite Disney Songs list, there will be some honorable mentions first. So let’s get started.
The Evil Queen from Snow White
Sure, I criticized her in my initial Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs post. But I must admit that she’s intimidating, skilled in the dark arts and dangerous. She’s incredibly vain, and while I don’t personally find that interesting on its own, vanity does cause some people to go crazy. She’s Disney’s very first villain, has a great evil laugh and she’s the foundation on which a lot of Disney’s later fairytale villains are built. That at least deserves an honorable mention.
Loan Shark from Oliver and Company
This villain is so boring that I don’t know or care what his name is. He’s just a typical loan shark who uses thugs to intimidate those who owe him money. With that said, he has what is quite possibly the most awesome villain death in Disney Animation Studios history. Just watch this gif.Cruella De Ville from One Hundred And One Dalmatians
Cruella gets an honorable mention because of how fun she is, both in the original and the live action remake. In the original she sees herself as this classy lady who just wants a very nice fur coat with spots. She’s just demented enough that she’s willing to kidnap 101 Dalmatians with the intention to kill them to do it. In the live action remake, she’s completely crazy. The Cruella De Ville jingle that Roger comes up with is part of what makes Cruella fun as well.
Captain Hook just barely missed my top 10, and mostly because he’s more comedic than he is threatening. With that said, his motivations of revenge are clear. He’s also afraid of the crocodile that ate his hand, giving him a clear weakness. He’s smart enough to make good use of his idiotic pirate crew. And of course his facial expressions are fantastic. He’s always fun whenever he’s on screen, and that most certainly earns an honorable mention.
There are plenty of other honorable mentions I could list, but mentioning too many would spoil my top 10.
The Greatest Disney Villains
10 The Evil Stepmother from Cinderella
What makes the evil Stepmother such a great villain is because of how cold and calculating she is. As soon as Cinderella’s father dies, she inherits the manor, and her vanity for her children prevents her from being a good caretaker. She can no longer afford the normal servants, so she just gets Cinderella to do everything. She’ll do anything to keep Cinderella stuck in her life of servitude. At the same time, she’s manipulative enough to convince Cinderella that she’s willing to bargain. It’s enough that Cinderella underestimates her cruelty on multiple occasions. Sure, the step mother isn’t particularly dangerous, but she’s cruel enough that it doesn’t matter.
9 Doctor Faciller from Princess and the Frog
Doctor Faciller is a voodoo practitioner working with his “friends on the other side”. The movie isn’t entirely clear who these friends are, but they’re some sort of dark power he’s made a bargain with. His goals are to take control of New Orleans so that he can give these “friends” all the souls in the city. I’m not sure how that works, and the confusing plot holds him back from getting any higher on the list, but he’s a great mix of charming and scary. His villain song is also pretty groovy. It’s more than enough to get him on this list.
Tie for 7 Gaston from Beauty and the Beast and Ursula from The Little Mermaid
I gave these two a tie in my The Little Mermaid vs. Beauty and the Beast post, and I still feel they’re equally good villains in different ways.
Gaston is the ultimate jock. He’s big, he’s muscular, he’s an expert hunter, and he’s an idiot. He pines after Belle so hard that he’s willing to do anything to marry her, even if it means threatening to send her father to a mental hospital if she refuses. He just can’t understand that Belle is not right for him and he only cares about her looks. Considering the beast is a physical monster who’s kind on the inside, Gaston serves as the perfect opposite. He’s a hunk on the outside but inside, he’s a monster.
Where Gaston is an idiot, Ursula is a political mastermind and a powerful sea witch. She wants to take over the ocean, and she sees Ariel’s desperation to join the human world as the perfect opportunity to do so. She’s just the right level of creepy. Her political struggle sub-plot (along with King Trident learning to let his father go) is actually better than the movie’s main love story. She’s a big part of why I finally decided that I enjoy this movie after all these years of not being sure how I feel about it.
Jafar is the Sultan’s main advisor, and his motivations are clear. He wants to take over the kingdom. Part of what makes Jafar great is that he’s got a partnership with his parrot, Iago, instead of the parrot being a mere servant. That’s not to say they always get along of course. Jafar’s got several plans to gain power, one involving the lamp, and another by marrying into royalty through Princess Jasmine. Although he tries to act diplomatic around the Sultan and Jasmine at first, when he gains possession of the lamp, he reveals his true, evil colours. He’s charismatic, he’s clearly motivated and he’s often fun.
