Admit it: Disney princesses and other heroes of Disney animated features can be… kinda bland. But the villains are always fascinating and alluring. Many are seductive and deceptive by nature, and most have much more flair and style than the protagonists who defeat them. Really, it’s a wonder that it took so long for Disney to allow filmmakers to twist one of its stories to focus more on the villain than the heroine, as it has with Sleeping Beauty’s foe in “Maleficent” (opening May 30).
If the Angelina Jolie live-action twist on the 1959 cartoon succeeds, there’s a whole Hall of Infamy of Disney evildoers ready for their close-ups. Here are 30 of the worst — er, best — Disney animated villains ever.
30. Yzma (“The Emperor’s New Groove”) The ancient Peruvian witch may not be the scariest Disney villain, but she’s one of the funniest, thanks to a sly performance by Eartha Kitt.
29. The Horned King (“The Black Cauldron”)
The film is one of the more unfortunately overlooked in the Disney canon, and so is this John Hurt-voiced baddie, who’s not afraid to take fashion tips from Maleficent — or to steamroll a kingdom to possess the magical title object.
28. Governor Ratcliffe (“Pocahontas”)
He’s kind of your garden-variety ugly imperialist, as voiced by David Ogden Stiers in his imperious Major Winchester mode. Also, the pig-tail coif really isn’t working for him.
27. Kaa (“The Jungle Book”) The python can not only squeeze his victims to death and swallow them whole, he can hypnotize them as well. Loses points, though, for having the same voice as Winnie the Pooh (Sterling Holloway).
26. Mother Gothel (“Tangled”)
Kidnaps infant princess and locks her in a tower for so long that Rapunzel gets a severe case of Stockholm syndrome. Has the lovely singing voice of Broadway vet Donna Murphy.
25. Gaston (“Beauty and the Beast”)
At first, he’s just an arrogant yahoo. But he does have the power to foment an angry, torch-bearing mob.
24. King Candy (“Wreck-It Ralph”) He’s modeled after the Mad Hatter in Disney’s animated “Alice in Wonderland,” but the throne usurper and code re-writer is on a serious power trip.
23. Hans (“Frozen”)
This handsome prince is certainly charming, but it becomes clear that he’s just trying to marry for power. His biggest crime: coming between sisters Elsa and Anna.
22. Professor Ratigan (“The Great Mouse Detective”)
Any rat who has a pet cat is pretty badass. Plus, the rodent crimelord is voiced by Vincent Price.
21. Clayton (“Tarzan”) Ugly imperialism (a la Gov. Ratcliffe), poaching (a la McLeach from “The Rescuers Down Under”), and Gaston’s chin.
20. Sid Philips (“Toy Story”)
Sid’s just a kid, but his sadistic, diabolically creative experiments with recombined toy parts make him a suburban Frankenstein.
19. Madame Medusa (“The Rescuers”)
Played by the great Geraldine Page, Medusa hints at untapped reserves of evil. After all, suppose she’d succeeded in her plot — grab an orphan girl no one will miss and use her to find a hidden gem in a cave too small for a grown-up. What would she have done with little Penny then? Feed her to the pet crocodiles?
18. Shan-Yu (“Mulan”)He’s just a man, but he’s strong enough to withstand an avalanche — not to mention, leading a marauding, bloodthirsty army.
17. Chernabog (“Fantasia”)
He’s a silent demon, but he makes up for it with the most horrifying theme music ever (Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”). He’s also pure evil, using his powers to raise the dead and wreak havoc. His only weaknesses: daylight and the strains of Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”
16. Madame Mim (“The Sword in the Stone”)
She’s included on general craziness points alone. Can turn herself into various creatures, including a scary dragon. Fights a memorable wizards’ duel with Merlin.
15. Hades (“Hercules”) Played by the always sinister James Woods (he even looks like Woods), but with more camp and flamboyance than Woods usually musters. He gets way too much enjoyment from making Hercules’ life miserable. Oh, and he rules hell, which is named in his honor.
