First, an explanation.
Some weeks ago, it popped up on my Facebook feed: a questionable, if not horrific list of what someone deemed to be the Top 102 Disney Songs of all time. (the questionable, if not horrific link: http://www.buzzfeed.com/azafar/the-definitive-ranking-of-the-102-best-animated-disney-songs)
The research was passable. There were songs from generations past. However, the criteria was shaky, at best. There were rules –what’s included, what can’t be included, etc. but it set the scope more than it justified the selection. And if you’re from my generation, you don’t take Disney Top lists lightly. Or at the very least, you shouldn’t. (Even the most masculine among us, for example, will be able to mutter, despite grudgingly, the opening lines of A Whole New World. ) Disney spoiled my generation with one epic animated motion picture after another. We were practically raised on this stuff, and so we were able to naturally look for the older ones from the past generations and grow up with appreciation for the newer ones. Imagine my indignation, therefore, when Frozen’s Let It Go made it to the Top 10. The Top 10! Let It Go! In the Top 10! Of what someone calls the best Disney Songs. Ever.
The buzzfeed piece also proclaimed itself to be the ‘definitive ranking” of the 102 best Disney songs. Definitive my foot. Not even the NBA highlight reel countdown calls itself “definitive.”
To be clear, I have nothing against Frozen or Let It Go for that matter. But I don’t think it belongs in the Top 10. Or, more importantly, if you were going to start a debate, then you should at least have the criteria for judging.
Good Lord. Even Eat Bulaga’s Super Sireyna has a criteria for judging.
Somebody has to do for Disney what Bill Simmons did for basketball: Organize the debate. The Top 10 What-Have-You will differ from person-to-person, but whatever list needs a certain criteria, so we at least know what you’re judging this against. For example, in the case of Let It Go — if your criteria prioritizes the famous (or infamous) LSS factor, then by all means, it should even be in the Top 5.
So instead of dissing that list some more, here I go. I’m going to make my own lists. Note: ListS. The first one: My Top Disney Villains of All Time. Note: This is definitely NOT the first one of its kind, but it might be the one of the first done in this fashion – for better or worse.
(Insert Thunder and Lightning and Evil Laughter and Organ Music)
Who are the most bad-ass of the baddies? Here’s a set of criteria that my girlfriend helped me out with (She’s a confirmed Disney Junkie too):
1. Degree of Evilness
How do you determine if this villain is villainous enough to reach the pantheon of anyone’s list of the most dastardly? Check the crime. If the crime has an equivalent in the so-called real world, and the penalty is death in some governments, then that should tell you something. For example, killing a brother while he pleads for help from you trumps attempted murder with an apple.
However, this must be balanced by the story, the motivation, and the memorability of the deed. In the case of the butler stealing the cats, that might not sound as big as taking over the world. But remember – the cats were the story. And the butler was trusted by the cats’ owner! And the butler did it because of money! Stealing cats for money?! A lot of cat owners would say that’s more evil than rampaging through China without a clear motivation except conquering stuff.
2. Deviousness of the Plan
Is s/he mastermind material? Now, keep things in context, though. One villain might have all the tech in the world amassed through years of trying to implement the plan. Another might have relied on just the spindle of a spinning wheel. However, those two are actually at par: the deviousness to plan, the patience to hatch the plan (we did have to wait for her 16thbirthday, right?) and the clockwork that had to happen to achieve the plan were evidence of a diabolical mind.
3. Contribution to Story
Did the villain move the story forward? Was his personality, idiosyncrasies — his very presence! – necessary to the story? For example, the villain might have been threatening to burn the entire city down, but could you have replaced him/her with an alien? Or, was the villain written in such a way that he makes the qualities of the hero come out even more?
4. The X Factor
Or was there just something so hate-able in the villain? His accent, perhaps? His laugh? Did he have a laugh that you still heard even when you were already alone in your bed at night, staring at the ceiling? Did s/he have an interesting hideout? Were his/her henchmen funny/adorable/memorable? Was s/he just different? All villains want to rule the world, or some part of it. Did this villain have a different angle? Or — sure, he could have blown up half of the city, but was there a song dedicated to her? Or did s/he sing what would become one of the iconic songs that could characterize a generation?
