Disney’s animated movies always feature, and have always featured, memorable and remarkable villains. That’s not to say that the heroes, heroines, and other characters are not important, they are as vital to the plot as their adversaries are. But from the evil queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, to the present day, Disney has dished out some of the best movie villains. Now, I am a bit biased in my approach perhaps, because I always tend to like the villains. And if even he or she is not my favorite character, (and this is only the case in two of Disney’s films), the villain is then my second favorite.
Disney’s villains always have a motive–evil or otherwise, usually have a sidekick, (or two, or three), and, with one exception, they always die at the end of the movie; or if they don’t die in the first movie, they die in the sequel. They almost always have a song as well, and in these cases I will put the name of the villain’s song in quotes, right below the title of the movie. I will also discuss his or her place in the film, and the motive of each villain.
As I am only going to talk about the villains in these movies, there will be some parts and characters from each of the films below that I don’t mention. It does not mean that those scenes or characters were unimportant, but I am only going to mention the scenes and characters that add to the villain’s part in each film.
I am not going to discuss every Disney villain here, but rather, I am going to focus on a specific era of Disney films. I was born in 1981, so some of the first movies that I saw in theaters were the ones that are now known as the Disney Renaissance. This era starts in 1989 with The Little Mermaid, and ends in 1999 with Tarzan. Although I will begin with one film that preceded the Disney Renaissance, as it is one of my favorites, and then dive, (no pun intended), into The Little Mermaid.
Oliver and Company (1988)
Disney’s take on Charles Dickens’s classic tale, Oliver, transports the story to 1980s New York City, and the child orphans are portrayed by an orphaned kitten, and a gang of loveable, streetwise canines. This is one of the very rare exceptions where the villain is not among my top favorite characters. My favorite character is this movie is the Chihuahua, Tito, (voiced by Cheech Marin). The villain is Sykes, (Robert Loggia), a ruthless loan shark and shipyard agent, along with his two deadly Dobermans, Roscoe (Taurean Blacque), and DeSoto (Carl Weintraub).
Sykes’s first appearance comes shortly after Oliver (voiced by a very young Joey Lawrence) joins Dodger’s (the incomparable Billy Joel) gang, and that’s when we learn that Fagin (Dom DeLuise) owes him money. Once Oliver finds a home with a wealthy family, Fagin decides to ransom him for the money that he owes to Sykes. He does not know that the little girl, Jenny Foxworth (Natalie Gregory; singing voice Myhanh Tran) is the one who reads the letter. When she arrives, Fagin feels guilty for taking her kitten and returns Oliver to her. Sykes then kidnaps Jenny to ransom her to her family for the money Sykes owes him. Fagin and the animals rescue her, and a chase ensues through a subway tunnel. Roscoe and DeSoto meet their end while fighting Dodger; they fall off of the car and onto the train tracks in the tunnel. Sykes dies not too long after, when an oncoming train smashes into his car, and then causes his car to fall into the Hudson River.
Sykes’s motive: Money, basically. Everything that he does is done in his attempts to get the money that Fagin owes him. Once he kidnaps Jenny he tells Fagin “Consider our account closed.” But Jenny is also being used to get money, as he is ransoming her to her family.
The Little Mermaid (1989)
“Poor Unfortunate Souls”
Ursula (Pat Carroll), is a sea witch, who is jealous of King Triton’s (Kenneth Mars), rule over Atlantica. So when Triton’s daughter Ariel (Jodi Benson), comes to Ursula, asking her to make her human so that Ariel can meet Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes), Ursula agrees, because she sees this as the perfect opportunity to overthrow King Triton. Ursula is assisted in her evil deeds by her two eels, Flotsam and Jetsam (both voiced by Paddi Edwards). Ursula transforms Ariel into a human, at the cost of Ariel’s voice. She then tells Ariel, that if she doesn’t receive a kiss from Prince Eric in three days, she will turn back into a mermaid, and belong to Ursula. Eric finds the human Ariel on the beach and takes her to his castle. As she cannot speak, he thinks that she is a mute from a shipwreck. Meanwhile, he has been searching for the woman who rescued him from drowning. It was Ariel, and she entranced him with her beautiful voice. On the second night, they almost kiss, but are prevented by Flotsam and Jetsam, who overturn the boat that they are in.
