Because there is no better way to spend a Sunday evening than furiously debating the qualities and merits of Disney villains. Especially considering how much work has been done on the subject already.
It might be useful to know our method:
We first made a list of Disney villains that we cared about. Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective, Slim from Home on the Range, and Bowler Hat Guy from Meet the Robinsons were unceremoniously omitted because we couldn’t remember movie details. R considers this a shame. Others were omitted because we don’t watch those movies ever. But even so, we ended up with a fairly substantial list.
Next we tentatively graphed the villains based on a system of grouping them by their qualities.
Quality 1: Abusive towards henchmen
Some villains escaped this one by default because they don’t have henchmen. But we’re talking things like screaming at Horas and Jasper, punching LeFou at random intervals, and singing lyrics that suggest you expect your henchyenas to die for you when you have no intention of fulfilling any of the promises you’re making.
Quality 2: Relevance to “real-world” issues
How close to home do these villains hit? If they’re mad because no one invited them to a baby shower so they curse an entire kingdom and randomly turn into a dragon, then… not so close. But if they are basically an animated embodiment of toxic masculinity then they do indeed get an R.
Quality 3: Competence
Some villains are undeniably incompetent. We based this both on plot details and a simple feeling of how confident we’d feel about our chances of survival if we were meeting these individuals in a dark alleyway.
Quality 4: Senseless Evil
At first most of our villains were considered senselessly evil, but we narrowed it down to those that we felt would virtually never be mirrors of real-life people. Like, sure, Shan Yu is terrible. Evil with a capital E. But real people have existed and still exist who are like him. But Maleficent? Not really. At least, we hope.
Quality 5: Murderous actions
We decided that villains deserved special consideration if they manage to do something seriously despicable (mainly murder) throughout the course of the film. Quite a few of them don’t, even some of the competent ones.
Quality 6: Entertainment
Just as you have incompetent villains, you have villains who seem to exist mostly as an acceptable target for slapstick humour. Looking at you, Captain Hook. We didn’t give some of the highly entertaining villains this characteristic, however. We reserved it only for those whose major purposes obviously include comic relief, and not those that end up being entertaining just because.
Quality 7: Heart
The villains we inexplicably love. We didn’t need to add this quality. We just wanted to.
Once we had agreed, all sorts of amazing patterns emerged, so we grouped the villains into three columns and four tiers BECAUSE WE CAN. And it it glorious.
So now, on to the fun part: let’s have an over-complicated, detail-oriented rank-fest of some of the most remarkable and memorable villains in animation history.
Tier Four: technically the least evil, least threatening villains, and most of these are villains we really like.
Entertaining (Eartha Kitt <3), abusive (Kronk <3), and we love her. She’s easy to love. She’s power-hungry and her boss is terrible, so she takes action. Her abuse of Kronk is less severe than many other villains, which helps her likability. Ultimately, the tone of this movie suits its villain perfectly, and she has the best villain monologue, which is about a flea and several boxes. And a hammer.
(also of note is she’s a very funny character, and a woman, which is a nice change)
We watched this movie so many times that we had to give him a heart. It also helps that he’s made out of bugs, who we feel sorry for. He has a lot of evil qualities: he’s the only senseless evil in tier 4, he’s competent, he’s abusive towards Lock, Shock, and Barrel in a way that’s more unsettling than funny – because we never see it. They’re little shits, but they tell us they’re afraid of him, and this gives him some serious credibility.
Still, he’s the boogie man. He kind of has to be the way he is. And he’s only useful to the plot as a convenient villain so that we can stop focusing on what a mess Jack makes of things, which is why he’s ranked pretty low.
K loves Edgar, and R thinks she’s misguided. He’s a total creep. Yes, it’s understandable that he’s upset that cats will be inheriting millions of dollars but he deeply hurts his elderly employer by kidnapping her best furry friends. Not OK. That’s why he gets an M for murderous intentions, because, what a legitimately awful thing to do to someone, as well as to the cats. Despite what Disney will tell you in this film, and in Fox and the Hound, you can’t just dump domestic animals in the wild. It doesn’t turn out well. He also gets an R, because his slimy hanging around Madame waiting for her to die is uncomfortable in this brave new world of elder abuse.
He’s in the middle column, which we consider to be where the worst of the worst villains should be. This column is reserved for villains whose villainy is personal.
Captain James Hook receives an A for being the worst pirate captain EVER. Also he’s mean to Smee. He gets an E because you need to watch this movie again, if only for the parts where Tick Tock chases him around.
