Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Best of the Worst: Disney Villains, Part Two

Last week, I discussed the pros and cons of various Disney villains. But there are still more psychologically disturbed megalomaniacs to analyze. Here they are.

Ursula from The Little Mermaid

Interestingly, almost everyone names Ursula as the villain they would never want to face, both guys and girls, even people who have only seen the movie once when they were eight. She’s clearly the most memorable—the tentacles, I think, have something to do with that. We’re often more afraid of the villains that combine other fears (i.e., people being terrified of Maleficent and Jafar only when they become a dragon or a snake). A lot of people are afraid of drowning, the creepy things that lurk in the ocean, and crazy bad hair, and transfer those fears to Ursula.

What Works: Her laugh is terrifying, her lair is distinctly creepy, she has a great song, and she grows to be enormous in the last scene. What’s not to hate?

What Doesn’t: Mobility? Honestly, I just disliked Ariel so much that I didn’t care if Ursula killed her or shriveled up her soul or whatever she does. But that’s not Ursula’s fault.

The Evil Queen from Snow White

There’s something about this villain that fascinates me. I think it’s because most of the Disney bad guys are creepy because they’re ugly (even Gaston isn’t really good-looking). But the Evil Queen has an icy kind of beauty that works really well. Sure, she isn’t developed very much. But do you believe her when she says she’s going to kill Snow White? I sure do.

What Works: The apple scene—it’s funny to see who associates an apple with Adam and Eve and the Fall and who associates it with Snow White. Her obsession with the mirror and her own beauty is unique and compelling.

What Doesn’t: Let’s face it, Snow White is a dud. Not super hard to deceive. A villain is really only as good as the hero opposite her, and the Evil Queen never had the chance to really show how awesome she could be stuck in a movie with a kid who had a too-sweet singing voice and not much common sense.

Dr. Facilier (the Witch Doctor) from Princess and the Frog

He’s not the first bad guy who comes to mind (because, like Emperor’s New Groove, the point of this movie is development of the two main characters), but as soon as someone mentions him, people react in outrage. “How is he in a kids’ movie?” is the most common comment. There’s something dark about him, a lingering dark that isn’t dispelled when the good guys win. His song, “Friends on the Other Side,” doesn’t just convince you that this guy means business like most villain songs, it makes you want to run and hide.

What Works: He’s scary. Really scary.

What Doesn’t: I am not a fan of this guy at all. Why? Because he represents an evil that is very real and makes it into fantasy. Voodoo and witchcraft exists, and by including it in a kids’ movie, you’re both exposing kids to something they shouldn’t be seeing and trivializing the evil. (I know this because one of my jr. highers didn’t believe me when I said that he shouldn’t make a fake voodoo doll as a joke because voodoo is real.) And do I even have to say that Dr. Facilier’s death was so not appropriate for Disney? Most bad guys fall from a high place. He got dragged down to hell by evil spirits. Not okay.

Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty

Nobody really likes Princess Aurora as a character, and yet a lot of guys want to fight this villain. I think there’s something about dragon-slaying that has an instant appeal. Plus, you get the traditional sword/shield getup. Always a plus.

What Works: Her fortress is awesome, and I think the put-a-curse-on-the-baby scene is pretty convincing.

What Doesn’t: She’s kind of incompetent before the dragon scene. Seriously, she didn’t leave the castle for sixteen years and trusted her really stupid minions to handle things? It makes no sense.

Scar from The Lion King

“He’s got all the scariness of a monster with the intelligence of a person.” It’s a comment that applies to all of the non-human villains, but Scar is the best example. This isn’t an adaptation of a tale everyone knows, so we can’t predict what Scar’s going to do next. We actually wonder if he’s stronger than Simba.

What Works: He has hyenas as minions. His villain song, backed up with a thousand maniacal cackles, is perfect…and he can actually sing, unlike a lot of villains who just kind of warble their way through to set up important plot points. And do not even get me started on the scene with Mufasa and the stampede. Betrayal set against a backdrop of sacrifice…you could not hate this guy more.

What Doesn’t: Not much. He doesn’t manage the kingdom very intelligently for someone who planned his takeover so carefully (although it sprang back pretty quickly).


  1. I so appreciate your thoughts on Dr. Facilier. Most of the time when I try and explain to people why I dislike him they think I'm just being overly sensitive and hypocritical. But I've always been a lover of villains. I mean, Scar, Sheir-Khan, Shan-yu, Maleficent - I didn't just like them as villains. I liked them. To suddenly throw a character at me with real power was discomforting to me.

    On another note. Usually villains climb my list of awesome by how great their villain song is... the fact that Maleficent makes it to the top five without a song at all means she's pretty hard core.

    1. I agree - the villain song is a good indicator of general evil-ness and likeability (dislikability?).

  2. I agree with basically everything you said, especially your thoughts on Dr. Facilier and Scar. I could probably read posts like this forever.

  3. Actually, we watched Lion King in class because of the similarity of the story to Hamlet. It's not perfectly analogous, but Lion King might have had some inspiration. Though I guess that doesn't mean everyone knows it.

  4. Any opinions on Claude Frollo from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"? I find it interesting that Disney somehow got away with making a kids' movie about a lust-driven priest - seriously, Frollo's villain song, while one of my absolute favourites, is not at all child-appropriate - and his paternal-suppressive treatment of Quasimodo was an interesting dynamic.

  5. What about Crayton from Tarzan? I was always freaked out by him because of his passionate obsessive desire to see the gorilla's and his hunt for them. I guess the crazed gleam in his eye towards the end always got to me...

  6. Now I feel like I'm going to have to do another post to get those villains in. Or maybe I'll wait a year or two so I can include ones from new Disney movies (I think one is coming up called Frozen?).

  7. Oh, wow. You've got a pretty impressive slate here. Could you do a post on villain-type characters from books and non-Disney movies, please? I say "villain-type characters" because there are characters from books and movies who work with the protagonists, but they're still pretty despicable, and so forth...