With time running out, and enraged by the fact that they nearly kissed, Ursula puts the nautilus shell containing Ariel’s voice around her neck, and then transforms herself into a beautiful young woman named Vanessa. She puts a spell over Eric to make him fall in love with her and forget about Ariel. Eric plans to marry Vanessa the following day, but the wedding is interrupted by a seagull named Scuttle, (Buddy Hackett), and a variety of other animals. In the chaos, the nautilus shell falls and breaks, restoring Ariel’s voice to her. Eric realizes that she is the one who saved him, and goes to kiss her, but it’s too late, and she becomes a mermaid once more. Ursula traps her, and then takes Triton’s offer to replace Ariel as her prisoner. Thus he loses his powers, and Ursula becomes the ruler. She grows into a gigantic size and attempts to destroy Ariel and Eric. While fighting Ariel, Ursula accidentally kills Flotsam and Jetsam. She then traps Ariel in a whirlpool, and just when Ursula is about to kill her, Eric drives the bowsprit of his ship through Ursula’s stomach, killing her.
Ursula’s motive: Power. She wants to be the queen of the seas, and is envious of King Triton’s role as king. Although her motive for that power, then moves her to other motives, such as her determination to destroy Ariel and Eric. Yet her need to destroy Ariel possibly arises out of the knowledge that Ariel would do whatever she could to free her father from Ursula, and she is therefore a barrier in Ursula’s rise to power.
The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
Percival C. McLeach–villain of this Disney sequel to the 1977 film The Rescuers. McLeach is a villain in many ways: he’s a poacher, a kidnapper, and abusive to his pet and sidekick, a goanna (Australian monitor) lizard named Joanna. McLeach is voiced by George C. Scott; Joanna by Frank Welker.
A young boy named Cody (Adam Ryen), befriends a golden eagle named Marahute. Not too much later, Cody falls into a poacher trap set by McLeach, who finds a golden eagle feather in Cody’s backpack. McLeach had already killed another golden eagle before, (Marahute’s mate, in fact), and received a lot of money for him, so he knew he would be rich if he could poach Marahute as well. But Cody refuses to tell McLeach where Marahute’s nest is, and so he kidnaps the boy. At his ranch, McLeach throws Cody into a cage along with several captured animals. Cody tries to free himself and the other animals, but is stopped by Joanna. McLeach then tricks Cody by telling him that another poacher shot Marahute, this forces Cody to lead him to the eagle’s nest. At Marahute’s nest, McLeach captures Cody, Marahute, Jake, and Bianca. McLeach wants the eagle to remain rare so that he will get a lot of money for it, and tells Joanna to eat Marahute’s eggs. She finds that they were replaced by three egg-shaped stones, and she cannot eat them. However, she is fearful that McLeach will be angry with her if she doesn’t eat them, so she pushes them into the water.
McLeach takes Cody and Marahute to Crocodile Falls, where he ties Cody up and hangs him over the crocodiles, preparing to feed Cody to them. But Bernard comes in and disables McLeach’s vehicle that Cody is tied to. Bernard then tricks Joanna into crashing into McLeach, which drops both of them into the water, amongst the crocodiles. Joanna reaches the shore and survives, but just as McLeach fights off the crocodiles, he gets swept over a waterfall and dies. Joanna waves to him as he goes over.
McLeach’s motive: Like Sykes, McLeach’s main motive is money. He knows that he could possibly become rich if he can capture Marahute.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Gaston (Richard White), is seen hunting with his sidekick Lefou (Jesse Corti), in the beginning of the film, during Belle’s (Paige O’ Hara) opening song. Arrogant and self-righteous, Gaston is admired by men, adored by women, and he knows it. The only woman who does not love him is the one girl he wants to marry—Belle. After a couple of failed proposals, Gaston comes up with a plan to have her father, Maurice (Rex Everhart), committed to an insane asylum if Belle does not agree to marry him. During this time, Belle has met the Beast (Robbie Benson), and has begun to fall in love with him. She returns when she sees her father dying through a magic mirror of the Beast’s. Belle returns to the village just as Gaston is getting ready to have Maurice committed. Belle uses the mirror to prove that the Beast really does exist.