We struggled with whether to call him senseless evil, but since his fear of mortality and spitefulness towards Pan is the entirety of this character we couldn’t. Though it doesn’t make very much sense for a grown-ass pirate to be hunting down a child, Pan has, by the time we meet him, cut off his hand and has fed it to a crocodile. And now that crocodile is hunting down Hook, because he liked the taste. So… not entirely senseless, at least at this point. But he isn’t senseful (?) enough to be considered relevant – this doesn’t happen in the real world. Does it?
Who doesn’t love Hades? Maybe it’s weird that everyone loves him, since he’s abusive towards Pain and Panic, keeps Meg in servitude, and sacrifices every monster in town because all he wants is to take over Mount Olympus. He accomplishes some awfulness when he has Hercules kidnapped and turned mortal, earning him an M. No, the baby wasn’t murdered, but removing him from his culture and identity for basically the rest of his (now mortal) life is a pretty big deal.
Hades gets an E as well for being fun to look at when he freaks out and bursts into flames.
Tier 3: Mainly the blah ones. And we only like one of them.But these guys and girl are more formidable than their Tier 4 compatriots, and many of them are fairly personal.
Our next “it’s personal” villain. He exists as a foil for Hiro, his collateral damage includes Tadashi (M), and his revenge quest is real-world relevant (unlike Hook’s). He’s just above Edgar because he’s understandable evil. He’s one of the most serious villains, being competent and non-entertaining, and though this makes him scary, it also makes him a tragic character – possibly the only true tragic villain on this list.
The. Only. Woman. In. The. Sword. And. The. Stone. Unless you count the squirrel, which you shouldn’t, because a female squirrel is called a sow. Really. And yes, that means male squirrels are called boars. But anyway. Mim is both funny and competent, and a fairly threatening force, but, as with all King Arthur villains, she’s senselessly evil. Go Mim anyway, despite your utter lack of motive!
We love Shere Khan.
He’s a personal villain because he’s obsessed with killing Mowgli… but rather uncomfortably, he’s also kind of like Bambi, if for some reason the writers of Bambi had made Bambi the villain. He hates Man because Man killed his entire family. Fun times.
All he is is senseless, though, because hating Man is one thing, but no self-respecting cat would hunt the same skinny prey endlessly with no success. That’s why they all eventually get bored of lasers. The movie likes to laugh at him but we don’t know why. He isn’t funny. But even though he’s too deadly serious to laugh at, he doesn’t accomplish anything ever. Kaa does more than him. He’s not real-world relevant because seriously. If he’s a metaphor for nature trying to kill Man or some crap that’s ridiculous and wasn’t well-established, and it’s definitely not the kind of story we go for. So we read Shere Khan as just some random, poorly-written tiger who wants to kill a kid.
He has the same qualifications as Prof. Callaghan, but is less scary. Clayton is trying to exploit nature and parades around as though he’s the epitome of what masculinity should be, which Tarzan wisely rejects. His death scene is awesome. THAT is how you do a nature vs man thing, The Jungle Book.
(ps – Sabor, on the other hand, was a poorly conceived villain in the same way as Shere Khan, which makes it lucky that he was offed near the beginning. Disney just shouldn’t do big cats as villains, it doesn’t work)
Definitely a competent villain, and a comedic one, mainly because he spends most of the movie in disguise. Although he personally hurts Vanellope, she’s not really his target, and her ostracizing is left mainly to the rest of the citizens. He’s higher than some of the other villains for being a selfish jerk without caring about the damage he inflicts. *cough* Ralph *cough* Nicelanders *cough* man everyone in this movie needs to be more conscientious. Which is, we suppose, the point.
Jafar, he’s our man. If he can’t do it, GREAT!!!!!!
JAFAR IS ONLY COMEDIC. It is his one trait. He’s not competent – like, he seems competent, until you realize it’s just because you’re comparing him to the Sultan WHO DOESN’T EVEN KNOW HOW LAWS WORK. We came to this conclusion by noting that he attempts, and fails, to kill Aladdin three times, and then immediately proceeds as though he’s been successful. He’s not particularly relevant, not senselessly evil, not abusive towards Iago (at least, he doesn’t give more than he gets)… he’s a puzzle.
