It took me about 20 years, but I finally figured out where my strange cinematic attraction to the lyin’, cheatin’, stealin’, no-good, lowdown tricksters, sheisters and baddies comes from.
Walt Disney, if you’re eavesdropping from the Great Disney Vault in the Sky, I blame you for this.
Disney, you see, got me hooked on villains at an early age (“The Sword in the Stone” remains My First, so naturally it holds a special place in my heart). And not just one kind of villain — all kinds. The mind reels at the sheer volume of creative and unique villains Disney films have introduced over the years. They range from the purely evil (Scar, Shan-Yu, Cruella De Vil) to the snarky tricksters (Jafar, Prince John) to the just plain cool (what’s cooler than a pirate?). When it comes to cranking out new and exciting villains, Disney has — or at least had — the market shaking and quaking in the corner.
And now, coasting in on a killer wave of nostalgia, let’s take a look at the great Disney villains of the past half-century or so:
1. Scar, “The Lion King”
It goes without saying that plotting the death of your own brother while leading your young nephew to believe it was his fault sends you straight to the top of the Cold-Hearted Snake Ladder of Villainy.
2. Cruella De Vil, “101 Dalmations”
Plainly put, any woman who’d stuff puppies in a sack, drown them and then use their skins to make a coat is right up there with Michael Myers in terms of sheer ruthlessness.
3. Maleficent, “Sleeping Beauty”
Because anybody who can pull off lines like “You poor simple fools. Thinking you could defeat me, ME! The Mistress of All Evil!” while looking so effortlessly sleek and stunning deserves the utmost respect. And fear.
4. Shan-Yu, “Mulan”
Hulking, skulking marauder and village torcher Shan-Yu, with his total lack of morality and anything resembling compassion, will put the fear of the Huns in you (and a few arrows in your back, too).
5. Shere Kahn + Kaa, “The Jungle Book”
What we have here is a perfect combination of brute strength (Shere Kahn, all claws and big, pointy, nasty teeth) and unfathomable cunning (Kaa, unafraid to dust off that Snake in the Garden routine). Disney knows better than to sully the perfect odd couple.
6. Ursula, “Little Mermaid”
Part made man/wiseguy, part behind-the-scenes mastermind and schemer, part wise soothsayer — is there anything Ursual the Sea Witch can’t do? Of course not. It’s not fair, but life’s tough, innit?
7. Jafar, “Aladdin”
There are gangland enforcer-type villains, and then there are soliloquizing, sarcastic loonies like Jafar, reedy evil geniuses who pull the strings from behind the curtain. It’s badness without the beefcake-ishness.
8. Prince John, “Robin Hood”
Bad guys who find time to sling out witty repartee in-between running amock and perpetrating bouts of skullduggery? So much more intriguing than the lamebrained strongarms.
9. Madam Mim, “The Sword in the Stone”
Crazed sorcerers are hard to beat (see No. 3 on this list), particularly when they have a penchant for shapeshifting and know their way around some hard-core alliteration.
10. Captain Hook, “Peter Pan”
He’s a pirate (you know, eyepatch, parrot on the shoulder, “avast ye landlubbers!”?) with a hook for a hand. Need I say more?
Honorable mentions: The Evil Stepmother, “Cinderella”; Queen/Witch, “Snow White”; Hunter, “The Fox and the Hound”