Realizing that Belle loves the Beast instead of himself, Gaston rallies the men of the town, and they go charging to the castle to kill him. During the final confrontation on the castle’s roof, between Gaston and the Beast, the latter decides to spare Gaston’s life, but just as the Beast is about to reunite with Belle, Gaston stabs him in the back. This causes Gaston to lose his footing, and fall to his death.
Gaston’s motive: Belle’s refusal to marry him. Though as he is also a hunter, once he sees that the Beast is real, he not only wants to kill the Beast because Belle loves him more than Gaston himself, but also because the Beast would be quite a prize for Gaston to capture.
“Prince Ali reprise”
We meet Jafar (Jonathan Freeman) in the movie’s opening at the Cave of Wonders, where he is trying to retrieve a magical oil lamp. Jafar is the Grand Vizier of the Sultan (Douglas Seale), and he is almost always accompanied by his sidekick and pet, the parrot, Iago (Gilbert Gottfried). He learns that only a “diamond in the rough” can enter the cave. Aladdin (Scott Weinger), is soon arrested for thievery, and Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin), orders Jafar to have him released. Jafar, in love with Jasmine himself, falsely tells her that Aladdin has already been executed. Jafar disguises himself as an elder, and releases Aladdin and his monkey Abu (Frank Welker), from the dungeon and leads them to the Cave of Wonders, where he promises Aladdin a reward in return for his help in retrieving the lamp. Aladdin delivers the lamp to Jafar, who then tries to kill him. Abu steals the lamp back from Jafar, and Abu, Aladdin, and the carpet fall back into the cave as it closes.
Jafar then tries to control the mind of the Sultan, so that he will arrange a marriage between himself and Jasmine; this will allow Jafar to become Sultan himself. Before he can accomplish this, Aladdin is paraded through the town as Prince Ali, having used his first of three wishes from the Genie (Robin Williams), to become a prince, so that he will be worthy enough to marry Jasmine.
Jafar later binds and gags Aladdin before throwing him into the ocean, and then makes a second attempt to arrange a marriage. Aladdin gets free, and when Jafar sees the lamp in Aladdin’s possession, he flees. Iago steals the lamp and brings it to Jafar, making him the Genie’s new master. Jafar enslaves the Sultan and Jasmine, before revealing Ali’s true identity as the street urchin, Aladdin. When Aladdin tells Jafar that Genie is more powerful, Jafar wishes to become a Genie himself. However, he realizes too late, that genies are not allowed to wander around freely and must be contained to a lamp. Jafar gets sucked into a lamp of his own, and he drags Iago with him.
Jafar is the only villain, at least in this era of Disney films, who does not die at the end of the movie. However, in the 1994 direct-to-video sequel, The Return of Jafar, he does die at the end of that film, when Iago kicks the lamp containing Jafar into some magma, therefore destroying the lamp and Jafar. Jafar’s former ally Iago, befriends Aladdin and Jasmine and joins their side instead.
Jafar’s motive: Similar to Ursula, Jafar’s motive is power, yet he is driven to do the evil deeds that he does because he wants to marry Jasmine, and cannot get her father to agree to arrange a marriage between the two of them.
The Lion King (1994)
My favorite Disney film of all time! And it features my favorite Disney villain of all time! Scar (Jeremy Irons), brother to the king Mufasa (James Earl Jones), and uncle to the young cub, Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas; adult Simba is voiced by Matthew Broderick), the son of Mufasa and Sarabi (Madge Sinclair). Scar’s sidekicks are the three hyenas, Shenzi, Banzai and Ed; voiced respectively by Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, and Jim Cummings.
