Quasimodo turns 20!

The Hunchback of Notre Dame novel cover

Cover for Victor Hugo’s novel.

Okay, actually, Quasimodo is 185 years old seeing as how Victor Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831.

I, however, am alluding to Disney’s animated adaptation of Hugo’s brilliant novel, which turned twenty years old two days ago. It was released into theaters on June 21, 1996. This movie is a part of the Disney Renaissance era, but of the films from that time period of 1989-1999, it is quite possibly the most underrated. It certainly is not as celebrated or well-remembered as other Disney Renaissance films such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King.

And yet, while my favorite animated Disney film of all time is The Lion King, The Hunchback of Notre Dame comes in as a very close second. The plot, though deviating some from the novel here and there, is still just as solid as TLK and the characters just as memorable and relatable. In fact, this is one of the few movies where the villain is not my favorite. Hunchback’s villain, Claude Frollo, is my second favorite, because I absolutely love Clopin.

And the music: wow! Think about the music of The Lion King—incredible, right?

Quasimodo

Quasimodo

In my opinion, however, as much as I love The Lion King and its music, it is rivaled by the music of Hunchback. “Circle of Life” is not only a great song, but ranked among one of Disney’s best opening songs. But take a listen to Hunchback’s opening song, “The Bells of Notre Dame”, and chances are that you will either think that it is just as good as “Circle of Life”, or even better.

So if the music, the story, and the characters are all so great, then why is the movie itself not remembered as one of Disney’s greatest films? It’s hard to say, really.

Perhaps because of its dark undertones that had never before, nor ever since, been explored in Disney animation. Hunchback has the classic love story and happily ever after ending, but it also has themes of death, oppression, and lust. The last pertaining to Judge Claude Frollo, a man of the cloth, who lusts after the gypsy, Esmeralda. And he does not hide, nor attempt to hide his feelings about her either.

Esmeralda and Djahli-page0001

Esmeralda and her goat, Djali

Then there is the villain song, performed by Frollo, called “Hellfire”, which sparked controversy when the film was initially released, based on these lyrics:

 

Destroy Esmeralda
And let her taste the fires of Hell
Or else let her be mine and mine alone

Hellfire
Dark fire
                                                                            Now gypsy, it’s your turn
                                                                           Choose me or your pyre
                                                                           Be mine or you will burn

The entire song is about his desire for her and is proceeded and adjoined by a more light-hearted song called “Heaven’s Light”. This is sung by Quasimodo and talks about his love for her. This song then delves directly into the darker villain song. But I must say that it, as with all the other songs in the movie, is incredible and powerful. The lyrics, whether you find them offensive or not, fit in with the song, the music is dynamic, and the late Tony Jay, who voiced Frollo, was an excellent singer. And, to my mind, “Hellfire” is one of the best songs in this movie. Watching the song adds another level to the experience, the animation and the imagery, which is very creepy and even a little scary at some points, is wonderful.

Frollo also differs from other Disney villains in a couple of key aspects.

Clopin

Clopin

Most, though not all, of Disney’s villains, especially in the Renaissance era, had sidekicks. Frollo works solo. He is devious in his way of convincing Quasimodo that, were it not for Frollo himself, Quasi would have been drowned. He conveniently leaves out the part where he killed Quasi’s mother and almost drowned Quasi when he was an infant, only to be stopped by Notre Dame’s Archdeacon. He convinces Phoebus to work for him. And when Phoebus has finally had enough and refuses to burn a family alive in their home, Frollo nearly kills him. And he uses Quasimodo to discover the Court of Miracles, which is the secret hideout of Clopin, Esmeralda, and the other gypsies. Despite his lust for Esmeralda, he hates the gypsies, and wants nothing more than to rid Paris of the entire gypsy population. And he does all of his evil deeds on his own.

Also, Frollo’s motives for evil differ from other Disney villains. Other villains are ruthlessly evil as well, but they either don’t seem to know that they’re evil, or they know but either don’t care, or are insufferably proud of it.

