You know what, Disney does not get enough credit for its villains. Everybody cosplays the protagonists, we root for the good guys, the main characters get to be the mascots for Disney. But when you evaluate the stories, it’s the villains that make them fun. This is true in most of fiction in general. Villains get to ham it up, they have the best costumes, they get the best songs, and they have some cool superpowers or weapons of destruction to play with. TV Tropes says it best: Evil is Cool.
Disney went too far with the villain focus in its earlier years. Just look at the principles in Sleeping Beauty (1959). Without looking it up, I’m guessing that you only remembered one character’s name:
Look how much work they put into each character: generic princess, generic prince, bumbling stock faeries, and holy gothic cow, a horned badass demonic evil sorceress who can turn into a dragon! If your legacy is so enduring that Angelina Jolie comes around fifty-five years later to play you in a stand-alone movie, that settles it: you are officially the most important character in the story.
In more recent decades, Disney has pulled back on the villains and fans have actually complained about it. Disney has shifted the focus more to deeper, more complex protagonists and story lines that veer away from princess-rescue fantasies. This trend arguably reached its peak in Frozen (2013), which did backflips to throw away as many tired Disney cliches as it could. You could say that this is for the better. Modern audiences just don’t identify with black-and-white cut-out characters and story lines. We know the world is a more complex place now.
But in the meantime, if you’re going to have some figures loitering around your office cubicle and home bookshelf, you might as well go for the villains. Just look how people react when they see one of these creeps in your collection:
Enesco Disney Traditions Lion King Scar Villain Figurine
A topper on many a fan list of favorite Disney villains, Scar from The Lion King (1994) was the best feline antagonist since Shere Khan. There was no other course available after Disney was committed to retelling a Shakespeare story with animals. They had to go big or go home. But they lucked out getting one of the greatest hams of all time, Jeremy Irons, who lends his iron bellows voice to the scheming character. What sets Scar apart is how psychologically manipulative he is, throwing a guilt trip on Simba and gaslighting him into exiling himself. He even gets what he wants for awhile, coming closer to triumph than most Disney villains even get to taste. And of course, how could we leave out this show-stopping villain song…
Hercules (1997) is an underappreciated Disney film. Granted, it is yet another Western cultural appropriation of culture, but they really tried their hardest this time to stay as true to the Greek legends source as they could and still come up with a watchable story. There’s the art style, a bold and risky departure from the normal Disney animation template. We of course all remember Hades in Internet memedom forever, and it’s because James Woods came in to read for the role and stood the producers’ expectations right on their nose. Hades was supposed to be somber and serious. James Woods played him like a greasy used car salesman with an anger management problem. Some of the lines from the movie are his own ad-libs, and to this day Woods lives up to his commitment to play the character in any medium. Who needs a song when you have all that?
Enesco Walt Disney Classics, Chernabog, Symphony of Evil
Bet you didn’t even know this guy’s name, did you? He’s the “demon” from the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence of Disney’s Fantasia (1940), and is given no characterization to speak of in the movie. Setting the tone for Disney’s history of re-branded European mythology, Chernabog is a figure from Slavic Paganism and the scene depicted in the movie is supposed to be reminiscent of Walpurgis Night, but if you thought this was just Satan summoning forth the legions of hell on Halloween, well, you’re not alone. Why does this stick so high on fan favorite’s lists? Possibly because it’s all sound and feeling, without some bothersome plot getting in the way. Hey, sometimes all evil has to do is look badass.
LE Dr. Facilier Limited Edition Resin Figure – The Princess and The Frog 10th Anniversary
A relative newcomer to the Disney canon, Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog (2009) is a throwback character in a throwback movie for Disney. With this movie, we’re back to adapting traditional European faerie tales, songs about wishing on a star, and 2D animation. This movie would have disappeared on release if it weren’t for two things: a refreshingly deep exploration of New Orleans culture, and Keith David’s turn as Dr. Facilier’s voodoo villain. It was fun seeing Disney bring it back to jazz and Cajun cooking, territory they haven’t visited since – wait for it – The Rescuers (1977). Dr. Facilier brings it back to memorable hammy villains, with a twist: He’s not powerful on his own, but must patronize voodoo demons to make bargains with the spirit world as well as with mere mortal pawns. He’s caught in between his human victims and spiritual masters, and would be pitiful if he wasn’t so good at it. But anyway, here’s the song you’re all waiting to hear:
Disney Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear – Toy Story 3 – Medium – 12”
Ha ha, got you! Lotso from Toy Story 3 (2010) usually doesn’t make it onto the iconic Disney villain lists, but we’re going to tell you why he belongs here anyway. Lotso is one of Disney’s “surprise villains,” a character whom at first seems harmless and even benevolent. Look how cuddly and plush he is! That’s just what makes him so dangerous, as even some other toys later point out to Woody. Lotso is one of the most political characters of Disney’s menagerie, the Pixar version of Joseph Stalin. His own heart broken from abandonment, he takes over an orphanage to reshape it as a safe haven where no toy need ever worry about being abandoned again – as long as you live under his control. If Lotso gives you a chill, chances are you might have heard about him in real life, in the form of an abusive foster parent or the “tough love” counselor at one of those teenage reform boot camps. Oh, and where other Disney villains need superpowers and magic spells, Lotso’s sole weapon is his poisoned mind. Not so cuddly now, is he?
Enesco Disney Showcase Ursula, Little Mermaid Stone Resin Figurine
Well, you knew she was coming as soon as you saw the title. The Little Mermaid (1989) is memorable for several reasons. It launched the great Disney renaissance, right when they’d been written-off as a has-been entertainment empire in its twilight years. It was a return to form for their adapted-faerie-tale formula. But most of all, it gave us the almighty queen of Disney villains forever, if not all villains, the octopus-tentacled sea-hag Ursula. As a character, Ursula is merely your standard power-hungry witch making infernal bargains, but it’s the stunning talent of Pat Carroll that brings her to life. Ursula in her performance becomes a slovenly burn-out strumpet, too old to realize her full potential anymore but too hedonistic to reform. You imagine her lounging around her castle devouring boxes of chocolates and reading gossip rags, dreaming of her glory days. Her voice sounds like she was weaned on a carton of Camel non-filters. And then there’s THE SONG, probably second only to “Let It Go” in famous Disney songs from recent memory: