The Best Disney Villains

Disney-Villains-ReelGood1

I  tried to whittle the list down to 10 but I ended up with 16 and I figured why not include them all?

So, here goes- the 16 best Disney Villains as determined by me.

16. Man with the Bowler Hat (Meet the Robinsons)- This was such a creative villain.  Everything about him surprised me.  I love his look and that he is a reminder even the most innocent of us can turn to a life of villainy if we aren’t careful (and get enough sleep!)

Bowler-Hat-Guy-Goob-disney-villains-2321212-320-20915. Yzma- Emperor’s New Groove– One of the funniest villains.  She’s got style and is a spazz.

yzma14. Prince John- (Robin Hood) It kind of pains me to have him so low but there are so many great villains.  This is another funny villain who is constantly sucking his thumb and crying for Mommy.  And yet he’s incredibly ruthless to all the people.  He’s probably the villain who does the most harm for the greatest number of people (Gaston, for instance, pretty much only hurts Belle and The Beast).   He’s also got that great English dry wit

prince john and hiss213. Shere Khan and Kaa (Jungle Book)-  Really the success of these villains has to do with the voice talent.  Sterling Holloway plays against type as the hypnotizing Kaa who oils his way around the room and Shere Khan voiced by George Sanders is very creepy and deeply voiced villain.

shere khan and kaa12. Evil Queen (Snow White) Another one that pains me to see it so low because she is so great but there are 11 I like even better.  Her transformation is amazing and she is so vain even being queen isn’t enough for her.  She isn’t content until she is better than everyone else in every way.

SW_Queen11. Ratigan- (Great Mouse Detective)-  the most James Bondlike villain of any of the Disney villain.  Not satisfied with a simple solution he makes everything as complicated as he can.  Amazing voice performance by Vincent Price, one of first great villain songs and hilarious to have a villain named Ratigan who becomes enraged when called a rat.

ratigan list

10. Devil (Fantasia)- I know the devil should be higher because he’s the Devil! But it is a short sequence so I thought 10 seemed a good spot.  The artistry in Night on Bald Mountain is amazing.  The demons and spirits that the Devil rules over are gorgeous especially compared with the light and peace of the Ave Maria section.  It’s as stunning a depiction of good vs evil as in any Disney movie (or any movie for that matter).

on bald mountain

9. Captain Hook (Peter Pan)-  Another funny villain. The slapstick with the crocodile is the highlight of the movie but Hook steals every scene he is in.  He is sniveling, snide and extremely manipulative.   The way he interrogates Tinker Bell is intense.

peter-pan-1953-peter-pan-and-captain-hook hook and smee

8. Coachman, Stramboli, Monstro (Pinocchio)-  For my money the Pinocchio villains are the scariest because there is no sense of justice or retribution.  There is no humor or lighter side to them.  Just despicable, greedy, awful, terrifying people.  For the morality tale it is, they work perfectly.  I certainly wouldn’t want to sin if I knew they were at the end of every bad choice.  I mean the coachman turns little children into donkeys to work in salt mines for money?  Does it get more evil than that?

Stromboli-from-Pinocchio

coachman

7. Mother Gothel- (Tangled)- A woman willing to manipulate her ‘daughter’ and basically ruin her life for her own greed.  Make her a prisoner and brainwash her into believing she is doing her a favor.  That’s pretty bad.  I love Mother Knows Best because it takes the nurturing maternal nature of mothers and turns it on its head, uses it for bad not good.   It’s perfect.  She’s the closest Disney has come to having a true sociopath as their villain

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6. Gaston- (Beauty and the Beast)–  It seems to low but again there were simply 5 I like even better, but I love Gaston.  He is an interesting villain because in the minds of most people he’s the hero.  But like the Evil Queen in Snow White his lack of control over one person causes him to descend into madness.  He probably has the funniest villain song; although World’ Greatest Criminal Mind is a close second.  It’s not even really a villain song.  It’s just everyone telling him how great he is.  No wonder he thinks he should have his way!

5. Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)–  Otherwise known as The Wicked Stepmother, Lady Tremaine, gets 5th spot from me because she is so duplicitous even to her own daughters.  She plays the part of genteel and kind and then proceeds to make Cinderella’s life a living Hell.  She locks her up when she worries Cinderella’s foot will fit and she encourages the girls to rip off her dress, despite pretending to keep her side of the bargain.  She is like that women at work who makes your life a nightmare but then always tries to claim the high ground.  I love how her eyes are yellow with disdain.  She also has a cat named Lucifer!

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4. Cruella De vil (101 Dalmatians)- I love how her name has both cruel and devil in it but I still love her.  She is perhaps the most shallow villain.  All she cares about is looking good with her dalmatian furs.  That’s just hilarious and over-the-top but it feels believable in the story.  Her driving, the way she throws her hands in the air and even yells through the phone are all totally chilling and funny. I’m no animal lover but anyone who wants to kill 101 puppies just for her wardrobe gets top honors on the villainy tribe in my book.  Such a funny character and I love how she mocks Roger ‘Roger’s songs…’

crazy cruela

3. Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)- Aside from the Devil, Maleficent is the closest Disney got to a pure evil character.  She has horns for goodness sakes!  She is basically a She-Devil with all of his powers to create thorns, thistles, demons and pronounce curses on people who don’t invite her to parties.  That’s got to be the best part of Maleficent is that she curses Aurora to death for getting snubbed at the christening.

There are arguments for subtle villains who have good and bad but there’s also a case for going all the way in a fairytale.  Make your characters, the heroes, stand up against the ultimate evil.  That’s what made Harry Potter so good is there was no chance of redemption for Voldermort.  That bridge had already been crossed and he was evil.  I haven’t seen the new Maleficent yet but am highly skeptical.  By softening her it could take away what is the most special about her.

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2. Scar (Lion King)-  I remind you I gave Lion King #13 spot on my final rankings but Scar is a fantastic villain.  He’s smart, disdainful and murders his own brother with glee.  He may actually be Disney’s 2nd sociopath.  He’s convinced what he is doing is right even though it clearly isn’t.  He is completely selfish and has surrounded himself with people he can control.  (How brilliant to make hyenas who laugh his cronies).

What puts Scar so high though is Jeremy Irons voicework.  It is dripping with disdain as if he is condescending to talk to everyone at all times. His villain song, Be Prepared, is one of my favorites, both the actual song and the animation.  It’s the best part of Lion King and completely gripping.

mufasa and scar

1. Ursula (Little Mermaid)-  As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog Little Mermaid was my favorite movie growing up and Ursula is a big part of that . She is so unique.  In a movie full of fish and mermaids, she’s an octopus with tentacles that cover the screen with their blackness.  She’s overweight and speaks like a chain smoker and is perfect.  I love how she looks like a combination of a drag queen and a truck driver.

And her villain song is brilliant.  Poor Unfortunate Souls is funny, manipulative and the perfect song to trick a 16 year old lovestruck girl.  She also equally villainous when she turns into Vanessa and for no good reason, she just is evil with those yellow eyes!

She also has a dishy motive of revenge on Triton.  She’s been banished and when the two spare off it is classic.

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Movie 19: Jungle Book

1967_80sRR_JUNGLEBOOKToday we get to talk about one of my all time favorites- The Jungle Book.  I just watched it and it is every bit as bright and colorful as I remember.

Released in 1967 Jungle Book is the last film Walt Disney produced before his untimely death of lung cancer in 1966.  He didn’t get to view the final product but did see some nearly completed drafts.

Just a quick bit of trivia.  My friend Jim has studied lemurs and monkeys in Madagascar, so I asked him whether there are bears in the jungle.  He said not in India.  These type of bears are in Vietnam and there are no apes!  It’s obviously not a realistic picture but I just thought that was funny.

