Say what you like about Disney’s capitalistic and commercial ruthlessness, it is responsible for the enchantment of many generations. The princesses, the castles, the tales of the fantastic, the cute sidekicks and catchy show tunes, all of these things have helped mould pop culture and countless childhoods and it doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon.
But for every moment of delight Disney has given us, it has also been responsible for equal amounts of emotional trauma- the pink elephants in ‘Dumbo’, Bambi’s mother being slain off-screen by Man, the Evil Queen’s frightening transformation into the Hag all done to kill Snow White and Sean Connery singing… Disney isn’t all sweetness. Behind every one of these evil acts is an equally evil and frightening villain. Disney boasts a whole plethora of baddies, some funny, some silly and some even likeable, but today, I’m gonna honour the cruellest of the cruel, the nastiest, the most horrid, most down-right VINDICTIVE go-getters of evil ever to be under Uncle Walt’s umbrella.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my personal Top Five Disney Villains.
Honourable Mention: Professor Ratigan
Yes, Vincent Price’s favourite role is well-loved by many (including myself), but for all of his dastardliness, Ratigan is still far too charming than truly scary. Yes, he doesn’t hesitate to feed henchmen who speak out of turn to his obese cat, nor does he bloody hold back from beating the crud out of Basil in the climax of the movie, but I still find myself delighted by him more than truly repulsed. Even so, Ratigan is one of the best in Disney’s Rogue’s Gallery.
5) Shan Yu (Mulan 1998)
(Credit to the Wolf in a Gorilla’s clothing, Diego Valenzuela for sharing this awesome .gif with me)
Quite a few folks have said that ‘Mulan”’s lead villain isn’t particularly memorable, but I feel the reason why people say this is because while it wasn’t bagged upon release, it wasn’t as well-received as the other films that came out in the Disney Renaissance. I thought it was a decent, quality film and it was certainly ambitious to be based on a historical event (give or take quite a few artistic licenses, it IS Disney after all), but ‘Mulan’ missed the train in terms of being a classic.
In spite of this, Shan Yu, the villain is one of the meanest pieces of work to be put on screen and he doesn’t get nearly enough credit. Voiced by Miguel Ferrer, Shan Yu didn’t feel the compulsion to sing about his achievements or throw up a stage show for his men or the audience- he is a warrior, the leader of the mighty Huns and he doesn’t feel the need to prove anything. He knows he is fierce, he knows he is feared, he knows his men respect him and he knows he’s more than competent. With his enormous, hulking frame, dark skin and freaky eyes (that may or NOT be a result of jaundice :D), Shan Yu never hesitates to show he means business.
At the beginning of the film, he and his equally merciless Huns infiltrate the Great Wall of China just to prove that China is not safe. The Great Wall of China. On top of that, despite his supreme confidence, he doesn’t fall into the trap of under-estimating his enemies, even when facing the small military force that Mulan is a part of while she is assuming the identity of a man. Shan Yu knows war is not fought by fools on either side, thus he doesn’t make the mistake of getting too cocky. At one point, Mulan helps cause a devastating avalanche that buries a majority of Yu’s forces, including him. All seems well for China until Shan Yu and the last few of his men emerge from their temporary graves fuelled by feral and animal determination. Holy. CRAP. Not only that, but when he sees that the one who was clever enough to cause the avalanche is a woman, he doesn’t laugh or mock her- he immediately tries to kill her. One thing he ain’t is a sexist.
Shan Yu gets plenty of odious moments, but the most chilling is when he sends his falcon out to scout the landscape, and only to come back clutching a child’s doll. Shan Yu makes an executive decision to attack the settlement that this doll presumably came from and his men agree without question. Contemplating the toy, Shan Yu then adds “Besides, the little girl will probably be missing her doll. We should RETURN it to her.” with the most horrific smiles and a worse look in his eye. Paedophilia, Disney? Paedophilia? BABY JESUS. Shan Yu- highly memorable for all the wrong yet right reasons.
4) Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty 1959)
(The next time you snub somebody, remember this face)
This is the face of somebody who takes a case of persona non grata as an act of war. Maleficent is a triple threat- a powerful sorceress, a feared leader and the Mistress of Evil, all of these things make her a force to be reckoned with.
When Aurora’s parents did not invite her to the little princess’s birthday party, Maleficent took this slight far too personally which resulted in a massive bounty hunt. Maleficent simply did not rest until the offense untoward her had been atoned for in Aurora’s blood. Tall, elegant, sophisticated yet prone to frightening rage and jealousy, nobody in their right mind DARED to cross her because she didn’t just attack physically, she could also cause massive psychological damage. Were it not for the three kindly fairies Flora, Fauna and Merryweather’s timely intervention, Prince Philip’s spirit would have broken as per Maleficent’s fiendish prediction during his temporary incarceration. On top of that, Maleficent’s words obviously haunted the minds of everybody; the King, the Queen, the three kindly fairies… all of them didn’t take Maleficent’s curse as some empty threat- they knew it to be a promise.
Sure, she could turn into a huge, fearsome, badass looking dragon, but it was when she was prowling her fortress, casting her hexes and hunting ignorant young princesses that she was at her most frightening. Hell hath no fury like a sorceress not invited to a party.
Her scariest scene? Look no further than when Aurora arrives back at the castle on the eve of her 16th birthday. Broken-hearted about the possibility of never seeing the handsome man she met in the forest ever again (Prince Philip), the three fairies leave her alone for a few moments… a few moments too long. In the darkness of the fireplace, a pair of glowing yellow eyes appear and an orb of hypnotising green light. Along with it, the song of a ghostly siren rouses Aurora from her sobs. The song is her name.
3) The Horned King (The Black Cauldron 1985)
I admit, ‘The Black Cauldron’ is not one of my favourite Disney films, but over the years it has gained an admirable cult following. I don’t remember anything in particular about the rest of the movie except for this guy. BABY JESUS. Voiced with menace and venom by the great John Hurt, The Horned King is the best part of that entire movie because of how horrific he looks and how horrific his character is.
This undead monster king has no qualms hunting down innocent young folks such as Taran and Elionwy just to achieve his goal of being brought back to life with the help of the titular cauldron. I really believe that the movie was influenced by Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ (funny how Hurt also voiced Aragorn in Bakshi’s animated feature several years earlier, isn’t it?), if not for the whole mythical quest to prevent an evil force from obtaining a powerful object, but for the seemingly omnipotent Big Bad- Sauron= Horned King?
Perhaps. Whatever the case, The Horned King is a horrifying as they come. When you first see him, he just looks like a skeleton wearing a bunch of volumnious robes and a headpiece with antlers, but up close, you see not only a decaying skull, but also several stretches of flesh still cover parts of his face- rotting, green, pungent flesh that is barely hanging on. UGH. Then there are his red, red eyes that pop out at you like the Devil’s headlights. And if you think he is all bluster and no bludgeon, think again- while he is not a HUGE shaker of things himself, he has an entire undead army at his disposal, and they are just as disgusting and cruel as he is when it comes to doing their job. The Horned King- the walking half dead and very much alive with evil.
2) Judge Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1996)
Where do I even start with this animal? While he is but a human (and I even say that loosely based on the stuff this guy does), he more than makes up for his lack of supernatural assistance and evil little sidekicks by being the dark side of humanity. Frollo sees himself as a hugely pious man who seeks to convince Paris the rid themselves of vice and sin by the only way he knows how- subjugation.
Powerful, corrupt, vain, manipulative, sexist, sadistic, paranoid, spiteful and heavily prejudiced against the gypsies, Frollo will not rest until Paris is ‘cleansed’ of the ‘gypsy menance’ and all of it’s citizens follow his example of ‘God’s Will’. His treatment and emotional abuse of Quasimodo is just downright heartless on top of the fact that he will happily make an example of anybody who dares oppose him in the most humiliating way possible. Oh, and did I mention that despite all of his rantings of being a God-fearing good Christian, he lusts the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda so much he becomes obsessed with her to the point of saying if he can’t have her, than the flames of Hell will (ie. being burnt at the stake). Frollo gets a boner and the decent folks suffer. Of all of the recent Disney villains in history, this guy is perhaps the most scariest simply because he reflects the very worst in all of us, and that is why he is so far up on this list.
Frollo’s death is most interesting. Sure, quite a few Disney baddies have fallen to their demise, but before he plummeted to his molten copper doom hanging onto to dear life of that gargoyle head, did Frollo IMAGINE the gargoyle coming to life to mock him, to remind him that he was the only truly evil one, or did it actually happen and nobody else saw because their consciences were pure? Hmmm.
Now, before I give you my number one, let me just say, you could put any other villain of your choosing here, because we are on the subject of evil and I wouldn’t argue with you. However, to me, the best villains are the ones who are absolutely pure, the ones who don’t necessarily have a face or a goal. Evil is evil, and all of who I have listed here all come from the shadow of my final Disney Villain…
1) The Devil/Chernabog (Fantasia segment A Night On Bald Mountain 1940)
When the Devil is not in the detail, it is something that you mostly cannot see. It is not an agent, it is a force. It has no other intention other than just being. However, Disney was generous enough to show us ONE incarnation of Evil itself in the form of Chernobog from Disney’s music and animation masterpiece ‘Fantasia’. Up until this point, ‘Fantasia’ had been mostly light-hearted, cheerful and absolutely delightful with it’s pegasi, nature sprites, dancing hippos and gorgeous colours, but then ‘A Night On Bald Mountain’ turns smiles into frowns and rosy cheeks into pale ones. Modest Mussorgsky’s classic beginning notes start to work their way rapidly into your brain as the camera approaches a vertigious mountain surrounded by murky green mist on Wulpurgis Night, when the forces of darkness are at their most potent.
As you get closer, you see something is not quite right about the mountain and then… the mountain opens. You are now bearing witness to Satan in an earthly form and his powers are at his height and he is ready to wreck Hell upon the Earth tonight and you have a front row seat. Before you ask, no, I am personally not terribly religious, and while you may consider Chernobog to look sensationalistic, that is not the scariest thing about him- it’s the fact that he is Damnation. When he calls forth the souls of the dead who have not been buried upon sacred ground and delivered by noose, as well as his unholy sycophants, they flock to him unquestionably and frantically dance for his entertainment, eager to please him.
The thing is, his version of a reward is to once again damn these souls and minions into the inferno once again. This is what damnation is- never ending torment no matter how you try to appease the power that is keeping you from your resolution. Chernobog doesn’t hatch any schemes or even interact with ANYBODY except those who come to him, but it doesn’t matter. He is Evil, he does all of this just because he IS. Turning the beautiful into the repulsive, transforming sorrowful cries for help into gluttonous demands for consumption, turning the light of the moon into the torturous pits of Hell, Chernobog answers to nobody, just to his state of being which is pure, unadulterated evil. On top of this, the entire segment boasts some shocking material that would not fly on the big screen these days- scenes of cruelty, lurid sexual conduct and nudity- it goes by quick enough, but if you know where to look and able to freeze frame those moments like I have, you will see some honest to goodness disturbing stuff. Naturally, when the light of day/God finally puts an end to Chernobog’s party, he is powerless to stop it, but by now, the audience knows what Evil looks like that they are thankful for this literal deus ex machina.
And there you have it, my Top Five Disney Villains. Pleasant dreams! 😀
List written by Bea Harper