Disney's Five Best Serious Villains
Only the upcoming Best Movies list was anywhere near as hard to decide as this one. By the way, how telling is it that I found just one video for yesterday’s protagonists and I found videos for all of these villains?

1. Lady Tremaine, Cinderella (1950)

This woman has to be one of the easiest villains to hate. Even though she relishes having the beautiful Cinderella act as maid to her two ugly daughters, she always looks serene in her triumph instead of ecstatic. All she has to do is flash that cruel, vindictive smile to show her pleasure at Cinderella’s misery. We have two people to thank for this nasty character. Eleanor Audley performed the role with nothing short of evil grace and vile dignity, and Frank Thomas built upon that with rigid yet expressive animation. Lady Tremaine is spite incarnate, and watching her get her comeuppance in the end must be the most satisfying defeat in any of Disney’s films.

2. Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty (1959)

No other Disney villain is quite as grand as Maleficent. She wears a large, flowing cloak with lining that looks like flames. Her head is surrounded by bat winds and devil horns, yet she possesses a face that proves evil doesn't have to be ugly. Her control of black magic is matched only by Eleanor Audley’s commanding performance. She would be an immaculate villainess if only she were not subject to the villains’ most common mistake: too much trust in incompetent henchmen. She could have taken care of Aurora years earlier if she or her raven helped out in the search. Still, any fault of hers makes little difference against the awesome and chilling presence that is Maleficent.

3. The Coachman, Pinocchio (1940)

The Coachman is the type of villain who has little screen time but whose heinous actions affect the whole picture. (Think also of Harry Lime or Noah Cross.) He makes the already horrific concept of Pleasure Island more terrifying. His plump figure and shaven Santa Claus face constitute a mask that is both inviting and creepy. The scariest part of his character is that we know nothing about him. Why is he doing this to these boys (it has to be more than just money), why is he so blasted gleeful about it and what does he do with the donkeys that can still talk? All we can tell is that the Coachman is one of those characters who are, as Noah Cross said, capable of anything.

4. Ursula, The Little Mermaid (1989)

This character has one of the most out-there designs I’ve seen in a Disney film. Not only is Ursula half octopus (or half “hexapus” since she only has six tentacles), but her human half is modeled after drag queen and John Waters muse Divine. How’s that for thinking outside the family-friendly box? Ursula is unlike any of the villains that came before her, matching a loathsome appearance with oily demeanor brought to life by Pat Carroll’s guttural performance. She is a sublime example of the inventiveness that characterized the Disney Renaissance.

5. Chernabog, Fantasia (1940)

Some Disney fans neglect to include Chernabog because they think his screen time and actions are too limited for him to be considered a full villain, but I don’t see how you can watch Fantasia and ever forget this master of evil. From his horrible expressions to the forced worship his demons show, everything about Chernabog screams malevolence. The musculature in Vladimir Tytla’s animation, especially in those perfectly drawn hands, deftly shows off Chernabog’s extreme power. It also makes him a little attractive, an element that any depiction of the devil should have. (How can he lure sinners in if he’s completely ugly?) Chernabog is the most horrible monster possible, yet it’s impossible to take your eyes off such a dynamic creature.

Just Missed the Cut: Cruella de Vil, Judge Claude Frollo, The Queen

Disney's Five Best Comical Villains

1. Yzma, The Emperor's New Groove (2000)

The Emperor’s New Groove is funny by itself, but the element that makes it memorable is the batty Yzma, voiced by the hysterical Eartha Kitt. She has some of the funniest lines in any Disney film, and each one is acted more insanely and/or seductively than the last. Yzma’s pencil-thin build and indeterminable age make her an unending source of visual humor and of retorts from the good guys. The movie would not work as well without her. Kuzco is too arrogant to immediately like, Pacha is a bit too nice to be the star and Kronk works best in small doses, as the later spinoffs prove. Yzma has just the right amount of silly wickedness, and she makes the film worth seeing again and again.

2. Professor Ratigan, The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

Ratigan was Vincent Price’s only voice performance for Disney, which almost singlehandedly puts him on this list. Price is as smarmy as ever, but he delivers a rather nuanced performance. You can tell that Ratigan’s happiness when his plan proceeds is just half of his happiness when he outsmarts his rival, Basil. There’s also his difficulty in suppressing his true nature as a rat, which explodes in the final fight and turns him into a feral and formidable rodent (animated by Glen Keane, the same man who animated the Beast in Beauty and the Beast). Ratigan gives us plenty of laughs, but he shows enough of his impending rage to stay menacing throughout the film.

3. Lucifer, Cinderella (1950)

The mice in this film can be grating, but their pursuer is just hilarious. Lucifer is one of the two best results of the film's padding (the other will be named tomorrow). He’s an extreme caricature of a self-absorbed cat, distinguished by his own laziness (his laughter never amounts to more than a snicker) and his frustration at having to live with meddlesome humans (watch his annoyance escalate each time Cinderella comes between him and his lunch, starting at 8:11 of the clip above). Ward Kimball animated him flawlessly, making each of his sneers, frowns and grins look mirthfully revolting.

4. Hades, Hercules (1997)

Hercules is a movie I really liked as a kid but have liked less since I grew up. However, I appreciate Hades as the character who saves the movie from being too juvenile. His angular design is rather delightful, especially that flaming hair that explodes when he’s angry. James Woods’ knack for improvising his lines while still sounding evil is quite remarkable. I must admit, though, that he still has a few errors that kept me from placing him higher. Really, how does he, the lord of the dead, not realize at some point over 18 years that Hercules is still alive? You think he would have checked up on that since it is the whole crux of his plan.

5. Captain Hook, Peter Pan (1953)

In any version of Peter Pan you’ll see, Captain Hook stands for adulthood trying to kill childhood and never succeeding in doing so. The Disney version is exactly that, but the film squeezes some extra laughs out of how badly he fails. His particularly funny traits are his wavering politeness and his disregard for his own crew. He may have ranked higher here if his bits with the crocodile were shorter, or if he didn’t spend those sequences screaming, “SMEE!” so much. (It gives you a headache after a while.) Even so, Captain Hook is an excellent mix of laughs and genuine threats.

Just Missed the Cut: Honest John, Kaa, The Queen of Hearts


KMM said...

I cannot believe Scar did not make the cut on this list. The Lion King was one of the first movies I saw in theaters as a kids. My heart broke when Mufasa died and I have never been able to watch Jeremy Irons in anything else since without feeling like a shadow was stalking me. I would have put Scar on this list and bumped Lady Tremaine or the coachman off.

That being said, Maleficent definitely makes me want to hide under my covers and sleep with a night light, and Ursula's voice is absolutely perfect and chilling in all the right ways.

I really appreciate that you included Chernabog. The version of Night on Bald Mountain and Ava Maria from Fantasia is a beautiful blend of music that coupled with the animation, makes the viewers heart tremble and then soar.

Also, I LOVE everything about Lucifer but would definitely have put Kaa much higher on the comedic list.

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