14. Judge Claude Frollo (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”)
A typical Victor Hugo villain, he’s all the scarier for believing himself to be motivated by righteousness. Willing to burn down Paris out of his obsession with a girl he can’t have.
13. Shere Khan (“The Jungle Book”)
The urbane menace George Sanders, whose voice underlies so many suave and sophisticated villains (“Rebecca,” “All About Eve”), translates surprisingly well to the jungle, where his jungle-ruling tiger is all the scarier for never raising his voice above a sneer.
12. Queen of Hearts (“Alice in Wonderland”) Lewis Carroll’s fantasy-world monarch has a hair-trigger temper and a capricious will, so she’s ready to lop heads for no reason at all. Props to Helena Bonham Carter in the live-action version, but she can’t hold a candle to the sheer psychotic rage of Verna Felton in the cartoon version.
11. Honest John (“Pinocchio”)
The poor puppet encounters fearsome villains at nearly every turn in the story, from exploitative impresario Stromboli to ravenous whale Monstro. But the worst of all is the misleadingly-named fox who lures Pinocchio into a world of candy-coated sin in the first place.
10. Si and Am (“Lady and the Tramp”)
Grown-up viewers will cringe at the ethnic stereotyping of the singing Siamese cats, but kids may notice only their unfettered malice and mischief, as well as their ability to make it all look like poor Lady’s fault.
9. Lotso (“Toy Story 3″) The Pixar movies have the opposite issue from the rest of Disney’s animated features; their heroes are colorful and interesting, while their villains are often perfunctory and pedestrian. A notable exception is this huggable, strawberry-scented demagogue, a teddy bear who turns a daycare center into a fascist dictatorship and nearly gets our heroes incinerated in a furnace. Plus, he’s voiced by Ned Beatty, in the same menacing manner of his you-are-tampering-with-the-forces-of-nature heavy from “Network.”
8. Lady Tremaine (“Cinderella”)
As voiced by Disney regular Eleanor Audley, the scheming, imperious, vain, power-hungry taskmaster is the kind of woman who gives wicked stepmothers a bad name.
7. Ursula (“The Little Mermaid”)
The undersea witch with the slimy tentacles, whose seeming helpfulness toward Princess Ariel is actually a ploy to oust King Triton from his ocean throne, is one of the scariest Disney villains ever, thanks to the frightening performance of Pat Carroll.
6. Scar (“The Lion King”)
How do you follow up an Oscar for playing the chilly and sinister Claus von Bulow? If you’re Jeremy Irons, you play a fratricidal lion, and you play him like you were playing Claudius in “Hamlet.” (Though Scar also has a touch of Claus, as delivered in the line “You have no idea.”) Here’s a guy who kills his regal brother, then ruins the kingdom out of sheer spite. That’s evil.
5. Jafar (“Aladdin”) The whole character is pretty much a swipe from Conrad Veidt’s villain in the 1940 live-action fantasy “The Thief of Baghdad,” but he’s still delightfully wicked, plotting to marry Jasmine, kill her father, and steal her kingdom. Also, he has the deliciously grouchy Iago (Gilbert Gottfried) for a sidekick, maybe the only Disney-villain henchman who isn’t a brainless buffoon.
4. Captain Hook (“Peter Pan”)
Stylish and debonair, Hook is even more dangerous after Pan symbolically castrates him (feeding his hand to the crocodile), now that he has a vicious hook for an appendage. As in all productions of this story, he’s voiced by the same actor (Hans Conreid) who plays the Darling children’s father; Freudians, make of that what you will.
3. Cruella de Vil (“101 Dalmatians”)
She has the best name of any Disney villain — maybe any villain ever. And you can’t fault her fashion sense, even if that’s what drives her to dognap and try to skin 101 puppies.