These are the four criteria I used. Now, there aren’t any percentages here. Just so we don’t go insane. Yet.
Oh. A few additional information you might want to know: Pixar villains included. So yes, Mordu, Syndrome, and Hopper are some villains we might want to consider. Also, only villain with flesh and blood count. Meaning, they have to be actual characters. Meaning, they can’t be “Man” as in the case of Bambi. What human beings – or at least our representatives in that story – did was evil. But it’s tough to compare that with, let’s say, Sid, from Toy Story 1. Also, you can’t say, like in the case of Finding Nemo, that the real antagonist was Loss. We’ll never finish anything that way. Also, only movies released on the big screen are counted. Sequels released only on Home Video can’t have their villains nominated. Ie Toy Story 2 and 3 are counted, Aladdin: The Return of Jafar, nope. Animated spin-offs also don’t count ie Talespin.
So based on these, a scan of the villains in my memory, and counter-checking it with the available villains in DisneyWiki, here are my Top Ten Disney Villains of All Time, and some honourable mentions. Next list might be the Worst Villains? Or maybe the best henchmen?
Until then, THE TOP TIER of EVIL:
Gothel from Tangled
Her motivation is familiar: to be eternally young (For many of us, that’s the same story when we use our beauty products, come to think of it). However, what she did to get it is what makes her evil.
Degree of Evilness: Very High. If not the highest. She steals the princess, locks her up in a tower for her entire known life. Poses as her mother. And even tells her “I love you most.” Then she plots murder and mayhem. All for what? To be young.
Can you imagine what she would do for power? For riches? Or for love?
Deviousness: Diabolical. The locking up in the tower is genius. The original Truman Show. But what makes it even more diabolical is that she “loved” Rapunzel.
Contribution to Story: Okay. Just okay.
Her misdeeds and misguided quest for youth is what brings conflict to the story. Yet, she doesn’t do much in terms of bringing out Rapunzel’s character. Her main quest isn’t necessarily the main quest of the movie.
She does sing, after all. She’s okay. But a wicked with who wants to be young isn’t necessarily a new trick. Let’s just say she’s not as unique and memorable as a huge octopus witch who puts on make-up using sea creatures and takes your voice.
Which brings us to….
URSULA from The Little Mermaid
She might just win based on sheer X-factor alone. First, she’s an octopus. The concept, the art, and execution of her animation are outstanding. Then, she sings one of the most memorable songs in all of Disneydom: Poor Unfortunate Souls. Then, she’s got two memorable hench-eels: the precursors of Pain and Panic, Flotsam and Jetsam.
Then, she takes on the princess not in the usual way: she gives what she wants. Or so the princess thinks. The princess gambles based on love and because she’s angry at her father. So she bites at the lure. Ursula plays and preys on the poor princess’ wild emotions, making the princess think all Ursula is doing is helping out another “poor unfortunate soul.”
Then, she herself uses the voice she stole to lure the prince away — and wait — this is all because she will use the girl as hostage! So Triton surrenders the kingdom! Woah! Now that I’m older, I get to see the deviousness of this! So she’s up on the diabolical charts. Degree of evilness is also exceptional.
Story-wise, yes, she drives the story. But I’m looking for a bit more of a WHY from her. I certainly wasn’t thinking about her fit for the story when I was busy being afraid of her as a kid, but now that I can think of how villains drive stories, this might be something she didn’t have at a very high level.
Which is something this next one does:
Best story-driver. Best backstory: I can see why he did what he did. I would have done the same thing given the situation which makes me relate to the guy. His scheme and driving force totally drive the movie theme forward (What is Super?) And from someone Mr. Incredible rejected as his sidekick to Mr. Incredible’s worst enemy who killed most of the known superhero force. Nothing short of super.
Degree of evilness: He killed Supers!
