My Top Ten Favorite Disney Villains: The Not Who You Expect Edition!

The Disney villains are one of Disney’s coolest franchises.  Sometimes the bad guys are just so much more interesting than the heroes.

But…I’m not really on the same page as most villain stans.  Look, we get it.  Maleficent.  Jafar.  The Queen.  Scar.  Ursula.  Lady Tremaine.  Queen of Hearts.  Hades. Gaston.  Dr. Facilier.  These guys are great, man, but why does everyone’s top ten Disney villains list look the same?  I get their individual appeals, but either because I’m that much of a hipster or a Disnerd, I find them pretty overused and dull. There’s lots of other cool bad guys and we can only fight the same ones over and over in Kingdom Hearts. So let’s take a look at the ten villains/groups of villains (My blog, my list, my rules, my choice.) Whom I consider the best of the best.

10. John Silver (Treasure Planet)

“Ye’ve got the makin’s of greatness in ye!”

Long John Silver is one of the most complex, most endearing characters in literature. In his premiere appearance in 1883, in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island, Silver is undoubtedly a bloodthirsty, vengeful, tyrannical pirate who’d just as soon shoot you dead if you disappointed him. But after spending a long transatlantic voyage, his true colors show, and he can’t bring himself to harm the wide-eyed Jim Hawkins.

In the 2003 box office flop, Silver is all that and yet even deeper still. He has many solo onscreen moments where it’s clear he is as every bit the plunderer we know him to be, yet he does genuinely have a giant soft spot for Jim. Honestly, one of the things I like best is the fact they aged up Jim to a surly teenager working out his anger issues, so the story of an old buccaneer and a young boy didn’t feel too saccharine. The depth of his character they retained is pitch perfect, and the vocal stylings of Brian Murray make for a captivating rendition of this beloved antagonist.

On top of that, the upgrade to being a cyborg with an arsenal of weapons in his arm is beyond cool. The blending of both CGI and Glen Keane’s masterful animation make for a breathtaking, unified spectacle.

9. Tamatoa (Moana)

“Are you just trying to get me to talk about myself? Because if you are…I will gladly do so! In song form!”

A lot of people weren’t terribly pleased during the period after Tangled where all the traditional villains just kinda…stopped. No more grand songs, no more cackling, no more “being evil”, just a bunch of either twist villains designed to shock us in the third act, or much more toned down threats. But then in 2016, we got what I see as a compromise. We still got our twist villain in Te Kā, but we got a return to campy flair, complete with a bombastic number about his vainglorious addiction. Though in the film for only a short period, Tamatoa was a captivating character, brought to life with Jermaine Clement’s fantastic comedic timing and clearly unhinged trains of thought.

Deeply, deeply infatuated with being shiny and a hoarder, Tamatoa and Maui share a lengthy history of bad blood between them, even though the crab credits Maui for his tattoos inspiring his desire to decorate his shell with treasure. Still, he’s completely bonkers, the only character to break the fourth wall and his emotions vary wildly from moment to moment, making him almost completely insane. Still, he’s a threat to be reckoned with, and if he’s hardly broken up over eating his own grandma, you can’t possibly predict his next move. But at least he’s having fun.

8. Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)

“Rule one! No mineral or vegetable! Only animal. Rule two, no make-believe things like, ooh…pink dragons and stuff! Rule three, no disappearing!”

Maleficent may be cool and all, but man, she’s just so lifeless. Sometimes villains are at their best when they wield immense power but are immature, unhinged nutcases. Madam Mim was supposed to be yet another tall, grande dame, ravenously beautiful and dangerously vengeful, not unlike the Queen or Maleficent, but it was story man Bill Peet who argued back that Mim was supposed to be Merlin’s equal. Thus, the character was reduced to a frumpy old biddy, and I’m so glad this is the direction they took.

There’s every possibility she could be just as dangerous, if not more so, than Merlin, or even Maleficent. But unlike them, Mim is as mature as a child, consumed with insane glee over her powers. She has no agenda, no goal, other than to destroy Wart for being influenced by Merlin. She gives him a chance to get away, but not with good faith sportsmanship, but rather just a chance to play a game. Because at the end of the day, that’s all everything is to her: a game. Martha Wentworth channeled that giddy, impetuous, childish glee to perfection.

Even with her life on the line in the wizard’s duel, she sees the battle as just fun times where she can bend and break the rules on her own terms, from disappearing to turning into a purple dragon (Clearly not the same thing as a pink dragon, you see!) And yet, despite her dirty tricks, Merlin still manages to best her squarely.

Maleficent will kill me out of spite quickly, but Mim will try to befriend me, play a rigged game on me, kill me, and dance on my corpse shouting “I win! I win!”. How is that not even more nerve-wracking?

7. The Roster of DuckTales (2017)

“Family is the greatest scheme of all!

I loved the original 1987 series. It told great stories with great characters and put Disney television animation on the map. And while the villains, many created by the legendary Carl Barks and Don Rosa in the comics, were top notch, showrunners Matt Youngberg and Frank Angones took these criminals and made some choices that really pumped some new life into them that really enhanced the show. And clearly, I couldn’t pick just one.

Flintheart Glomgold had always been a dark mirror version of Scrooge. The version of Scrooge where he might have wound up had he not stuck to his principles of being smarter than the smarties, tougher than the toughies, and most importantly, making all of it square. But after years of being the General Zod to Scrooge’s Superman, and not just changing his nationality from South Africa to Scotland because apartheid, Glomgold was given a new flair in the reboot. Instead, Glomgold is eternally consumed with getting revenge on Scrooge for giving him a mere dime for a shoeshine and later, swiping a treasure out from under him. Even when struck with amnesia and given opportunity to start a new life, Glomgold still chooses a life of petty vengeance and cockamamie schemes, with his nonsensical trains of thought making him nuttier than a bowl of mixed nuts. Bonus points for making a boy from South Africa, but switching his nationality to “The Most Scottish” purely to spite Scrooge. Keith Ferguson gave an unexpected flair to such an unhinged, usually pathetic nemesis with hilarious gusto.

Magica DeSpell was also pretty straightforward: a witch who needed Scrooge’s number one dime to be the most powerful sorceress in the world. But in the reboot, Magica is incredibly patient and cunning, however, thanks to actress Catherine Tate, she is also petty, spiteful, and theatrically proud (Fun fact: Tate is perhaps best known as Donna Noble, the tenth Doctor’s companion on BBC’s Doctor Who, who was played by David Tennant…AKA Scrooge McDuck!) They even added an element of tragedy to her when she reveals the reason why she hates Scrooge as much as she does.

The Beagle Boys were always a great threat to Scrooge and his wealth, but despite their Ma being the crime boss and every member was her sons, they never really felt like a family. This changed in the 2017 series, with Eric Bauza voicing Bigtime, Burger, and Bouncer. While the latter two are basically emotionally damaged, Bigtime is full of a Napoleon complex, fueled by a need to be loved by their mother. Speaking of, Ma finally acts more like a mother here, albeit an emotionally abusive one, constantly reminding her sons what disappointments they are, voiced by (Googling it)…Character Actress Margot Martindale (Huh. Never heard of her.) It makes the dynamic much more interesting, if stinging this way.

Even Jim Starling, the actor who played Launchpad’s favorite superhero, Darkwing…something-or-other…was fantastic. Originally an actor akin to Adam West, Starling had the ego of a movie star, like the original character from the nineties (And of course voiced by Jim Cummings!) But it was this ego that drove him mad and eventually turned him into Negaduck, a plot point that sadly never got explored due to the series getting keecapped at the end of season 3.