Production-

It is interesting to compare Jungle Book to Sword in the Stone, which didn’t work for me.  The same xerox method was used but this picture is much more pleasant to watch.

If you recall, one of my issues with Sword in the Stone is that everything looked blue and gray.  In Jungle Book we get the thick outlines from the sketch xerox style which isn’t my favorite but at least it is light and colorful.

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But even the brightness wouldn’t save the picture on its own.  The sharp writing and the music make it work so well.

According to the dvd extras Walt asked the storyboard writers if they had read Rudyard Kipling’s book The Jungle Book.  They said ‘no’ and he said ‘good because we are doing it our own way’.

I don’t know if as an older man Disney grew weary of the darker themes in Pinocchio, Dumbo and Bambi but the later films of his life are much lighter and comedic in tone . He told the animators to take the dark scenes of the book and ‘turn them on their ear.  Have fun with them’.

Originally Terry Gilkyson was hired to write the songs but Walt felt they were too dark in tone, so all of the songs except for bare necessities were turned over to the Sherman Brothers.

balooSherman Brothers had written Mary Poppins and Sword in the Stone for Disney at this point and Jungle Book really shows their versatility.  They could easily go from broadway style in Mary Poppins to swing music and jazz for Jungle Book.

The idea for the jazz feel came partly from Gilkyson’s song but also from thinking about the monkeys (who are much darker in the book).  What do they do all day?  They swing!  So the king of the monkeys had to also be the king of the swingers.

monkeysJungle Book is also the first time in a feature film Disney used ‘celebrity voices’ for it’s characters.

Phil Harris was a comic and singer of the era and Walt met him at a party and signed him on to play Baloo. Then we had Sebastian Cabot, Sterling Holloway, Louie Prima and George Sanders.

It is the final Disney appearance by the great Verna Felton.  I wish they gave an Oscar for best animated vocal.  They deserve it and get no recognition.

Like Sword in the Stone, Jungle Book is clearly marketed to boys with only 2 female characters- Verna’s matriarch elephant (which is her second time voicing an elephant.  First time being in Dumbo), and the girl who gets the water.

I really like the watercolor feel to the backgrounds.  It reminds me of Dumbo. baloo1I am sure Jungle Book was also attractive to Walt Disney because of the popularity of The Jungle Cruise in Disneyland and the easy ties which could be built into the park.

What’s strange about this period of Disney is they could produce the animation in half the time but it took longer to make the films. I’m not sure why.  Walt’s priorities shifted a bit to the park and his TV show but still it shouldn’t have taken so long with the xerox process?   Jungle Book took 4 years to complete but at least it did very well at the box office. 22 million in it’s first release!

Story-

But really this movie sinks and swims on the strength of it’s songs and writing.  The story is very simple.  Mowgli is a ‘man cub’ or human who has been raised by wolves.  The wolf pack is worried about having a man cub when the great Shere Khan, the tiger, is back prowling around.

Bagheera, the panther, agrees to take Mowgli back to the man village for his safety.  So, most of the movie is like a road trip (or walking trip) in the jungle with animal characters.

The first characters Mowgli and Bagheera meet on their journey are a band of militarized elephants that are very funny.

Next we meet the snake Kaa who likes to hypnotize his victims before the kill.  It’s a pretty gnarly character and I like the look of his eyes.  It feels hypnotic.   Sterling Holloway gives another great vocal performance.  He was so versatile as a voice actor.  Hard to believe it is the same voice that is so warm and  sweet in Winnie the Pooh.

shere caunFurther down the jungle they meet Baloo the bear.  He is free-living and easy with just the bare necessities.  As Baloo explains his life philosophy to Mowgli we get treated one of the best Disney songs ever written.  It is so much fun.  I dare you not to tap your feet and smile!

