Villains are often the best characters in any movie, almost always more interesting than the good guys, and this is true with Disney cartoons. Here are a list of my favorite Disney villains. Note: This isn't a list of the most effective villains or the most evil or sinister villains or anything. These are mostly chosen because they entertain me and manage to be more memorable than the heroes or heroines in their movies. Oh, one more note: This might not be totally fair, but I'm lumping the villains' sidekicks with them as I see them more as extensions than actual characters. Oh, another note: I'm not including Pixar movies here.
Here's my top-13 list, and I'd love to see yours.
13. Shan Yu from Mulan
Embarrassingly, he's defeated by a woman, and he's almost too real to actually like. However, there's this almost supernatural strength with Shan Yu, and he's got a cool falcon pet and the broadest shoulders you'll ever see. That's all worth something. Historically, Attila the Hun had a falcon, right? Not sure about his shoulders. This guy's got a great mustache, a necessary characteristic of any mail villain, and eyebrows to match, and you wonder if he's so mean because of his receding hairline. You have to think that has something to do with it. I also like Shan Yu's dark humor. Physically, he reminds me of one of my assistant principals.
12. Horned King from The Black Cauldron
Full confession: I don't even remember this movie. I just came across a picture of this dude when doing my half-assed research for this and said, "Hell, yeah! I remember seeing that cat on the big screen!" He looks cool, like a more menacing version of Skeletor, truly scary. Look at those fingers and unkempt nails! Look at those horns! Look at those glowing eyes! Look at them! Look at them! No wonder this movie did poorly in theaters. Parents don't want to invite this guy into their children's nightmares. As I said, I don't remember this movie at all. Didn't this guy have an army of the undead to do his bidding? Damn!
11. Ursula from The Little Mermaid
Here's the perfect example of where the villain is the most interesting character in the movie. The "good guys" in this are completely unlikable. This sea witch, almost all tentacles and flab with at least seven chins, has a certain repulsive charm that you have to like. I have trouble telling if she repulses me or turns me on. I like what Cory said about Ursula a long time ago when he didn't agree with my thoughts on The Little Mermaid: "Ursula was a great villain. She looks evil, has a smoker's raspy voice (how does that happen underwater?), and gets to sing a bad-ass song...and she steals freakin' souls for yucks! And she also plays with eels!"
10. Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland
I can't tell which male Disney cartoon character she resembles. I'm thinking it might be Casey from the Disney version of "Casey at the Bat," but I'm too lazy to look that up. Really, I'm just using the irritable queen here to represent all the "villains" in Wonderland since none of the characters are really all that nice. I like 'em because they're not really evil; it's more that they're just completely insane. Completely. I mean, when your go-to problem solving strategy involves decapitation, you've got some mental issues that no amount of croquet wins will straighten out for you. Give the queen some tentacles, and you might not be too far off from Ursula actually. The Cheshire Cat, obviously in cahoots with the Queen of Hearts, is another shifty unpredictable villain who is either mentally ill or some kind of acid casualty. The Caterpillar? The tea party participants? That lizard guy? Yeah, just lump them all together and stick them in this slot.
9. The Shadow Man from The Princess and the Frog
Dr. Facilier, such a fluidly nasty villain. Lithely animated with a bitchin' cane and shadow that has a mind of its own, this is Disney really unleashing its creativity and creating a memorable character. I love the surreal flavor of this character, and I like how he doesn't even really have much of a motive. At least I don't remember what his motive is. Of all the villains on this list, Facilier is the one I probably know the least. What I remember is that he just seems to like fucking with people, and I can respect that. He's really a perfect example of the classic folkloric trickster character, and the fact that he's able to stand out in a setting and story that is so lively with all those colors and all that music means something. You may think I'm including this guy only because I wanted a black character on my top-13 list, but trust me--that's not the case. This guy is just plain cool.
8. Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty
Now, I haven't seen Sleeping Beauty in a really long time. I remember that it has colorful fairies. I know there's a nondescript prince and an unmemorable princess. And I remember Maleficent. I don't really have an interest in seeing more Maleficent--what a great name, by the way, a name that literally means "making bad"--and can't really get excited about the Angelina Jolie movie that just came out. But she's easily the most interesting character in this movie and arguably the sexiest of Disney villains. The flowing black robes, the horn things, the long face, the long fingers, those eyebrows, that impossibly long neck. So sexy. And she can transform into a dragon, a curvy and spiky phallic symbol that ejaculates fire. Menacing! I don't remember what Maleficent's bird does in this thing. This character almost inspires me to write erotic fan fiction. Pure evil. Pure sexy, sexy evil.