Scar is the younger brother of the king Mufasa, and Simba’s uncle. Simba’s birth proves to Scar that he will never succeed his brother and become the king, so he plots to have both Mufasa and Simba killed. He is helped by three hyenas: Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed. Though it is revealed during the “Be Prepared” song, that Scar is actually leading a whole army of hyenas. His plot to kill Mufasa works, and so does his plan to convince Simba that it’s all his fault. After Simba flees, Scar orders the three hyenas to kill him, but Simba gets away; Scar however, thinks that they have done the deed, and claims the throne for himself. He lets the Pridelands go to ruins, and allows the hyenas to take over. When Simba grows up, his friend Nala, convinces Simba to return, although Simba still thinks that he is responsible for his father’s death, he does go back. Scar, on the verge of killing Simba tells him the truth. Simba then forces Scar to tell everyone else, and a battle between the hyenas and the lions ensues. Simba pursues Scar, and after a brief battle between the two, Simba throws Scar over a cliff. Scar survives the fall, but a few minutes earlier, he told Simba that the hyenas were at fault for everything, and calls them the enemy. When Scar falls, the hyenas are all there, and they reveal that they heard Scar call them the enemy. Scar tries to apologize, but the hyenas won’t listen, and they kill him.
In The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride, we learn that Scar had a family of his own. Apparently the lioness Zira (Suzanne Pleshette) was Scar’s mate, and Scar adopted her three cubs, Nuka (Andy Dick), Kovu (Ryan O’ Donohue; adult voice is Jason Marsden), and Vitani (Lacey Chabert; singing voice is Crysta Macalush; adult voice is Jennifer Lien). Kovu was handpicked by Scar, to follow in his place. Kovu may have been adopted by Scar, but he looks exactly like him. Kovu however, turns out be a nice guy; Zira is the villain.
Scar’s motive: He wants to be the king, and feels his chance slip away once Simba is born. He feels the need to dispose of all probable obstacles between himself and the throne. And as he happened to have his own family as well, Scar would also have felt the need to make the kingship available to his son, Kovu.
“Mine, Mine, Mine”
Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers) has villainous intentions that are clear from the beginning. His greed is exhibited in his determination to find the gold that he believes the Powhatan Indians are hiding in the outskirts of Virgina; although the Powhatans don’t have any gold at all. Not only is he looking for the gold, he plans on keeping it all for himself, and imagines how the king will knight him, or even lord him, for all of the gold that he will be bringing back to the colonies. Ratcliffe’s sidekicks include his pet pug, Percy (Danny Mann), and his servant Wiggins, (also voiced by Stiers).
He has the fortress of Jamestown built in the woods, while his men dig for gold. Thomas (Christan Bale), a friend of John Smith (Mel Gibson), fatally wounds Kocoum (James Apuamut Fall), when he attempts to attack Smith out of a jealous rage. Smith is then captured by Pocahontas’s tribe, and her father, Chief Powhatan (Russell Means; singing voice is Jim Cummings), declares war on the English settlers by executing Smith at dawn. Thomas warns Ratcliffe about Smith’s capture, and Ratcliffe convinces the men to battle the tribe as a way to wipe them out and claim their non-existent gold, that he still believes that the tribe is hiding. The next morning at Smith’s execution, Pocahontas (Irene Bedard; singing voice is Judy Kuhn), stops the execution, and asks her father to halt the hostilities between their tribe and the settlers, to which everyone agrees, save Ratcliffe. Out of anger, Ratcliffe tries to shoot Chief Powhatan, but John Smith takes the bullet for him. The governor is then captured and arrested by his crewmen.
Ratcliffe is one example where the villain does not die at the end of the film, nor does he die in the second one. Just as in the first film, Ratcliffe is arrested at the end of the second one as well.
Ratcliffe’s motives: Gold, initially. Later, his motive does not change, but rather, it evolves. He still wants gold, but as he believes that the tribe is hiding the gold, he develops a second motive, which is to annihilate the tribe, and then get the gold that he thinks they have.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
“Heaven’s Light/Hellfire” (A note on Frollo’s villain song: the first part is called Heaven’s Light, and is sung by Quasimodo. Hellfire is the second part of the song, and this is sung by Frollo).
I mentioned above that The Lion King is my favorite animated Disney film of all time, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame is my very close second favorite. This is also the other example where the villain is my second favorite character. I love Frollo (Tony Jay), but I love Clopin (Paul Kandel) more, so Clopin is my favorite character, and Frollo closely follows.