2. Maleficent (“Sleeping Beauty”)
Here’s a woman willing to destroy an entire kingdom just because she wasn’t invited to a party. Plus, she has the transformational powers of Madame Mim, the voice of Cinderella’s stepmom (Eleanor Audley), and those iconic horns. As villains go, Maleficent is pretty magnificent.
1. Wicked Queen (“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”) She was the first Disney villain, and she set the bar for all the rest. She has the same magical gift for transformation as some of the other witchy villainesses, but get this: Even though she wants to kill Snow White out of vanity, she’s actually willing to destroy her own beauty just for a final chance to poison her stepdaughter. That’s how full of hate she is. More than anyone else on this list, she’s the one still likely to haunt your nightmares well into your adulthood.
Photos courtesy Disney, Pixar
Gallery | The 10 Best Animated Disney Sidekicks of All Time
- Mushu (‘Mulan’)
Before Eddie Murphy became the voice of the lovable Donkey in the seemingly endless “Shrek” movies, he lent his exuberant talents to voicing Mushu, an equally lovable dragon in Disney’s truly underrated “Mulan.” Mulan’s ghostly ancestors enchant a “great stone dragon” to protect the young woman as she charges into battle on her father’s behalf. But Mushu, a tiny, wise-cracking dragon, accidentally destroys that stone dragon and goes to assist Mulan instead (“I’m travel-sized for your convenience!”). Mulan’s interaction with Mushu is priceless, and his design, which is a kind of puppy dog version of the giant dragons that accompany Chinese parades, is equally amazing. Combined, Mushu makes for one of the very best Disney sidekicks in recent memory. (It also goes to show you how essential it is that these characters talk; for a more recent example look at how lame Pascal was in “Tangled.”)
- Timon & Pumbaa (‘Lion King’)
Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) are such unforgettable Disney sidekicks that, years after the original film was released, a “Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead”-style direct-to-video movie called “Lion King 1 & 1/2,” where the events from that first film are retold from the sidekicks’ perspective, was released. As two outcasts (Pumbaa was exiled for farting too much, while Timon’s backstory is never revealed because those lyrics were cut out of the final version of “Hakuna Matata”) who befriend the guilt-riddled Simba (Matthew Broderick), they are comic foils with equally damaged psyches. When Simba finally makes a bid to reclaim the throne, it’s an even more powerful gesture because he brings his court jesters along for the ride.
- The Seven Dwarfs (‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’)
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was the very first animated feature ever, an artistic act that many in Hollywood scoffed at (it was dubbed “Disney’s Folly”), and still one of the very best. One of the reasons for this is the appearance of the Seven Dwarfs — Dopey, Bashful, Sleepy, Grumpy, Happy, Doc, and Sneezy — they have cool jobs (harvesting oversized gems from the earth), are good dancers (!), and fill out the emotional grey areas that Snow White, for all her singular power as a character, is somewhat lacking in. It’s a testament to the Dwarfs appeal that there are still theme park attractions being built around them today; in 2014 Snow White Mine Coaster, the finishing touch of the New Fantasyland project, opens in Florida’s Magic Kingdom. For sidekicks, they’ve come an awful long way.
- Jiminy Cricket (‘Pinocchio’)
Sure, Jiminy Cricket can kind of be a wet blanket at times, and from a narrative standpoint he rests precariously in between wooden boy Pinocchio’s conscious and Basil Exposition from “Austin Powers,” but it’s the spring in his step and the loyalty in his actions that make him an A1 sidekick. Jiminy Cricket is the definition of ride or die (seriously, think about what madness Pinocchio puts him through) and is responsible for both narrating “Pinocchio” (in a grandfatherly sing-song voice) and singing what might be the most emblematic Disney song in the history of the company (“When You Wish Upon a Star”). What he lacks in gritty texture he makes up for in dependability and charm. Also: what a snappy dresser.
- Thumper (‘Bambi’)
Few Disney sidekicks are as cuddly and adorable as little rabbit Thumper, from the cry-your-eyes-out classic “Bambi.” Thumper has a familiar sidekick trait: a speech impediment, and has the kind of unwavering enthusiasm that most people, when bad-mouthing Disney, assign all of their furry characters. More than a fully fleshed out character, Thumper is more a design triumph than anything else — just looking at him makes your heart nearly burst.
