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Which Disney Villain is the Most Evil?

01/31/2012 Comments (113)

Prince Philip battles Maleficent in dragon form in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. Transforming into a dragon is really evil.

An intriguing question posed to me in another forum:

Who is the worst Disney villain? Mother Gothel in Tangled is bad (kidnapping, brainwashing). The evil Queen from Snow White?

For me, I think it’s Scar in The Lion King. He kills his brother and sets it all up for Simba to be screwed up for life. His minions are also pretty bad.

Most people overlook Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, but he is pure evil. Frollo in Hunchback has no redeeming qualities either. Just thinking out loud (obviously).

Hm. Some thoughts:

To start with, Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty not only declares herself to be the “mistress of all evil,” but transforms into a dragon embodying “the powers of hell”—and the Prince battles her bearing a shield with a cross on it. That puts her a league worse than the Queen in Snow White, I think. (Incidentally, for what it’s worth, the Evil Overlord List includes the resolution, “I will not turn into a snake. It never helps.” It may not help, but it doesn’t stop them from trying.)

Going a step further, for sheer iconic evil, probably the ultimate is the demon Chernabog from Fantasia’s “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence. On a similar, much lesser note, Hercules transformed the Greek god Hades into a kind of Satan stand-in. I don’t remember that movie well enough to comment on his overall evilness, though.

If it weren’t such a dreadful movie and such an utter insult to books I love, I might footnote the Horned King from The Black Cauldron, on the grounds that anyone who commands an army of living dead is pretty definitively evil.

Oh, and Doctor Facilier, the “Shadow Man” from The Princess and the Frog, is a voodoo witch doctor who is in league with demons that ultimately drag him to hell. So, that’s bad.

In terms of actual evil schemes … well, yes, Scar in The Lion King is really twisted and ruthless, and Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, though partly a buffoon and a comic figure, is a monster of a petty, parochial sort.

If we consider evil in terms of magnitude or consequences, Scar and Gaston are both small potatoes compared to two villains who attempt to seize power on a planetary or even cosmic scale: The Little Mermaid’s Ursula the Sea Witch and, above all, Aladdin’s Jafar—for a while there the biggest threat to creation in any Disney movie. Even bigger, in a sense, than Chernabog, who may be more powerful and purely satanic, but succumbs at the first toll of a church bell and the coming of dawn.

Lots of people think of Cruella de Vil from One Hundred and One Dalmatians as some sort of ultimate villain—but as flamboyant as she was, she was basically a spoiled, cranky lady who liked fur. She even legitimately owned most of the dogs she was going to make into coats. Stealing 15 puppies certainly isn’t a good thing, but in the annals of Disney villainy it’s hardly grand larceny. Soul sister Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove (an underrated gem) was a lot more evil. Really, the only reason people remember Cruella de Vil so vividly, other than that she shouted a lot, was that groovy song.

I’m not a big fan of Disney’s Peter Pan (I like other versions better), but I have a soft spot for Disney’s Captain Hook, who’s so nasty he shoots one of his own men for annoying him with an accordion.

Frollo in Hunchback may have no redeeming qualities, but isn’t he at least haunted by guilt about his sinful tendencies, or something? (Or not. It’s been a really long time since my lone viewing of Hunchback.) Dunno if that makes him better or worse than an unconflictedly evil villain.

If I try to come up with the single sickest, most twisted character, I think I might circle back to your original suggestion: Mother Gothel from Tangled, who’s so sociopathically narcissistic that she wraps a young girl’s heart around her little finger in order to keep herself perpetually young and beautiful. That may not be the greatest crime in the Disney canon, or the most dangerous, but I think it may be the most disgusting.

Readers, what do you think? What are your favorite villains? Least favorites? Which is the most evil? The most (dare I say) misunderstood?

Filed under disney, family films, movies

About Steven D. Greydanus

SDG
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Steven D. Greydanus is film critic for the National Catholic Register and Decent Films, the online home for his film writing. He writes regularly for Christianity Today, Catholic World Report and other venues, and is a regular guest on several radio shows. Steven has contributed several entries to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, including “The Church and Film” and a number of filmmaker biographies. He has also written about film for the Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy. He has a BFA in Media Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York, and an MA in Religious Studies from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, PA. He is pursuing diaconal studies in the Archdiocese of Newark. Steven and Suzanne have seven children.