March 17, 2004
Abby often requests music during our family meals in the kitchen, and Berta usually puts on the Disney movie music collection CD while we eat. For one reason or another, we got around to talking about which Disney villian was the most villainous.
It seems that it’s not so very clear cut. I mean, we have some ideas in our mind, perhaps, of which villians are really bad, but investigating this empirically, we see that our initial thoughts might not be so true.
I thought I would lay out some of the points here. See if your initial suspicions mesh with ours.
Scar - The Lion King
In the Lion King, Simba’s father, Mufasa, is king of the pride lands. Mufasa’s brother, Scar, is the villian in this tale. Scar, apart from consorting with the lowly hyenas, perpetrates a terrible scheme on his family.
Although he conspires with the hyenas to kill his nephew, this plot fails. His next attempt at deceit succeeds when he causes a stampede to endanger Simba’s life, forcing Mufasa to his rescue. When Mufasa trusts Scar for aid in escaping the danger himself, Scar lets Mufasa fall into the chasm of stampeding beasts and meet his doom.
More insidious is that Scar tells Simba that his father’s death was Simba’s fault, sending Simba into exile and taking rule of the pridelands for himself. After assuming the role of king, Scar wastefully allows the hyenas to rule over the land, which is stripped of food and turned to ruin.
Prince John - Robin Hood
At first blush, this comedic film doesn’t really stand out as offering an example of heinous villany, but Prince John and the Sherrff are as evil in this film as they are in any others.
In one scene the Sheriff of Nottingham steals a single farthing from a child who had just received it from his poor family as a birthday present. Later, he badgers an injured man to extract money hidden in his leg cast.
Prince John as a ruler is a sure tyrant. He sets the taxes so high that none of his subjects can pay, and then sends them all to rot in jail for non-payment. All the while, his bedroom is replete with bags of gold.
To catch Robin Hood, he goes so far as to order the public hanging of a holy man.
Malificent - Sleeping Beauty
While she is undoubtably one of the scarier Disney villains, Malificent seems rather not-evil.
The three good witches (or are the fairies? I can’t recall exactly) each grant Aurora a gift when she is born. But because Malificent wasn’t invited to the party, when she crashes it, she bestows a curse on Aurora, causing her to die on her 16th birthday.
She shows up later in the film with a spinning wheel to be sure that her curse is fulfiled, even though one of the good witches softens the blow of the curse by making Aurora sleep instead of die.
She can also turn into a dragon, but this by itself doesn’t seem inherently evil. In all, Malificent is a powerful, but benign evil. Just don’t tick her off.
Shere Kahn - The Jungle Book
Shere Kahn is one bad dude, but he’s not evil. In fact, if anything Shere Kahn is doing his best to protect his jungle from the encroaching human threat.
Cruella DeVille - 101 Dalmations
There is something intrinsically sick about wanting to make a fur coat from dalmation puppies. Depending on how heavily you weigh that, you may find Cruella more or less reprehensibly evil.
Madame Medusa - The Rescuers
In this movie, Medusa adopts a little girl, Penny, from an orphanage. It would seem to make Penny very happy to finally be going to an actual home apart from the orphanage, but Medusa turns out to be up to something nefarious.
Medusa takes penny to Devil’s Bayou under guard of her two man-eating crocodiles and forces her to spelunk into a cave that frequently fills with water in search. All of this is in an effort to retrieve a diamond. No one knows what Medusa might have done with Penny if not for Bianca and Bernard’s rescue, but it’s not a jump to guess that investigators might later have found Penny’s body floating in the swamp, chewed by crocs.
Edgar - The Aristocats
The butler at the home of Madame Adelaide Bonfamille got greedy. In order to get his inheritence in short order, rather than waiting for the cats to pass on naturally, he decided to step up the pace by ridding himself and his mistress of the cats altogether.
Edgar isn’t as evil as some on this list, but he seemed like a decent chap until he was overcome with greed and tried to do in the felline pets for his own gain.
Ursula - The Little Mermaid
Power-hungry Ursula, witch queen of the sea, scripts a contract in which the little mermaid Ariel relinquishes the one thing in the world that Ursula knows Ariel’s potential love might recognize her, in exchange for the chance to walk on land to meet him.
She knowingly creates a situation that would cause Ariel to fail, yet when it starts to seem as though Ariel might succeed, she pulls the carpet out from under her by using her voice to woo the prince away from Ariel, making it impossible for her to meet the demands of the contract.
All of this was plotted because Ursula knew that King Triton would sacrifice himself, and thereby the throne, to save his daughter.
After she turns Triton into seaweed, she tries very hard to kill both Ariel and her prince. Yeah, she’s a bad one.
Captain Hook - Peter Pan
This guy is just a mostly ineffectual villain. Is he evil? Well, he does kidnap Tiger Lily in an attempt to learn Pan’s hiding place. He also tricks Tinkerbell into revealing this hiding place under the guise of helping Peter and appealing to Tinkerbell’s jealousy.
When Wendy and the Lost Boys arrive on Hook’s ship, he coerces them to join his crew of pirating buccaneers. When Wendy refuses, Hook forces her to walk the plank over knowingly crocodile-infested waters.
Even though he has never succeeded, Hook frequently tries to end Peter Pan’s life.
Judge Claude Frollo - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
And here’s what you’ve been waiting for… Disney’s most evil villain!
In the beginning of the movie, Frollo orders the death of a fleeing gypsy woman, who runs only to protect her baby. The only reason he has anything to do with the baby (beyond possibly kicking it to death) is that a priest bids him to do penance for the murder of the mother on the steps of the church.
When Pheobus, Frollo’s new captain of the guard, arrives Frollo witnesses the torture that is inflicted upon the last guard who failed to follow the Judge’s inhumane instruction.
Quasimodo escapes into the Feast of Fools and is tied down by the riled crowd (instigated by Frollo’s guards). Frollo refuses to intervene on behalf of helpless Quasimodo, a function that would seem his place as a government official and master of ceremonies at the feast.
When the gypsy Esmerelda makes a fool of the Judge for his inaction towards Quasimodo, he declares war on the gypsies, ordering Phoebus to round them up and send them all to prison. In one instance, they find no gypsies hiding in a farmhouse, but Frollo insists that they are hiding something. He bars them into the building and orders Phoebus to set fire to the house. Phoebus refuses, so Frollo lights the house ablaze himself, then orders Phoebus’ execution.
In his own chambers, Frollo prays to God that he can have the lovely Esmerelda as his own, and if not, she should be cast into the fire.
Frollo deceives Quasimodo, discovering the gypsies hiding at the Court of Miracles, and captures Esmerelda. Frollo has Esmerelda tied to the stake with a torch in her hand and offers to set her free if she takes his bed, and when she refuses, he sets the pyre ablaze.
When Quasimodo escapes with Esmerelda and is crouched over her trying to revive her, Frollo approaches in a forgiving tone with a hidden dagger, ready to stab Quasimodo in the back.
Judge Frollo is one bad dude.
If you haven’t seen Disney’s Hunchback, I recommend it. It’s rather undervalued. Just fast-forward through the parts with the gargoyles. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it.