Doofus Drake got a hilarious reinvention, as did Glittering Goldie, Don Karnage, Steelbeak, Gandra Dee, the Phantom Blot, and John Rockerduck. Even the new villains like Bradford Buzzard, Mark Beaks, Black Heron, General Lunaris, and the kelpies all brought fantastic mixtures of comedy and danger.

6. Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz (Phineas and Ferb)

“Ah, Perry the platypus! Your timing is impeccable. And by “impeccable”, I mean COMPLETELY ‘PECCABLE!”

I’ve always had a soft spot for comical villains, particularly the pathetic ones. The ones where time and again, their schemes never quite pan out, to the point where the heroes roll their eyes and barely even bother to stop them, because their defeat was so inevitable, it was hardly worth putting in the effort. You have to respect that kind if commitment, knowing full well you have a string of well-documented failures in the past, but this time…THIS time…it’s gonna work. You’ll see! You’ll ALL see!!

For a while, for me, that was Dr. Drakken from Kim Possible. Then it was Bowler Hat Guy from Meet the Robinsons. Even 2017 Flintheart Glomgold counts. But the best version of this kind of bad guy is Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz of Gimmelshtump, Drusselstein. Voiced by show co-creator Dan Povenmire, Doof had every reason to be as evil as the worst of them. His parents didn’t show up at his birth, his only friend a balloon who floated away, wearing hand-me-up girl’s clothing, forced to be a garden gnome, being raised by ocelots, and yes, continually being outshone by his much more successful brother, Roger, Doof had a backstory for every occasion (Until he realized losing a toy train was the defining difference between failure and success). And yet…Doof wasn’t a bad person.

He was petty, sure, and while he was shown to be divorced, he was never spiteful against his ex. He was, by all accounts, a good father to Vanessa. When the Marvel villains Venom, Whiplash, Red Skull, and M.O.D.O.K. got too evil for him, he fought back. Same with his doppelgänger from another dimension. And his frenemy relationship with Agent P often helped him see his better angels, to the point where he tried to work at his better nature in the subsequent show, Milo Murphy’s Law. I can’t help but feel for a guy who is so consumed by inane annoyances that FEEL like they’re out to get you intentionally he devises his wacky “Inators” just to be free of them.

If you can’t relate to that, I’m not sure you’re human. Maybe you should be zapped by a human-inator.

5. Willie Fadiddlehoffer (Mickey and the Beanstalk)

“Nah, you don’t wanna fly…How ’bout a big, pink bunny with long, pink ears?”

Sometimes to be an effective villain, you don’t really need magic powers, technology, a loyal army, cunning skills, or even an authoritative position over the hero. Sometimes all you need is good old SIZE, because if you can smoosh anyone in your way, who cares what’s right or wrong? Otherwise, in cases like Willie here, the doofus wouldn’t be a threat at all. In fact, even with his gargantuan size, he’s still so nonthreatening he played a ghostly benefactor to Ebenezer Scrooge in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and even a friendly face in the preschool series Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

Make no mistake, though, Willie can have a nasty temper and isn’t accustomed to being denied things he wants. It’s doubtful he had any devious intentions in stealing the harp from Happy Valley, and really only wanted her so she could sing him to sleep. He even takes a bit of a pleasant shine to Mickey when he expresses curiosity about his transmogrification abilities, an aspect of him that has pretty much gone neglected ever since halfway through his premiere debut (Supposedly he was supposed to turn into a tiny person but forget the magic words to change back in the finale) And his charmingly playful voice added to the endearment, supplied by Billy Gilbert, the voice of Snow White‘s Sneezy.

Still, he’s a sweet guy who seems to welcome a friend should one drop by. Just be extra polite first just to be safe. And try not to laugh when he has trouble pronouncing “pistachio”

4. The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)

“Now I call on my army of the dead, the cauldron borne! Arise, my messengers of death! Our time has arrived!

If you are a fan of Maleficent, Jafar, Frollo, or one of those heavyweights, you’re probably bored to tears hearing me gab on and on about all these comedic, nonthreatening bad guys who barely qualify as bad guys. Okay, fine. I’ll throw you a bone. Several, in fact, still attached to their skeletons. Presenting the most edgelord Disney villain ever put to screen, the Horned King.