I could probably do an entire blog post on Judge Claude Frollo alone, as he is considered to be, and possibly is, the darkest and evilest of the Disney villains. He is also a rather complex villain in that he doesn’t really have a motive for his evil deeds. He does not see anything wrong with his actions. He is a deeply religious and pious man, and sees his actions as being done in God’s will. As Clopin says in his opening song, “Judge Claude Frollo longed to purge the world of vice and sin. And he saw corruption everywhere, except within.”
He especially hates the gypsies and wants to be rid of them once and for all. He took Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) in as a baby, only because the Archdeacon (David Ogden Stiers), told Frollo that it was the only way to repent for his sin of killing Quasimodo’s innocent mother, who was a gyspy. Though we learn that Frollo has always told Quasimodo that his heartless mother abandoned him.
Frollo eventually develops a strong, lustful desire for the gypsy Esmeralda (Demi Moore; singing voice is Heidi Mollenhauer). She claims sanctuary in the Notre Dame cathedral, and Frollo tells her that he has guards at every door, and if she sets one foot outside, then she’s his. Quasimodo helps her escape, and during this time, Frollo, in his “Hellfire” song, is praying to the Virgin Mary (referred to as Maria), to release him from Esmeralda’s spell, or else “let her be mine, and mine alone.” Once he learns that Esmeralda has escaped from the cathedral, he claims that she will have to choose him, or the fire, (meaning being burnt at the stake). He all but burns the city of Paris to the ground, searching for her. He finally tricks Quasimodo into leading him to the Court of Miracles, where the gypsies reside, led by Clopin. He captures the gypsies, including Esmeralda, and has her tied to the stake. He gives her one last chance to choose him instead of death, but she spits in his face in answer, and he sets fire to the stake, nearly killing her, before Quasimodo saves her.
Tired of Quasimodo always helping Esmeralda, Frollo decides to kill him. Quasimodo fights him off, and then with Esmeralda, jumps out to the roof of Notre Dame, to escape Frollo. Frollo pursues them, and he and Quasimodo almost fall off of the roof. Esmeralda has hold of Quasimodo’s hand to keep him from falling, and so she’s trapped when Frollo gets back up there. He stands on one of the gargoyles and raises his sword. Frollo’s death is somewhat ironic in that his final words are: “And he shall smite the wicked and plunge them into the fiery pit!” just before the gargoyle that he is standing on cracks, and fatally plunges him into the molten lava below him.
Yes, Frollo is dark, evil, and complex, but I think it is this darkness and complexity that make him such an excellent villain, and makes him a villain that is likeable, despite everything he does. And his “Hellfire” song is quite possibly the best Disney villain song to date. Yes, he is modeled after the character in Victor Hugo’s book of the same name, but in the book Frollo is not villainous at all, until he meets Esmeralda, and his lust for her drives him insane.
Frollo’s motive: Frollo doesn’t really have any motives for evil prior to meeting Esmeralda, because Frollo, (unlike other Disney villains), does not know that what he is doing is wrong. As I said above, he believes that even his most sadistic deeds, are done in God’s will. His faith is what makes his lust for Esmeralda such a sin for him. However, once he desires Esmeralda, he has one goal: to find her, and make her choose between him or the fire.
Hercules (Tate Donovan; teenage voice is Josh Keaton, and singing voice is Roger Bart) is born, the son of Zeus (Rip Torn) and Hera (Samantha Eggar), just after the Titans have been trapped below the ocean. Zeus’s brother, Hades (James Woods), is jealous, and wants to be the ruler of Mount Olympus. He learns that in eighteen years, the planets will align, and this will allow him to release the Titans, but only if Hercules does not get in his way. Hades’s sidekicks, are the two demon minions, Pain (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer). He sends these two to get rid of Hercules. They kidnap him and feed him a formula that turns him mortal, however, Hercules did not drink the very last drop of the potion, so his strength was not completely taken away. He is found and adopted by the farmers Amphitryon (Hal Holbrook) and Alcmene (Barbara Barrie).