7. Prince John from Robin Hood
He's fresh on my mind because I just watched this again, but although he's probably the biggest loser of the bunch and not the type of villain you can like more than the hero or want to root for, he's enormously entertaining. The voice Peter Ustinov gives him makes the character for me. What a great voice! Prince John is so flawed that he doesn't really even deserve to get a taste of any sort of victory, He's an idiot, not even smart enough to listen to the must smarter Sir Hiss, his serpent adviser or whatever the hell he is. He's gullible, whiny, and arrogant, and Robin Hood barely even seems to notice the guy. Still, that voice, Ustinov trilling his R's all over the place! Great stuff. The Sheriff is kind of lame although you have to respect a villain who isn't afraid to beat up a friar, but I do like those vultures armed with crossbows. But Prince John--the way he shakes that fist (see picture), his grimace, his tiny head, his terrible posture. And that incredible voice!
6. Scar from The Lion King
I don't know. Maybe Scar doesn't deserve to be this high on the list. Again, there's a voice that really sells the character, this time provided by Jeremy Irons. Irons gives the character a gravitas and helps make this the most Shakespearean of Disney animated features. I also like his hyena henchmen--Shenzi, Banzai, and (great naming here) Ed--even though he doesn't even like them. I also like the look that Disney gives this character, the way his shape and movements are animated to distinguish him from his brother or nephew. Mostly, I like the character because he's so much smarter than any other character in the movie. And he knows it and isn't afraid to boast about it. He even gets to sing about how smart he is. See, I guess I can identify with Scar because I often sing about how smart I am, too. Oh, one more thing about Scar: Look at what happens to the land after he gets power. He turns the place into a nightmarish wasteland and doesn't even care. Apathy--a very underrated villainous trait.
5. Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective
Ah, Ratigan. If you knew the underrated character and remembered that he's voiced by the great Vincent Price, you would have guessed that he'd be in my list somewhere. He's another intelligent Disney villain, and a lot of the fun of the movie is the cat and mouse game (or rat and mouse game, I guess) between Ratigan and Basil. Of course, his eventual demise comes because he decided to act like a Batman villain and set up an overly-elaborate method of execution that gives the hero way too much time to figure out a way to escape, but we can forgive that, right? Ratigan's got an elegance and style that fits Price's voice, and at the end of the movie, where Ratigan's evil is truly unleashed, he transforms into something genuinely frightening. He's got a cool henchman, too, a peg-legged bat with a voice that sounds a little worse than a person who's had a tracheo-oesophageal puncture. If there's any animated Disney movie I'd love to see a prequel to, it's The Great Mouse Detective because I want more Ratigan. Of course, Vincent Price is no longer with us, so I'm not sure how that would work.
4. Hodgepodge of symbolic villains from Pinocchio
Here's what I wrote about Honest John, Gideon, Stromboli the puppeteer (a character you can almost smell), Monstro, and the Coachman in my write-up for my beloved Pinocchio: "I really like how the bad guys work in this, especially how they don't violently die like in other Disney classics. These villains are still menacing but work more like archetypes, symbols of problems that every young wooden boy will inevitably face during childhood--temptation, taking the easy way out, hedonism, peer pressure." So my faithful readers already could have guessed that I'd thrown them in as a collective somewhere in here. Four might seem a little high, but I really like these guys and whale and how they work metaphorically. To me, they represent where Disney first got creative with their villains. These guys are seductive, menacing, and just plain sadistic in their own individual ways, and there's really nothing cliched about any of them. Well, maybe the whale. He's just kind of a whale, isn't he?
3. Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians
Well, now I'm a little depressed. I know this blog is riddled with grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors, but I didn't know I've been misspelling dalmatians for so long and in the title of my blog post about that movie. Now, I'm just wondering if my 4 1/2 readers have been judging me. Cruella de Vil might have made the top-five with her name alone. She's got a classic song that the name fits so perfectly that it makes you wonder if they had the melody or the name first. And you just have to love a Disney villain name that could just as easily belong to a dominatrix. Great dichromatic hair and a great fashion sense, there are times when you think she could be kind of hot except you know she's probably bipolar and has an impossibly grotesque bone structure. She's less attractive, of course, because she wants to skin a bunch of cute puppies. I like her henchmen, too, as bumbling as they are because they get all kinds of cartoonish gangster lines. Even Cruella's props are cool. Great villain!
2. Chernabog from Fantasia
Damn. Just look at that guy. I'm still amazed that Disney wasn't afraid to get this dark so early in its animated feature film history. Chernabog (I had to look him up) from the Mussorgsky "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence in Fantasia is evil incarnate, and I don't think Disney will ever match the sinister look that they give this character poised atop that rock. Most of these other villains, you could see and not immediately think you're about to die. If you spotted Chernabog in any context whatsoever, you're shitting your pants. I'll never dress up and go to a convention, but if I did, I would dress up as Chernabog, walk down the halls and knock over geeky people with my gigantic wings. I wouldn't even need a badge or lanyard to get in, would I? Are you going to check to see if Chernabog has a badge? For me, this moment where Chernabog (I really like that I know this thing's name now) appears on the screen represents the ambition and fearlessness of Disney's creative forces because putting that thing on the big screen in a 1940 cartoon took some balls.