The worst he does is try to force Jasmine into marrying him, but even that is kind of half-hearted. At the end there he just keeps changing his mind about what he wants and, well, we don’t know. He’s unpleasant but fun to watch and impossible to understand. And unlike with Shere Khan, who makes you feel icky for sort of rooting for him when his whole thing is killing a child, Jafar’s incohesiveness just adds to his entertainment value.
Also we may have watched Twisted a dozen times and that clouds our judgement. We need to write about Aladdin vs Twisted one day soon.
Another “it’s personal.” This so far seems like a list of men with chips on their shoulders, some understandable, some, not so much. Hans is ranked higher because of his willingness to manipulate and kill two people to get what he wants. Although he doesn’t actually succeed in killing Anna, he does leave her to die, broken-hearted. Because she needs to be able to feel unconditional love in order to save herself, his mocking of her is actually more dangerous than his locking her in.
And while we may be inclined to sort of sympathize with Jafar for having a terrible (if harmless… unless you’re one of his citizens, we suppose) boss, Hans’s excuse of having twelve older brothers is just not good enough to make us feel anything resembling sympathy.
And so it begins.
Although she appears lower on the list than Maleficent and the Evil Queen, she really is the Golden Age villain MVP. Not one other retro Disney villain has claims to the “it’s personal” category, and she really is a treat to watch. She’s competent mainly because of how intimidating she would be in real life. And of course she’s relevant, as one of the most abusive family members in a Disney film. Her never-ending spiteful treatment of Cinderella is bad enough that we gave her an M.
The Horned King
What is this.
This is competent and senseless evil, that’s what this is.
K has no interest in this movie and R feels that if they’d cut out the fairies and given the Horned King a villain song it would have been sort of a classic. But then we wouldn’t have this glorious evil incarnate here to puzzle over. So yeah.
There’s a lot to say about this movie, but let’s just talk about the villain (who has one of the best voices ever). Facilier is abusive towards slimy little Lawrence. He gets an M for killing Ray, in act three, no less! And finally, there’s that question of relevance.
Facilier is almost not Tiana’s villain. He tempts her in the end, but you kind of had to know that she was never going to fall for it the way Naveen did. Facilier is just around to demonstrate in his own villainesque way the recurring theme of wanting what you want and ignoring what you need.
More on this movie later, but suffice it to say that Facilier is pretty much a perfect villain: he’s fun to watch but he’s deeply threatening (despite being a huge screw-up), you get where he’s coming from, and he’s familiar. Also, his death scene is one of the greats, and it’s sort of uncomfortable when you find yourself grooving along to it.
One of the most genuinely threatening villains, he’s next on the personal list. That doll. That doll.
He has the ultimate combo: he’s competent, murderous, and relevant. This pattern shows up again and again with the personal, and now increasingly scary villains. This combo is a winner.
Mulan needs a villain who will take her seriously, and to be credible, he has to be serious himself. He’s a warlord straight out of history, destroying everything in his path. And yet he’s the only character to recognize Mulan as a woman AND as a dangerous and competent soldier at the same time. There isn’t even a moment for him to go, “Oh. I thought you were an issue but you’re just a girl.” Nope. He just accepts it. It’s interesting. He’s a well-written component playing his role in a well-written movie.
Speaking of which. Sort of.
Gaston is the best part of Beauty and the Beast, and maybe this will destroy our credibility forever but we have some issues with the rest of the film. Maybe one day we’ll detail it. But for now, let’s just say that Gaston is a very entertaining villain with a lot to say about masculinity. We’ve all met a Gaston – not quite exactly Gaston, but we’ve met this guy. We like how he talks to Belle at the beginning – we’ve all been there. It may be slightly hyperbolic, or not.
It is wrong that we can’t think of anything to say about her? She’s competent, senseless, abusive (towards pig men), and murderous (putting the whole kingdom to sleep and essentially killing Aurora). She’s cool to watch, as women on a power trip always are, but other than that there isn’t a lot to her. We’re glad they made the live-action version, which makes a lot more sense.
So exceptionally vain and selfish that she kidnaps a child and locks her in a tower to remain young forever, Mother Gothel is awful. She’s higher than Lady Tremaine because she both physically locks Rapunzel away, and then manipulates her all her life into staying put. It’s clear from the beginning, when she uses the pet name “Flower” for the little girl, that she has no cares whatsoever for Rapunzel apart from her being alive and close by. And no one does a villainous reprise like her (Jafar runs her a close second).
