Let's face it, they terrified us when we were children but they're the real stars of the show—here are 8 Disney villains we love to hate
Disney’s Cruella is released this month, with Emma Stone bringing to life the early years of one of Disney’s most eye-catching baddies. In the eight decades since Walt Disney revolutionised the animated genre, the studio has produced many stories where the villains are as famous as the heroes, if not more so.
For many of us, cowering behind a sofa when the villain arrives has been the abiding memory of a particular animated classic. These ne’er-do-wells are enduring enough that many updates now focus on these characters, but what makes them so timeless? We’ve summoned up a rogue’s gallery of Disney villains to look at why they live rent free in our heads, and hearts.
Ursula, The Little Mermaid
Sometimes you want a villain to be multi-faceted, and sometimes you want them to be outright diabolical. Ursula is perhaps the finest example of the latter, embracing her evil in the most theatrical way. Described by voice actor Pat Carroll as “part Shakespearean actress… part used-car salesman, with a touch of con artist", she steals the show with signature number “Poor Unfortunate Souls”, a tongue-in-cheek profession of innocence that is recited by fans and famous actors to this day (Queen Latifah, Rebel Wilson, and Titus Burgess have all performed the number).
Based on legendary drag queen Divine, the villain’s camp nature has also made her a Queer icon. Melissa McCarthy has a tough task ahead of her portraying the role in the forthcoming remake.
Scar, The Lion King
Speaking of Shakespearean villainy, Scar’s mixture of snarling vengeance and dry wit helped make The Lion King an eternal classic. Loosely based on Hamlet, it’s appropriate that classically trained actor Jeremy Irons brought the character to life in the original version, while Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor took over for the 2019 remake.
What makes Scar work is his simplicity—he wants power, and is jealous of his brother Mufasa for having it. So jealous, that he is responsible for the first on-screen death in Disney history.
Maleficent is the first character on this list to go through something of as transformation. A spectacular, terrifying antagonist in the original 1959 cartoon, Angelina Jolie reinvented her in the 2010s with a more sympathetic portrayal, telling the story of Sleeping Beauty from her perspective as a spurned lover. It reignited interest in the character at a time when we wanted more three-dimensional characters in fairy tales, however, the Oscar winner still managed to keep a sense of menace!
Gaston, Beauty and The Beast
Although he is “roughly the size of a barge”, Gaston is not magic, nor does he command a ship or army. His “powers” as a villain are arrogance, and the refusal to understand another point of view. Just as Belle begins to see behind Beast’s fearsome exterior, he drums up hysteria for his own benefit. Gaston is, in essence, the reverse of Beast—a conventionally handsome man who is ugly on the inside. However, moments like his self-titled song make him a character you love to hate.
The Evil Queen, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs
The blueprint for every character on this list was borrowed, to some extent. Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs was the first animated feature, and needed an antagonist of epic proportions to meet that title. The Evil Queen, Snow White’s stepmother, stays reasonably true to the original Brother Grimm cartoon, and defined the trope of villains being driven by vanity (she wishes to kill Snow White after learning that she is considered “the fairest of them all”).
Both she and her hideous alter ego The Wicked Witch are a staple of Disney lore, and for many the first image that comes to mind when the term “fairy tale villain” is mentioned. Conceited, manipulative, and utterly terrifying.
Captain Hook, Peter Pan
Unlike the others mentioned here, Captain Hook has more competition in terms of adaptations. There are many famous non-Disney versions of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, most famously Steven Spielberg’s sequel Hook, which featured Dustin Hoffman in the title role of Pan’s nemesis.
It can be argued, however, that all take inspiration from the 1953 Disney version. The look certainly inspired many others, with animators making him foppish and flamboyant as opposed to Barrie’s description of “cadaverous”, and Hook’s comedic tone in the animation has been borrowed by a number of performances that came after. It remains to be seen whether the same approach is taken by Jude Law, who is rumoured to be playing the role in a Disney remake.
Yzma, The Emperor's New Groove
One of the more sympathetic villains on this list, Yzma’s goals may have been to kill Emperor Kuzco, but that mania came from being cruelly cast aside by him after playing an important part in his upbringing.
A shrill, eccentric character who benefitted from the timeless vocals of Eartha Kitt (who reprised the role in many spin-offs until her death in 2008), Yzma is a more recent villain who has gained a cult following over the years.
Emma Stone’s Cruella is not even the first time the character has been reinvented. Glenn Close was the star of the successful 1990s remake of 101 Dalmatians, playing the colourful aristocrat obsessed with making a dalmatian coat. Unapologetically evil, both live action and original animated versions were gorgeously over-the-top, adding style to de Vil’s menace. She may scare you like nobody will, but she’ll look fabulous doing it.
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