1. Captain Hook from Peter Pan
He's not the most successful villain as a teenager in tights who is often played by a woman on stage and an alligator or crocodile--you know I have trouble with those--make him look like a dope. But again, it's sort of more about what the character represents. It was always interesting to me that the pirate and the kids' father were voiced by the same person, Hans Conried who gives both characters an incredible voice, the same exact voice. He does nothing with the voice work to make the characters' voices any different. Disney and Conried consciously are making the character the same. And that's important because the real villain of Peter Pan is a little more abstract than just a pirate with a hook for a hand. But Hook's cool, too, dapper with those curls, that red velvet (I imagine) coat, that pointy mustache, and that hat, the kind that would make other pirates look at him, nudge each other, and say, "Arrrr! Lookee at that guy's ridiculous hat, matey!" And then there's rotund Smee who should not be wearing horizontal stripes, a fact that you'd think Hook would share with him. Smee's voiced by the same guy who did the White Rabbit, another Wonderland character with a mental problem, but spent most of his career as the voice of Droopy the dog. Smee's kind of a human version of Droopy the dog. He's bumbling and adds nothing to the Peter Pan story except as somebody who Captain Hook can take out his anger on. But you have to respect a Disney villain who isn't afraid to show his midriff.
Here are villains who just fell out of my top-13:
Jafar, who I like because he's psychotic and has Gilbert Gottfried as a sidekick. He's mean, sadistic really, but his arrogance is a little off-putting. Jafar will make the list if I watch The Black Cauldron any time soon and find out that Horned King is some kind of pansy.
The evil queen from Snow White didn't make it despite her transformation abilities. She's not as sexy as Maleficent in any of her forms. And the old woman isn't nearly as cool as a dragon. Plus, she's just jealous, and that's less a villainous trait and more a character flaw. And she's killed by a bunch of little people.
Yzma from The Emperor's New Groove is OK, and I like that she's voiced by Eartha Kitt, but she's really just another version of Cruella, isn't she? At least physically? She's got some crazy-ass eyes though, and her goofy henchman is kind of fun.
Does the Oogie Boogie from Nightmare before Christmas count? That guy got a bitchin' song and was nothing more than a burlap sack filled with colorful insects. He'd be friends with Dumbo's pink elephants and the Heffalumps and Woozles, wouldn't he? Speaking of them, are they villains? I like them, but I'm not sure they could count. It would feel weird to give Winnie the Pooh villains. Maybe the clowns in Dumbo are the villains? After all, they're responsible for getting the titular elephant wasted.
How about the Headless Horseman or Brom Bones (one in the same, depending on who you ask) from the Sleepy Hollow short? I didn't count him because it's not a full-length feature film, but maybe I should have. He's not different than the demon on Bald Mountain, right?
Shere Khan and Kaa aren't bad villains, but the former is really just a slightly meaner Tigger while the latter sounds exactly like Winnie the Pooh. Not all that menacing although I do like that voice. King Louie's great, but is he villainous or is he just a little silly?
King Candy from Wreck-It Ralph? I don't remember him. Hans from Frozen? I don't want anything from that movie on any list I ever make. Rapunzel's mom? Now, I do like her, but only sexually, a villainous MILF. The Siamese cats from Lady and the Tramp? Racist. Putting them on my list would be as bad as leaving every black villain off the list. I learned just today that their names are actually Si and Am, by the way. Those characters in Atlantis? One of them was black, I believe, but none of that movie is memorable. They were just really greedy people. Gaston has the dopiest villain song and never feels like more than a lame jock to me. I would have liked to have gone with Pete, Disney's oldest villain, but he wasn't in a feature film that I know of and is kind of a one-dimensional guy. Alameda Slim from Home on the Range, a dreadful movie, has a great name but is forgettable in a forgettable movie. I don't remember Madame Medusa from The Rescuers at all except I know she's got a sweet ride and pet crocodiles which [Spoiler Alert!] eat her. Mankind in Bambi might be the most realistic villain. That judge from The Hunchback of Notre Dame? I've seen that movie recently but just can't remember him at all. That guy in Tarzan was nasty and manipulative, but he was just a realistic human, probably the same guy who took out Bambi's mom, and therefore not all that special. I think I do like his death the best though. Is that old fart from The Fox and the Hound a villain? Maybe he's the guy who shot Bambi's mom? I do like that voice though--Jack Albertson, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory's Grandpa Joe himself. But he's just a guy doing his thing, so I'm not sure he should count as a villain.
My daughter tells me that I'm missing Hades from Hercules because I've never seen Hercules. She says he's a good one. I also don't remember Treasure Planet or Brother Bear well enough to know anything about any villains who might be in there, and I have never seen Pocahontas and really don't plan on seeing it.
So who are your favorite villains? And did I miss anybody?