5 Professor Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective
Ratigan is just awesome. He’s a criminal mastermind and he’s proud of it. He sees himself as a classy fellow who hates being called a rat. He’s one of the few people in London’s mouse society who can match Detective Basil’s incredible wit. Watching the two of them try to outsmart each other over the course of the movie is a pure joy. But when he’s pushed, he shows what a monster he can really be. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s voiced by the greatness known as Vincent Price, and that Price is clearly loving every minute of it.
Scar is similar to Ursula in a number of ways. His main goal is to become king of the pride lands, but to do so, he must get rid of both his older brother, Mufasa, and his young nephew, Simba. He’s cold and calculating like the evil stepmother, but comes across as more sarcastic than anything else whenever Simba’s around. He’s charismatic, intimidating and when he manipulates Simba into thinking he’s responsible for his father’s death, you almost believe it. Jeremy Irons does a fantastic job voicing this treasonous mastermind.
Speaking of mater manipulators, Mother Gothel is in a class of her own. She spent centuries staying alive and young thanks to a magic flower, but when the flower is taken by the king of Corona for his very ill and pregnant wife, she seemed to have lost her very source of life. That is until the young princess Rapunzel is born with magic hair. She takes Rapunzel and raises her as a daughter. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding Gothel, and that’s part of what makes her so great. We know she’s vain and cares more about her looks than anything else. Through her body language and her dialogue’s subtext, it’s clear that she cares more about Rapunzel’s magical hair than she does Rapunzel. Apart from that, we know very little.
We don’t know where Gothel is from, only that she’s centuries old. We don’t know whether she actually cares about Rapunzel or not. There’s evidence going either way. Whatever the case, Rapunzel is most likely the first real relationship she’s had in centuries. She clearly doesn’t understand how much a birthday can motivate someone, but she’s still a master manipulator. She raises Rapunzel in such a way that she’s afraid to leave the tower. She convinces two thugs to work for her, before turning on them at the exact right moment.
But what makes Gothel really work as a villain is that she’s realistic. She’s emotionally manipulative and abusive. That happens all the time in the real world, whether it’s bad parents, spousal abuse or even a kidnapper. It’s that sense of realism that makes her scary, and why she’s my favourite Disney villain out of the last 10 years.
2 Judge Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Judge Frollo is by far the most complex villain in Disney Animation Studios history, and it would be disrespectful to place him outside of the top 5. He’s a religious zealot and a racist (toward the gypsies), who sees himself as pure. Despite this, he’s infatuated by a gypsy girl who wows the crowd at an annual festival with her magician show. He’s terrified that he’ll stumble into sin, to the point where he’s determined to either marry the gypsy girl or kill her so that he won’t succumb to his feelings of lust.
For Disney’s Animation Studio to feature such a complex villain with dark themes is bold. The directors were shocked the movie didn’t earn a PG-13 rating because of how far they took Frollo. They were building it around the fact that they expected it, yet it somehow earned a G rating. I’m stunned when I think about that – this probably should have at least been a PG.
But yeah, Frollo is by far the most complex villain in the studio’s history, and like I mentioned in my previous post, he’s got what I believe is the greatest villain song in the history of fiction. I also chose it as my number one song in my favourite Disney songs list.
I’m pretty sure that’s the 3rd time I’ve embedded this song into these posts.
1 Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty
The only villain that can truly beat Judge Frollo is Maleficent, the villain who’s meant to represent the very forces of evil. She’s so vengeful that she curses Princess Aurora with death just because she’s not invited to her official introduction to the world. She’s the ruler of a dark realm full of pig soldiers and a servant crow. She’s a political mastermind and a skilled leader … who unfortunately rules over a bunch of idiots. She’s terrifyingly charismatic. Her voice actress has a lot of presence. And best of all, she’s a powerful magician who can transform herself into a green fire breathing dragon.
There’s nothing overly complex about Maleficent, but that’s fine. Sometimes it’s enough to have a character that’s purely evil.
I hope you enjoyed this list. I enjoyed working on it. Next up will be all of the Disney Animation Studios movies organized in order of my personal preference. After that, I’ll be taking at least a few weeks off of movie posts, besides one where I’ll be asking for input on my next movie blog marathon.