Maleficent will raise her staff and cry out “you fools!”. Her army is a bunch of cretinous hobgoblins that will spend sixteen years looking for an infant. Despite her allegiance to the forces of evil, she stays dignified, even classy. And she amuses herself with cruel exercises on others. This guy, though? He’ll stay ominously silent until his gravelly John Hurt voice echoes through the halls with rage. His army maybe slovenly and unkempt but at least they’re relatively smart, say nothing of his later cauldron borne deathless warriors. Even as a king, he is under no compunction to maintain composure. And he clearly has no time for merriment, even for a moment, and will not rest until victory across Prydain is assured.

I am dumbfounded this guy has never really successfully worked his way into the S tier of Disney baddies. What he lacks in a memorable personality he more than makes up for it with presence, visual aesthetic, and untethered wickedness. Say nothing of his gruesome, gruesome death in the finale. Seriously, if one villain here is overdue for a confrontation with Sora in Kingdom Hearts, it’s him.

3. Kaa (The Jungle Book)

“Ssssssay, now…what have we here? It’s a mancub! A deliccccious mancub!”

Switching back to funny bad guys again, Kaa the python is yet another villain who is a very, very real threat, and he could do anything he could ever want. It’s just such a shame a few personality quirks derail his plans and he is forced to slink away, cursing under his breath.

His designs are simple: eat the mancub, Mowgli. That’s it. One would think a bratty ten-year-old human child would be easy pickings for such a massive reptile. Especially when your most powerful asset are a pair of hypnotic eyes that drop your prey into complete docility in seconds. But Kaa’s Achilles’ heel is his infatuation with said most powerful asset. He knows the strength of his power, and it fills him with such heightened self-assurance that he can’t help but gloat and even play with his food instead of…you know, eating. This lapse in focus tends to leave an opening for someone to step in and interrupt him, resulting in them getting away. Again.

I love Kaa because first, he’s voiced by My Hero Sterling Holloway. Win. Second, he also has that woobie appeal I love so much. And third, we’re both hypnotists. Like I said, his hypnosis allows him to subdue his meals in seconds, even for someone as much of a threat as Bagheera, so ideally, Kaa could have most of the jungle under his sway. But he needs to check his ego first to do that, and that is not how he plays. And that’s good, because I wouldn’t have it any other way.

2. Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear (Song of the South)

“Lookit that rabbit over there! See that? See that? He done made a fool out’ you, you fool!”

When writing for comedic pairs, the best rule to follow is the principle of contrasts. Contrast invokes conflict, which lays the groundwork for great comedy. Often we get combinations like skinny and fat, or smart and dumb. Think of the greats: Abbott and Costello. Laurel and Hardy. Pinky and the Brain. You get the idea. These guys mastered that formula and then some. Br’er Fox was voiced in rapid-fire delivery by Uncle Remus’ actor, Academy Award-winner James Baskett, and Br’er Bear was voiced by character actor Nicodemus Stewart.

Br’er Fox is short, skinny, cunning, quick on his feet, and generally a nasty guy. His partner-in-crime is taller, bigger, slow-witted, lumbering, and is usually a pretty pleasant person. Their dynamic is not dissimilar to Yzma and Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove: the former purely ego-driven to kill the hero with a complex plan just to prove how smart he is, whereas the latter is not as dumb as he lets on, not even really villainous…like he just wandered in and just kind of found himself working alongside the bad guy. Sure, Br’er Bear wants to kill Br’er Rabbit by knocking his head clean off as payback for making him look dumb, but that’s all it is, payback.