Claude Frollo

Claude Frollo

Frollo does not think he is evil either, and he sees nothing wrong with his actions, because he believes that he is doing God’s bidding in every act that he commits. His motive throughout is his desire for Esmeralda fueled on by her refusal of him. Even as Frollo has Esmeralda tied to a stake with a torch in his hand, ready to burn her, he gives her one last chance, saying that if she agrees to be with him, he will spare her. Esmeralda spits in his face and proceeds to set fire to the stake, nearly killing her.

As I mentioned above, the movie deviates from the novel in some respects.

First off, Quasimodo is deaf in Hugo’s novel.

Next, Pierre Gringoire, a major character in the novel is completely absent in the film. In the book, Esmeralda agrees to marry Gringoire for four years to spare him from being killed by the gypsies. She cannot, however, marry a non-existent character in the movie, and at the end of the film, it is implied that she marries Phoebus. If you watch the sequel, they are married and have a son. Meanwhile, in the book, Phoebus marries Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier, who is also absent from the movie.

Also, the novel introduces us to Sister Gudule, Esmeralda’s long-lost mother, who is not in the movie.

Clopin Trouillefou acts as a sort of narrator to the Disney film, but does not play this role in the book.

Phoebus

Captain Phoebus

Claude Frollo has a younger brother named Jehan Frollo, who—surprise!—is not in the movie. Also, as Claude Frollo plays the villain in the movie, so does he in the novel. The variation here is that in the book, Frollo may play a villain, but he has a much bigger heart. He loves his brother Jehan, and he genuinely cares for Quasimodo, taking him in after Quasi’s mother abandons him. His descent into black magic is brought upon due to three reasons:  his inability to properly raise Jehan, who joins the gypsies and is eventually killed by Quasimodo, his inability to properly educate Quasimodo due to Quasi’s deafness, and his lust for Esmeralda who constantly rejects him.

Speaking of Frollo, he dies in the movie, and his is the only death. In the novel, Frollo dies as well, but so do, Jehan, Esmeralda, Clopin, and Quasimodo.

And the Notre Dame Cathedral is sort of a character itself in Hugo’s version.

Oh yeah, and the novel makes no mention of talking gargoyles.

Gargoyles

Victor, Hugo, and Laverne

If you’ve never read the novel, I highly recommend it. If you’ve never seen the Disney film, I highly recommend it. I suggest doing both, despite the differences between the two. If nothing else, at least listen to the songs. Buy or download the soundtrack, or watch the videos of the songs on YouTube. Below are a list of the songs, in order, followed by which character sings each one.

 

“The Bells of Notre Dame” (Clopin)

“Out There” (Frollo and Quasimodo)

“Topsy-Turvy” (Clopin)

“God Help the Outcasts” (Esmeralda)

“Heaven’s Light/Hellfire” (Quasimodo/Frollo)

“A Guy Like You” (Victor, Hugo, and Laverne, the gargoyles)

“The Court of Miracles” (Clopin)

“The Bells of Notre Dame reprise” (Clopin)

Other Disney characters in Hunchback

Above image shows Belle, Carpet, and Pumbaa as seen in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.

As is often done with Disney films, reference to other Disney movies are found in one scene of Hunchback. During Quasimodo’s song, “Out There”, one scene shows an aerial view of the street below. In this one scene, Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” can be spotted reading a book as she walks by, Carpet from “Aladdin” is being shook out by one of the men in the scene, and Pumbaa from “The Lion King” is tied upside down on a stick and being carried by two men.

There were of course, live action film versions of Hunchback before Disney’s animated movie. There was also a direct-to-video animated sequel, and a musical based on Disney’s film, which will finally be debuting near me in September.

If you haven’t already seen it, I strongly urge you to give this movie a try. Don’t be dissuaded by how underrated and unmentioned this film has been. The songs are powerful and the animation is beautiful. And today, it’s still just as great as it was twenty years ago.

 

Simba Turns 20!

TLK Movie Poster

Movie poster for “The Lion King”.

It was twenty years ago, on June 24, 1994, when the “The Lion King” came out in theaters nationwide; it had a limited release in only two theaters one week earlier on June 14, 1994. It was the fifth film of the Disney Renaissance, and was instantly proclaimed one of Disney’s best and finest films. And I must say that “The Lion King” is, not only my favorite animated Disney movie, but my favorite animated movie, and my favorite Disney film. It became not only one of the most critically-acclaimed films of all time, but it also became a Broadway musical, was followed by two sequels, and made the phrase “Hakuna Matata!” something common in everyday language.

What was it about this film that made it so great? It’s hard to say, really. The music is fantastic that’s for sure, the voice cast is one of remarkable actors, and the movie is touching, sad, funny, and inspiring, all at once.

Speaking of the music and voice actors, let me take a moment here to acknowledge both.

The Music

“Circle of Life” begins the story, and really this is  one of the best, if not the best, opening sequence of an animated film. I think the animation of “The Lion King” is the best opening animation, but “The Bells of Notre Dame”, from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, is possibly the best opening song. And the only one that is better than “Circle of Life”.  The song begins with the infamous chanting now associated with the film, as we see the sunrise, and the various animals that begin to make their journey toward Pride Rock to view the new prince.

I Just Can't Wait To Be King

Scene from “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King”.

“I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” is sung by the young cub Simba, about his ambition to become the king. It’s a fun, upbeat, and colorful song, that also acts as a diversion so that Simba and Nala can sneak away from Zazu and go to the elephant graveyard.

“Be Prepared” My personal favorite, sung by my favorite character, and the film’s main villain, Scar, brother to the current king, and uncle to young Simba. We already know from the first scene of the film, that Scar is jealous of Simba, because that means that Simba is now next in line to be king, whereas before Simba’s birth, Scar was next. But this song shows us that Scar is not only envious and upset about being thwarted from his chance to become king, but that he will do whatever it takes to get the throne, and we learn that he plans to murder Mufasa and Simba. Another point made here is that he is working with the hyenas. We met three hyenas earlier, but we did not know that they were working with Scar. “Be Prepared” brings this to light, and also shows that Scar actually has hundreds of hyenas at his command. Note: This song was originally going to be called “Thanks To Me” and come after Mufasa’s death.

“Hakuna Matata” It means “no worries”, and is the motto of the film’s comic duo Timon and Pumbaa. They find young Simba nearly dead in the desert. Scar has convinced Simba that he is responsible for the death of his own father, so distraught, frightened, and feeling guilty, Simba has fled the Pride Lands. He meets Timon and Pumbaa who cheer him up and teach him about “Hakuna Matata”. He ends up living with them into adulthood.

Hakuna Matata

Scene from “Hakuna Matata”.

“Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is begun comically by Timon and Pumbaa, but then blossoms into a beautiful melody, that is then ended comically by Timon and Pumbaa. Once Nala finds Simba alive, the two fall in love, and this of course is threatening to Timon and Pumbaa, and their friendship with Simba. Nonetheless, Nala, Timon, and Pumbaa follow Simba back to the Pride Lands to take his rightful place as king. And the two do end up together and at the end of the film have their own baby cub.

And I have to say, that my favorite musical score in “The Lion KIng” is the piece called “To Die For”. Yes, it is the saddest part ot the movie, but I just love the music that is played during the wildebeest stampede.

The Actors

Young Simba–Jonathan Taylor Thomas

Young Simba (singing)–Jason Weaver

Adult Simba–Matthew Broderick

Young Nala, Simba’s best friend, later they fall in love–Niketa Calame

Adult Nala–Moira Kelly

TLK Cast

Characters from “The Lion King”

Mufasa-Simba’s father and current king–James Earl Jones

Sarabi–Simba’s mother–Madge Sinclair

Zazu–A hornbill and advisor to the king–Rowan Atkinson

Scar–Mufasa’s younger brother and uncle to Simba–Jeremy Irons

Shenzi–One of Scar’s three main hyena henchmen–Whoopi Goldberg

Banzai–One of Scar’s three main hyena henchmen–Cheech Marin

Ed–One of Scar’s three main hyena henchmen–Jim Cummings

Rafiki–The wise mandrill monkey, sort of a shaman, ultimately convinces Simba to go home–Robert Guillaume

Timon–The meerkat, half of the comic duo that saves young Simba–Nathan Lane

Pumbaa–The warthog, other half of the comic duo that saves young Simba–Ernie Sabella

Simba as Hamlet

Simba (left), and Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet (right).