As a teenager, Hercules learns of his true heritage. As an adult, he meets Megara, or Meg (Susan Egan), after saving her from a centaur. It is soon revealed to the audience that Meg is actually a minion of Hades’s, after she sold her soul to him to help an unfaithful lover. In Thebes, Hades encourages Meg to tell Hercules that there are two boys trapped in a gorge. Hercules saves them, not knowing that they are actually Pain and Panic in disguise. Once he arrives to save them, Hades unleashes the Hydra, which Hercules successfully kills. On the night before Hades plans to take over Mount Olympus, he makes an offer to Hercules: if Hercules will give up his powers for twenty-four hours, Meg will not be harmed. Hercules agrees and subsequently loses his strength. He is then distraught when Hades reveals that Meg is working for him.
Hades releases the Titans who go to Mount Olympus and capture the gods, while a Cyclops is sent to kill Hercules. As Hercules is fighting the Cyclops, Meg gets trapped under a fallen pillar. Meg dies and her soul now belongs to Hades, so Hercules goes to the Underworld and bargains with Hades, offering to exchange his own life for Meg’s if Hades will release her from the life-draining river, Styx. Hades agrees, but Hercules’s selflessness restores his godhood and immortality before the river can kill him. Hercules rescues Meg, and throws Hades into the river instead.
Hades’s motive: To usurp the rule of his brother Zeus, and become the king of Mount Olympus.
The merciless leader of the Huns, Shan-Yu (Miguel Ferrer), is the villain from Disney’s Mulan. He is aided by his sidekick and pet, the falcon Hayabusa. He invades China, forcing the emperor to create a notice that requires one man from each family to join the Chinese army. Later, when Mulan (Ming-Na Wen; singing voice is Lea Salonga) and some of her fellow troops are ambushed by the Huns, an angry Shan-Yu slashes Mulan in the chest. Mulan had disguised herself as a man to join the army, and while tending to her wound, her fellow soldiers learn the truth, and leave her behind. Shan-Yu and his Huns head for the Imperial City to capture the emperor. Mulan sees them and goes to the City herself to warn the army of Shan-Yu’s approach, but Captain Li Shang (BD Wong; singing voice Donny Osmond), won’t listen to her. Mulan and her fellow soliders help Li Shank defeat Shan-Yu’s men.
While Li Shang prevents Shan-Yu from killing the emperor, Mulan lures him onto the roof and fights him in single combat. On Mulan’s signal, Mushu (Eddie Murphy), fires a bunch of firework rockets at Shan-Yu, killing him.
Shan-Yu’s motive: To invade China, kill the emperor, and to then take over Han China.
John Clayton (Brian Blessed), is a hunter/guide, who accompanies Jane Porter (Minnie Driver), and her father Professor Archimedes Q. Porter (Nigel Hawthorne). In some ways, he is similar to Percival C. McLeach in The Rescuers Down Under, and Gaston from Beauty and the Beast; both of whom were hunters. And like McLeach, Clayton is also a poacher and an enemy to animals. Once Clayton and the Porters meet Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn; young Tarzan was Alex D. Linz) to the gorillas, Clayton decides to capture some and take them back with him. During this time, Tarzan and Jane fall in love with each other.
When the explorers’ boat returns to take Clayton and the Porter’s home, Clayton tricks Tarzan into leading him to the gorillas. Tarzan agrees, and leads them all to the nesting grounds, after making sure that Kerchak (Lance Henriksen), Tarzan’s adoptive gorilla father, is led away; Kerchak is wary of humans, and Tarzan is afraid that he will attack them if he’s present when the humans arrive. But Kerchak soon returns and threatens to kill the humans. Tarzan holds Kerchak back as the humans escape, then humiliated by what he’s done, Tarzan decides to leave too. Clayton and a band of stowaway pirates ambush them, and then trap them in the brig. Tarzan manages to escape, and gets back to the gorilla home, just as Clayton fatally wounds Kerchak, and then fiercely battles Tarzan through the vines and trees. Tarzan will not kill Clayton, but Clayton ends up falling with a vine around his neck, that ultimately hangs him.
Clayton’s motive: Money. He is a poacher, and if he can capture the gorillas and take them back with him, he will get a lot of money for them.
Yes, Disney’s villains tend to be just as exceptional, and even loveable, as their heroes and heroines are. Besides, without the villains, these movies would not have anymore plot, than they would have if the heroes were removed. After all, it is commonly the villains that cause the main conflict, and it’s the conflict that keeps our interest in the movie.