- Sebastian (‘The Little Mermaid’)
Originally envisioned as a stuffy English butler type, it was co-writer/lyricist Howard Ashman who had the stroke of genius idea to turn him into a Caribbean lothario. It transformed what could have been the traditional royal advisor role into an unforgettable sidekick, one full of island rhythms and wonderful comedic timing. In its original incarnation, “The Little Mermaid” would have also been without two of its trademark songs — the calypso love song “Kiss the Girl” and the free-for-all “Under the Sea,” both of which serve as grand moments in the film and also something that the recent “Little Mermaid” attraction at both Disney California Adventure and the Magic Kingdom bring to wonderful, three-dimensional life. Who knew a crustacean could make you feel so much?
- Baloo (‘The Jungle Book’)
Most sidekicks in Disney movies act as comedic foils or are merely there to reassure the main character that he or she is doing the right thing and should always be following their dreams. What makes Baloo such a unique and unforgettable sidekick is that he’s also a mentor to the main character, a young “man cub” named Mowgli. The relationship between Baloo and Mowgli is emotionally rich and dramatically rewarding; the way that Mowgli calls Baloo “Papa Bear” is wonderful and heartbreaking. In terms of relationships between main characters and sidekicks, it doesn’t get much better than this, especially when Baloo is belting one of the unforgettable songs by Richard and Robert Sherman, the longtime Disney songwriting duo dramatized in next month’s exemplary “Saving Mr. Banks.”
- Archimedes (‘Sword in the Stone’)
Unfairly overlooked, “Sword in the Stone,” a Disney take on the Arthurian legend, has style (through its scratchy animation process) and charm to spare, as well as one of the all-time best sidekicks in Archimedes, Merlin’s stuffy, uptight owl. (This is probably what Sebastian would have been like.) Archimedes is noteworthy because he’s not the lead’s sidekick (a young Arthur, referred to here as Wart), but rather the crazy magician’s sidekick. It would be like if Doc Brown had a talking parrot in “Back to the Future” (or something). Archimedes is hilarious, resourceful and pragmatic, a wonderful foil for all the magical nonsense flying around. It’s worth rediscovering “Sword in the Stone” just for this wonderful owl.
- Lumiere (‘Beauty and the Beast’)
There are a seemingly infinite amount of sidekick characters in Disney’s masterful “Beauty and the Beast,” thanks to the enchantment that turned all of the Prince’s staff into anthropomorphic objects. But the very best, most charming sidekick character in the whole lot has got to be Lumiere, the French maître d’ and chief matchmaker between the gruff, disagreeable Beast and the beguiling beauty Belle. Like most of these sidekicks, he also gets the best musical number: “Be Our Guest.” (Hot tip: if you’re dining at the Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland, ask for the grey stuff, it’s delicious. We’re serious. Do it.) Maybe one of the most mind-blowing things about Lumiere is that he’s actually voiced by the late Jerry Orbach, the longtime face of NBC’s crime series “Law & Order.” Talk about enlightening!
- Dawson (‘The Great Mouse Detective’)
OK, so we might be dipping into Disney esoterica with this, a little-seen 1986 feature that directly predates the so-called Disney Renaissance, a golden era that saw the studio return to both financial and creative heights after years of features that rested comfortably in an iffy, unsatisfying middle ground. A kind of animal world version of Sherlock Holmes, Dawson is the Watson equivalent, a pudgy little mouse who is embroiled in a kidnapping scheme involving automatons, the mouse version of the Queen of England, and a giant, ferocious rat voiced by Vincent Price. It’s a shame the movie wasn’t more of a success, both because it’s really good and because it would have been a whole lot of fun to see the further adventures of Dawson and his wonderfully wonky partner in crime, Basil of Baker Street.
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