Simba as Hamlet

I love Disney movies, and I love Shakespeare, so if there seems to be a correlation between the two, I’m likely to notice it. And this link between Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Disney’s “The Lion King” was confirmed by the producer of “The Lion King” in the audio commentary from the DVD. “The Lion King” does follow the path of Hamlet, though with a much happier ending, and only two deaths.

First a comparison of the characters:

Mufasa–Hamlet’s father.

Sarabi–Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, and current queen

Scar–Claudius, younger brother to Hamlet ‘s father, and also Hamlet’s uncle.

Simba–Hamlet, the young prince.

Nala–Ophelia, Hamlet’s love interest.

Zazu–Polonius, meddling advisor to the king.

Timon and Pumbaa–Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet’s friends

Now there are some differences, obviously. Claudius doesn’t try to make Hamlet think that he killed his own father, and really, that wouldn’t have worked anyway. And while Gertrude married Claudius, Sarabi is not in any way interested in Scar, and Scar, (as proven through deleted scenes from the movie), actually preferred Nala, who also did not have any interest in him. The “love story” between Hamlet and Ophelia is not nearly as sweet as the one between Simba and Nala. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have known Hamlet since they were all children together, and ultimately, if not somewhat unwillingly, nearly lead him to his doom; Simba doesn’t meet Timon and Pumbaa until halfway through the movie, and they do not attempt to lead him into harm’s way. And Zazu is advisor to the king, but not nearly as meddalsome as Polonius, nor as long-winded. Oh yeah, and not all of the major characters in “The Lion King” meet a brutal end.

Scar Kills Mufasa

Just before Scar kills Mufasa.

That said, here are the similarities:

Simba’s uncle, Scar, kills his father, Mufasa. Scar takes over the Pride Lands as the new king, ultimately driving it into despair. Presumably, Sarabi is still the queen, though as I mentioned before, she and Scar are not interested in each other.  Simba speaks to the ghost of his father, just as Hamlet does, and Mufasa, just as the spirit of Hamlet’s father, ends by saying, “Remember.” Simba returns to Pride Rock and avenges his father, just as Hamlet avenges his. Hamlet ends up killing his uncle, and Scar dies too, only not at the hands of Simba, but rather he is killed by his own hyena “friends”.

The Sequels

“The Lion King” spawned two sequels. The first one was “The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride” and this was released direct-to-video in 1998. Disney sequels are not always the best, but with the sequels to “The Lion King”, they fared pretty well. “The Lion King 2” is also a great story, with memorable songs, and well-known actors in the voice roles. Those from “The Lion King” are the same actors as in the first film, the new characters are Kiara (Michelle Horn as Young Kiara; Neve Cambell as Adult Kiara),  Zira (Suzanne Pleshette), Kovu (Jason Marsden), and Nuka (Andy Dick) .

The Lion King 2-Simba's Pride

“The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride”