These two are easily the closest thing Disney has to having Looney Tunes. Like Elmer, Bugs, and Daffy, their relationship is that of hunter and prey, but it’s the interpersonal interactions that make the comedy sing. Br’er Fox may be hankering for rabbit stew, but he’s far more interested in proving he’s smarter than the bunny. He regards Br’er Bear as a useful idiot with the muscle to help carry out his plans. Br’er Rabbit thinks Br’er Fox is no big deal even though the two are fairly evenly matched in wits, and if he weren’t so selfish, he and Br’er Bear might’ve been good friends in another timeline. Lastly, Br’er Bear is a touch annoyed with the hyperactive fox with his complicated plans, but helps him out like the nice guy he is, because he, too, wants to enact revenge on the obnoxious hare.

I’ve loved these two since I first rode Splash Mountain way back in 1999. And I keep hoping against hope that despite the controversial history of Song of the South, Disney should keep trying to utilize these two in some way, hard as they try to shove the movie back in the closet. Maybe make a short-form series on Disney+, akin to Chip n’ Dale: Park Life. They deserve better.

1. Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)

“Why should you run?! Could it be possible you don’t know who I am?”

And back to 1967’s The Jungle Book again. Now, at least with the Horned King, I could say I understand that he doesn’t get invited to the Halloween shindigs or at Fantasmic! when they all try to infiltrate Mickey’s dreams, because few have ever even seen The Black Cauldron. But The Jungle Book isn’t an unknown title, not by any means. Granted, it’s been getting gradually more and more buried under newer, bigger releases like The Lion King, Frozen, and Encanto, but it’s still a beloved classic. So why does this haughty homicidal psycho jungle cat keep getting the shaft?

He knows his full power and he knows his reputation. Most villains are quick to demonstrate their power, like the Horned King throttling Creeper or Cruella screaming in rage at Horace and Jasper. Shere Khan knows this and instead acts like a mafia don, calmly sitting behind his desk, quietly requesting you do as he says with intellectual precision, all the while fondling his prized uzi. There’s just no need to do any more that that unless absolutely necessary. Like Kaa, he is drunk on this power, loving every calm gesture of calculated strength, but between everyone’s inherent fear of him and his formidable hunter prowess, few are able to even try to match him. Hence his complete disbelief and shock a scrawny human kid isn’t afraid of him.

He and Scar get compared to a lot, but it’s no real accident. Yes, they’re both orange and black, intelligent big cats with British accents with insatiable thirst for power and a penchant for killing kids…but also, Scar’s supervising animator was Andreas Deja, whose favorite Disney film growing up was The Jungle Book. But I think the the similarities end there and doesn’t do the tiger justice. Scar’s primary asset is his skills in manipulation and deceit, and will only fight when backed into a corner, knowing he can’t out-muscle Mufasa or Simba. Shere Khan has the best of both worlds, using his dignified demeanor to intimidate his victims, supplied in his silky tones from George Sanders, but unlike Scar, he has no issues if his prey can’t be talked into submission. It perfectly exemplifies the “Speak softly and carry a big stick” philosophy popularized by Teddy Roosevelt.

Because I love both him and Kaa, the scene where they meet up is perfection. Kaa, normally the one with the upper hand in most of his encounters, has to play the sycophant because A) he’s hiding the mancub from Shere Khan, B) his hypnosis doesn’t seem to work on him, and C) he knows the tiger will kill him without effort or hesitation if he finds Mowgli. Khan treats the situation like a hostile business transaction, which made the transition into 1990’s TaleSpin as an amoral corporate mogul all the more seamless.

*****************************

As petty as it sounds, I’m genuinely annoyed these guys don’t appear on much merchandise or anywhere. As I keep mentioning, most of these guys would make fantastic bosses to fight in upcoming Kingdom Hearts installments, but let’s be real, most of them aren’t going to appear in the franchise, as park meet-and-greets, on t-shirts, or really anything outside of the occasional pin. But I keep hoping that’ll change, especially since I don’t see Sora striking down Assistant Mayor Bellweather, Abuela Madrigal, Mei’s mom, or Ercolé with his keyblade.

Okay, Abuela, maybe…

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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