Ooh! Those Bad Boys - My Favorite Walt Disney Male Cartoon Villains
What Makes A Great Villain?
Truly great villains, especially truly great Disney villains, have several things in common. They all live by the three "Rs" of villainy, and are:
- Ruthless - true villains stop at nothing in pursuit of their objective. Counting the cost is for weaker, less motivated men. Villains will let nothing and no-one stand in their way, and no deed is too dastardly to commit if it will further their agenda.
- Remorseless - true villains have no scruples. They are undeterred by any stirrings of conscience, nor are they in the least squeamish about taking drastic measures to remove an obstacle or overcome an opponent.
- Relentless - a true villain never stops struggling to attain his objective, no matter the odds against him. True villains will never back down, never give up, and never admit defeat.
In fact, if they weren't the "bad guys," and bent on pursuing their own nefarious ends, truly great villains would be downright admirable.
They evince many of the same qualities as high-functioning sociopaths in our society: captains of industry; men at the pinnacle of their profession in banking, and commerce; men who have harnessed those qualities to achieve power and profit in a more socially acceptable manner.
Some of my favorite Disney cartoon villains are a best described as a Force of Nature
No other villains practice the three "Rs" of villainy quite as well, or with a much relish as our first group of evil-doers.
This villain who does what he does simply because he is evil - bad through and through - and is, perhaps, the scariest of all, because there is no way to influence their behavior. They are what they are: an elemental, a force of nature.
It is useless to appeal to their better nature - they do not have one. A villain of this kind is impervious to tears, or pleas for mercy.
Shere Khan of The Jungle Book, voiced by the ever-elegant and well-spoken George Sanders, was one such force of nature. Though cultivated and charming, he was, nonetheless, a deadly executioner in a tiger-striped robe, and interested in only one thing - killing the "man-cub."
Hades, God of the Underworld, from "Hercules," was another such consummate villain. Voiced by the talented James Woods, Hades' menace is as chilling as it is delightfully over-the-top.
Sid the kid, the odious "boy-next-door" in Disney/Pixar's "Toy Story" is another truly villainous character. The twisted toy-wrecker delights in maiming helpless toys, not because of anything dreadful in his life that has driven him to act out, but simply because he enjoys the act of forcefully realizing his distorted vision - a Dr. Mengele in the making.
The only way to overcome these villains is to beat them at their own game - to be meaner, scarier, fiercer... Sometimes the battle must be to the death, but where would a Walt Disney hero be without a worthy opponent to overcome? There's nothing like thwarting the machinations of a truly great villain to make a hero shine.
Definition of Psychopath
- What "Psychopath" Means: Scientific American
Superficially charming, psychopaths tend to make a good first impression on others and often strike observers as remarkably normal.
Some of my favorite Disney cartoon villains could best be described as Driven...
Our second group of villains could be described as strongly goal-oriented. They strive for a particular objective. Be it power, money, or love that one of these miscreants desires, he will bend nature itself to his will to achieve his prize.
The watchword of this group of bad boys is "ruthless." There's a touch of the psychopath in their behavior. They will stop at nothing, and stoop to anything to get what they want.
These completely self-centered creatures have no friends, only grist for their mills. They will use up anyone foolish enough to assist them, and their henchmen, or in some cases, hench-things, often meet with a grisly end.
Gaston, the self-absorbed boor from "Beauty and The Beast" is an excellent example of this group. Once he decided that Belle would make a fitting wife, he used every means at his disposal to try to force her to marry him, including attempted blackmail and inciting a riot. His overweening ego and exalted opinion of his own abilities finally proved to be his undoing.
Scar, voiced by the vastly talented Jeremy Irons for Disney's "Lion King," was not only driven and deceitful, he was intelligent, manipulative, and incredibly dangerous - a Hannibal Lecter among lions. Scar also had a cowardly side, which led to his failure and ultimate demise.
Jafar, the evil wizard from "Aladdin," was motivated by a thirst for wealth and power. Both he and Pinocchio's nemesis, the evil, money-hungry Stromboli, would use any useful tool to gain their heart's desire.
These villains are not emotionally inaccessible, though, like those in the first group. There are chinks in these defenses - character flaws to be exploited.
Though the heroes certainly wouldn't have exploited those weaknesses, the script writers certainly would and did. After all, whoever would want the hero to face a truly unbeatable villain? Where would be the happy ending in that?
Morally Challenged But Inept
This next group of villains feature some of my favorite Disney characters - the bunglers. Of all the villains we may ever meet, these are the ones for whom we almost feel sorry, but who give us some of our favorite, funny moments in film.
Though they are leaders with goals and desires, and are every bit as driven as their more adept brethren, villains in this particular group, this little section of "bad 'uns" along the villainy continuum, are not as well equipped to carry out their plans.
Sometimes they have been blessed, or burdened, with inferior hench-men - it's so hard to get good help these days. They hatch many plots, but their bad deeds tend to run aground on the shoals of their creator's ineptitude more often than they succeed.
True, their evil plots must be foiled, and their ambitions thwarted, but it's also such fun to watch them tripping over their own feet.
...but certainly the Disney cartoon villains who bring us the most fun, are are my Favorite Bunglers
Prince John, given voice by talented and versatile Sir Peter Ustinov, is a-jangle with nerves and neuroses. He is a petulant bully; a bundle of tics, twitches, unresolved issues, and unrequited desires. His shrill demands and spite-filled posturing would be completely laughable, were it not for the hardship he causes through his self-centered actions.
Mercifully, this movie's version of Prince John is neither clever enough nor lucky enough to get away with his mischief for very long, and we cheer with glee when he gets his comeuppance.
Captain Hook as written in the J.M. Barrie classic, "Peter Pan," is a tortured soul who wrestles with his immorality. He would be a first-rate "bad 'un" if he could just set aside his pangs of conscience and get on with his villainy. He would also be far less interesting and human, as well.
Dustin Hoffman's portrayal of Hook, opposite Robin William's Peter Pan, had moments and shadings of Barrie's Hook - subtle, devious, and driven but tortured by insecurities and suffering from "ingrown conscience."
In Disney's movie, Hook is doomed to fail from the start. He is, after all, set against a gaggle of appealing ragamuffins in the best Disney style. Anyone can tell you the bad guys never win against a bunch of kids - not in a Disney movie. Villains foolish enough to take on Disney kids will end up thoroughly thwarted, trussed in their own tangled plots, and served for breakfast to the nearest, passing crocodile.
Vote For Your Favorite
Which of these wins the title as Most Excellent Disney Villain?
Not all villains fit tidily into one category or another. Some, such as the Big Bad Wolf, fit comfortably into two or more slots along the continuum of evil doers.
The wolf of Red Riding Hood's acquaintance can easily be seen as a force of nature, albeit a low-level one. He is simply behaving as his nature dictates, however, his clever tricks are finally overcome by superior force, and order is restored.
The wolf that made life so interesting for the three little pigs was behaving according to his nature, but that nature was flawed. This wolf believed he was smarter than the average pig. Alas for the wolf, this was not the case, and he was thwarted by superior tactics.
Disney villains have given us some of the greatest thrills and funniest moments in movie history. It is fortunate for the world of Disney heroes, that most of the villains they must face are cast in the mold of Jafar and his ilk. I am sure though, that should a greater evil arise - and given that great villains are such fun to write, I am sure Disney's story gurus will accommodate us - a hero will arise who will prove equal to their challenge.
..."Curses! Foiled again!"
© Text by Elle Fredine, All rights reserved