This is the story of a pride of Outsiders led by Zira who was Scar’s mate. Her son Kovu, who looks like a young version of Scar, is supposed to kill Simba, and Simba’s daughter, Kiara, to reclaim the Pridelands that Zira thinks belonged to Scar. Kovu has an older brother named Nuka, and a younger sister named Vitani. The plan is for Kovu to get close to Kiara and gain her trust as well as Simba’s. However, Kovu ends up falling in love with Kiara instead. Simba meanwhile, takes a longer time to trust Kovu. Just when he starts to however, Zira sets up an ambush on Simba and makes it sound like Kovu was a part of it. The Outsiders nearly kill Simba, and Simba later banishes Kovu. Kiara flees from Pride Rock to find him. They find each other and return to the Pride Lands, just as Simba’s pride and Zira’s pride are in the middle of a major brawl. They jump in to break it up, and make each of their prides see that there is not any difference between them. When the lions in Zira’s pride join Simba, Zira refuses to give up; she attacks Simba, but Kiara jumps in to defend him, and Zira eventually falls to her death; Nuka also died as well, earlier in the film. The Outsiders join the Pride Landers and Kovu and Kiara also end up happily together. And following the theme of Shakespeare and Disney, “The Lion King 2” is sort of like Romeo and Juliet, but with a happier ending.

Songs from “The Lion King 2”  

“He Lives In You” Sort of the “Circle of Life” of the second Lion King movie.

“We Are One” Sung by Simba and Kiara about how they are all (all lions) are part of one family.

“My Lullaby” Zira’s villain song, and again my favorite song in this movie, telling how Kovu will kill Simba and rise to power.

“In Upendi” Upendi means love, and in this song Rafiki shows Kovu and Kiara that they are meant to be together.

“Not One of Us” The circumstances that lead up to this song are sad, but the music is just so great. This is when Simba exiles Kovu, and all of the animals turn against him and drive him away, saying that he is “not one of us”.

“Love Will Find A Way” The love song between Kovu and Kiara.

The Lion King 1 1-2 cover

“The Lion King 1 1/2”.

Then in 2004, came the direct-to-video “The Lion King 1 1/2”. This is the story of “The Lion King” told from the perspective of Timon and Pumbaa. It begins with Timon’s story and how he doesn’t fit in with the rest of the meerkats. He lives in the meerkat colony along with his mother (Julie Kavner), Uncle Max (Jerry Stiller), and the hundreds of other meerkats. He leaves the colony, eventually meeting Pumbaa, and then it goes through the story of “The Lion King” but from their viewpoint. For instance in “Circle of Life” when the other animals bow to baby Simba, it’s actually that the animals get knocked out because of Pumbaa’s gas, but the other animals think they’re bowing, so they bow too. Also, later on when Nala find Simba, we see how Timon and Pumbaa tried to break things up. And while Simba was still young, Timon and Pumbaa raised him like a son. Eventually Timon ends up saving his colony and thus gaining their respect; he also relocates them to the beautiful place in the jungle, where he and Pumbaa have lived.

Hmm…an original story told from the viewpoint of two characters from that story…sounds a bit like Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Songs from “The Lion King 1 1/2” 

“Diggah Tunnah” Sung by the meerkat colony about digging tunnels.

“All I Need” Timon’s song about living away from the meerkat colony.

“Hakuna Matata” Need I explain?

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” Sang by Lebo M. Same words as the original song, different style.

“Jungle Boogie” Timon and Pumbaa  learn about the trials of parenting.

“Diggah Tunnah reprise”

“Grazing In the Grass” Sung by Raven. Again, same words, different style.

Timon and Pumbaa's Wild Adventures

“Timon and Pumbaa’s Wild Adventures” television series.

The TV Series

Timon and Pumbaa also had their own cartoon called “Timon and Pumbaa’s Wild Adventures” it ran on television from 1995-1998. And their theme song of course, was…Hakuna Matata.

“The Lion King” in other Disney films 

Disney oftentimes likes to sneak in references to past or future films into other movies, and “The Lion King” makes an appearance in two other animated Disney films.

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996)

Pumbaa in -Hunchback-

Pumbaa in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. He is in the lower left circle.

During Quasimodo’s song “Out There”, there’s a scene of the town below. If you take a really good look at the left-hand side of the screen, you will see two men carrying Pumbaa who is tied upside-down to the rack that they are carrrying him on. This scene also features Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” and the Magic Carpet from “Aladdin”.

“Hercules” (1997)

During one of Hercules’s tasks, he is wearing the skin of the Nemean Lion to give him strength. The lion skin that he is wearing, is Scar.