Unfortunately in the middle of the song Mowgli gets taken by some monkeys to their leader, King Louie.  They abduct him because Louie wants to find out how humans make fire.  In order to charm Mowgli into telling the secret we get another great song.

It’s not only the songs which are engaging but the dialogue is also very sharp and funny. As a small example

Bagheera:  This will take brains, not brawn.

Baloo: You better believe it, and I’m loaded with both.

That’s a funny line and so many of the laughs work.  It kind of reminds me of a Pixar movie in that regard.  The jokes feel natural and part of the plot.

One of the things that annoyed me about Sword in the Stone is there was too much teaching good lessons and not enough showing.  Jungle Book does a much better job weaving those lessons into the story. I love the tender scenes where we see how much Bagheera and Baloo really care about Mowgli and vice versa.  This helps give us a reason to be rooting for them.  They are good friends, which is the main message of the movie.  the vultures even sing about it!  I love this conversation between Bagheera and Baloo:

Mowgli flees from Bagheera and Baloo and ends up with a band of vultures.  They are very funny and clearly based on the British invasion bands of the 60s.

Like I said in the Dumbo review I really don’t think this scene is that different than the crows but this is clearly referencing white people not black.

Shere Khan voiced by George Sanders coming in at the end is fabulous.  What a bass!

Then Kaa comes back and sings the longer version of Trust in Me and it is actually Shere Khan that saves Mowgli this time.   I love that the gave a snake sinus problems and a lisp.  There is something inherently funny about a hissing snake with ssssinus issues.

I also like they added two villains.  Where the Sword in the Stone had only a few minutes with a villain with confusing motivation, Jungle Book has two villains with clear motivations.  They want to eat Mowgli.  It’s as simple as that.

Both Shere Khan and Kaa remind me of good James Bond villains- all sleek and full of vibrato.

Baloo then reappears and takes on Shere Khan.  For a second we think Baloo is dead in a scene that actually recites scripture  but it works, which is surprising in such a silly movie.  They’ve had just enough heart with the characters to pull this scene off.

Baloo is also funny when he says ‘I wish my Mother could have heard this…’.  That’s good writing!

Finally they get the village and Mowgli has the instant love trope which Disney always uses when he see’s a girl getting water .  She sings a pretty song but the lyrics I could do without.  I like my female characters to have a little bit more free choice in their life.  Everything is pretty mapped out for this girl.  (It really makes sense that I responded to Little Mermaid so much. There aren’t a lot of strong, good women in Disney films from 1960-1989.

Our final scene of the film is Bagheera and Baloo walking off arm around arm much like the end of Casablanca.  You can almost hear him say ‘ I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”

balloo2Conclusion and Review-

Much like Fantasia and its classical music, it is unlikely you will enjoy The Jungle Book, if you don’t like jazz music..  I enjoy jazz music, so I love the movie.  The songs make me want to dance!

In fact, when I was 14 my Dad took my sister and I to France.  We were there on Bastille Day and went to a restaurant with a band playing.  To our delight they did a cover of ‘I wanta be like you’.  We bought the CD and it was a favorite of our family for many years.  It’s just such a happy, fun song.

But if it is not your taste you will probably find the movie rough going; although, the characters are a lot of fun and there are 2 great villains.

The male-centric messages and characters is a little annoying but I forget about that when I’m immersed in the story.  The writing is sharp.  Managing to be both tender-hearted and funny.

The backgrounds and character animation  are the best of the Xerox films with lots of bright colors and movement.  It’s not as artistically interesting to me as their more ambitious projects but just like 101 Dalmatians and Lady in the Tramp, it does what it is trying to do very well, and like I said it all comes down to good writing and music.

Jungle Book may be the Disney classic I rewatch the most.  It is cheerful, sweet and has a nice message.  Plus, it is appropriate for all ages with only one brief sad moment.  So check it out!

Overall Grade-  A (I’d give it an A+ if there was a better female character).