The Evil Queen
She’s senselessly evil and then some. We get that she’s vain, but it isn’t reflected as much as Mother Gothel’s because her vainness is externalized – she’s perfectly happy to cosplay as an old hag if it’ll help her kill Snow White. It’s also something that’s mostly told to us, and not shown to us. She takes extreme measures and while it’s fun to watch her do this (her spell casting is even more beautiful to watch than Snow White’s pie-making), it’s hard to take seriously.
She’s still ranked higher than Mother Gothel because, although she isn’t as nuanced or relevant, she’s evil with a capital E. She wasn’t written with a shred of humanity, so we don’t relate to her at all, and she ends up being scarier. Also, her face in the window. Gah.
If she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will (and now that’s stuck in your head, you’re welcome). She’s usually a high-ranked villain because her singular drive in life is to make a spotted fur coat out of puppies. That’s hard to justify. She gets a senseless for that (as do all fur wearers ever. So there). We also have her as relevant alongside it because you can buy dog fur, not to mention all the other kinds of fur. And that’s unnecessary.
Scar is a CMR with the very interesting addition of A, for his abuse of the hyenas. Some like to point out that Scar was just helping the hyenas who were clearly STARVING TO DEATH but, if you’ve actually watched the movie, you’ll know that he promises them endless food, and then in the very next scene with him in charge, he has let them eat everything, and now they really are starving, and he has no intention of feeding them. He even tells Sarabi that they’re all going to sit at Pride Rock and starve to death because he can do whatever he wants.
This of course leads to Scar being eaten by his henchyenas, whose breaking point is, surprisingly, being scapegoated. But good for them, sort of.
He is a heavy-hitter kind of evil, he’s a perfect villain for the story that’s being told around him – he wants all the power without any of the responsibility. Also, he is the only big cat villain that Disney does right, and this is probably because most of the heroes are also big cats.
We regret this. We don’t think he deserves to be higher than Scar because compared to one another, Scar is so clearly the better-written character. But Ratcliffe carelessly wanders in, wants all the gold (to… wear… that’d be heavy but, whatever), is cool with killing First Nations people, sets young misguided men on paths to tragedy, and then tries to incite a genocide, tries to assassinate a leader, and accidentally shoots a white guy.
Meanwhile, we’re supposed to be laughing at him – he’s foppish and vain, and that’s not a comfortable comparison to John Smith. Nor is it comfortable that Ratcliffe gets saddled with the blame for everything; it mitigates the actual genocide and colonial violence that happened. The fact that he’s a poorly-written villain in a problematic film makes him more evil than Scar without being nearly as complex.
Kind of the opposite of Ratcliffe, this is a character who doesn’t have a lot going on and yet she’s really interesting and well-written. Ursula is currently making her living taking advantage of merpeople’s insecurities, but wants to rise up in the world so that she can create never-ending whirlpools. Because. Why not.
She isn’t senseless, and she is very relevant, because we can imagine someone out there in the world who understands people and how they act when they’re not at their best, and who then jumps in to take advantage of them. Those are some scaaaary people in real life. Those are also sometimes entire industries.
She gets an M for eating a living shrimp (that is awful). And also for her garden which is fairly horrifying. And she’s clearly competent. Like Facilier, Ursula isn’t really Ariel’s villain. She sees an opportunity to use Ariel to get to Triton when Triton’s parenting failures put Ariel in a vulnerable position, and is basically defeated because she never takes Ariel (and her feelings) seriously.
And finally, Judge Claude Frollo. In reading all of the other villain lists, we’re always a little surprised when Frollo doesn’t end up at the top. Frollo is the perfect villain, really. He’s detestable but you get where he’s coming from, but not so much that you sympathize with him, like with Professor Callaghan. Instead, he’s a familiar kind of evil, like Gaston but a lot more insidious.
He has the winning CMR combination – C because he almost gets what he’s going for, M for murdering Quasimodo’s mother, lifelong abuse of the boy he was supposed to be raising as his own son, enacting an actual genocide in Paris, torturing staff who fail him, and tying Esmeralda to a stake because she won’t marry him. Lovely. Then that R is for that familiarity you feel whenever Frollo’s on screen. How many old white male politicians have said things in recent days Frollo would frostily approve of? It’s amazing how he needs to embody all of the bigotry in the world as our main character is born with a hunchback and our female lead is a gypsy, and yet the movie pulls it off believably without Frollo turning into an overstated mess (*cough* Ratcliffe *cough*).
That was a fairly long post. And we feel as though we’ve only just started talking about this stuff. There’s so much to saaaaay.
But for now, we’ll leave it there.