Scar in Hercules

Phil with the skin of the Nemean Lion–Scar (left). Hercules wearing Scar (right).

This film not only evolved into two sequels, a television series, and a Broadway production, (which by the way is fantastic!), but there were video games, plush animals, clothes, etc, inspired by “The Lion KIng”, not to mention that it came out in theaters two more times; once in 2004 for the tenth anniversary, “The Lion King” was released in IMAX Theaters, and then once again in 2010, they released it in 3D. I will never pass up on a chance to see “The Lion King”, and especially not if it’s in theaters again. I saw it twice in the theaters when the movie first came out in 1994, and I also saw the IMAX version and the 3D Version. I bought the VHS, and then the DVD, and then Diamond Edition DVD, and then the Diamond Edition Blu-ray, and each were, and have been, watched more times than I could count; which is why I know the entire movie, line for line, by heart. And for the twentieth anniversary, they are releasing a new soundtrack for “The Lion King” it’s part of a new collection that Disney is releasing for certain films, and the first one, coming out today, is “The Legacy Collection: The Lion King” with over thirty minutes of new music, plus of course, the great original songs.

Circle of Life in Broadway show

“Circle of Life” in “The Lion King” Broadway show.

This movie, twenty years later, still continues to entertain, and hopefully will do so for another twenty years, and beyond.

So in closing, I just want to say to always “Be Prepared”, remember “Hakuna Matata”, and never forget that we are all part of the great “Circle of Life”.

Oh, the villiany! A look at Disney Renaissance Villains

Disney Renaissance villains

Clockwise from top: Scar just before he kills Mufasa; Ursula; Jafar (on the right); John Clayton (on the left); Hades; Governor John Ratcliffe and Gaston.

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.

Disney Renaissance movies

Movie posters of the Disney Renaissance movies: The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, and Tarzan.

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

Poster for Oliver and Company.

Oliver and Company (1988)

Sykes

Sykes.

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).

DeSoto and Roscoe

DeSoto and Roscoe.

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)

The Little Mermaid movie poster

The Little Mermaid movie poster.

“Poor Unfortunate Souls”

“Vanessa’s Song”

Urusula with Flotsam and Jetsam 2

Ursula with Flotsam and Jetsam.

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.

Vanessa

Ursula in her disguise as Vanessa.

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 movie poster

The Rescuers Down Under movie poster.

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.

Joanna


Joanna.

Percival C. McLeach

Percival C. McLeach.

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 movie poster

Beauty and the Beast movie poster.

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

“Gaston”

“Gaston reprise”

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.

Lefou

Gaston’s sidekick, Lefou.

Gaston

Gaston.

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.

 

Aladdin (1992)

“Prince Ali reprise”

Aladdin movie poster

Aladdin movie poster.

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 and Iago

Jafar and Iago.

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 movie poster

The Lion King movie poster.

The Lion King (1994)

“Be Prepared”

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 2

Scar.

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.

Hyenas

Banzai, Shenzi, and Ed, Scar’s hyena henchmen.

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.

 

Pocahontas movie poster

Pocahontas movie poster.

Pocahontas (1995)

“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).

Percy and Ratcliffe

Governor John Ratcliffe and his pug, Percy.

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.

Wiggins

Wiggins, Ratcliffe’s manservant.

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 movie poster

The Hunchback of Notre Dame movie poster.

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 4

Judge Claude Frollo.

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.

Frollo Hellfire 2

A scene from Frollo’s song “Hellfire”.

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 movie poster

Hercules movie poster.

Hercules (1997)

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).

Hades

Hades, god of the Underworld.

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.

Pain and Panic

Pain and Panic.

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.

 

Mulan movie poster

Mulan movie poster.

Mulan (1998)

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.

Shan-Yu and Hayabusa

Shan-Yu and his hawk, Hayabusa.

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.

 

Tarzan movie poster

Tarzan movie poster.

Tarzan (1999)

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.

John Clayton 2

John Clayton.

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.