Diabolical Scheme: He killed Supers! He built a massive anti-hero threat by using all the knowledge of Supers against themselves. Built over years and years. Then he will be the Hero of the city when he “saves” it against the own destruction machine he created. Just to get what Mr. Incredible denied him years back. Super.
X-Factor: Sure, he didn’t sing. But the guy is so memorable. The weird Troll hair. The big S on his fat belly. He really looked like a kid gone amok. A kid who was told he couldn’t play that day so he rebelled and built his big lab. For a fictitious world, he was so…. Real.
He sings. He plots. He broods. He kills his brother.
In this Hamletesque storyline set in the African Wilderness, Scar seeks power in a world that once thrust him into the shadows. And from the shadows of an elephant graveyard where not even the king treads, he hatches his plan with the aid of three helpless hyenas.
Degree of evilness: He kills the king. Who is his brother. Takes over everything by force. Even attempts to kill his own nephew. For what? Because of good old lust for power, and a sibling rivalry for the lion’s share of everything.
Diabolical plot: Taking into account that it was practically Scar against the world (the hyenas weren’t exactly the brains of the operation), and the precision with which the plan had to work (the wildebeest murder was genius. Simba had to be down there in the valley, Scar had to act genuinely concerned, Mufasa had to swoop in at the moment when the wildebeests were uncontrollable. Then, because the king survives the onslaught, Scar finishes the job himself. And then he pins the blame on Simba, who is chased into oblivion.) Too bad for him though that the hyenas never got to finish the job of killing Simba. And worse for him that Rafiki went out of his way to get Simba back.
X-Factor : Tops. Again, a singing evil lion. Right up there with singing evil octopus. Plus, he’s excellently voiced by Jeremy Irons, who just brings the excellent writing to life (actually, the whole movie is superbly voiced). His delivery of “Long live the king” is stuck in my head to this day.
Contribution to story: It’s difficult not to be an excellent villain woven in well into the story when the plot is written by Shakespeare. Disney does a good job here of using the Claudius villain as base, and building on it beautifully. Not diluting, but making it even more memorable. Because of this, Scar can be a subject even of academic discourse (Lit majors looking for topics, thank me later): Scar vs. Claudius, Scar as the antithesis of Mufasa (or Simba), Sibling Rivalry and the Game of Thrones, etc. This is a strong case for learning your Shakespeare so you can use him when you need him.
And that was Tier 1.
If you force me to rank it, though, I think I’ll end up with
1) Scar, 2) Syndrome 3) Ursula and 4) Gothel
Here’s the second tier. Actually, what you may find here are rationalizations of why they didn’t make it to my first tier.
Remember my criteria: Degree of Evilness, Diabolical Scheme, Contribution to Story, and the X-Factor.
Gaston from Beauty and the Beast makes it to the second tier. His motivation is clear, but he’s really just a misguided, vain man. If he were alive today, he could actually be posting selfies of himself at the gym or eating those dozens of eggs. He doesn’t drive the story. It doesn’t help Gaston that the real villain of Beauty and the Beast, is actually the Beast within the Beast himself. Gaston just stands as a mirror, a foil, to be academic about it (So it was very ingenious that Gaston holds the mirror in the final scenes near the climax. He holds it for himself and sees the Beast – poetic for him being the beast, too. Also, he himself is a mirror, a foil, the opposite of the Beast – beautiful outside but rotten inside.
Cruella De Vil also makes it to the second tier. If you’re an animal lover, you know why. She is greedy to the point that she will kill harm any life force just to look pretty (a different kind of Gothel, actually). She’s memorable (the song with her name as the title is a Disney classic). I guess she’s not just as evil and diabolical for me. And no clear motivation, either.
Hades also makes it to Tier 2. Also Maleficent. But let me tell you why they’re just on Tier 2 and not on Tier 1. Maleficent and Hades are diabolical – both waited for YEARS to execute their plan (Hades waited for planetary alignment, Maleficent for Aurora’s 16th birthday). Both are memorable. Both have X-factors. Both tried to murder. However, they’re evil supernatural beings. They have to be evil. It’s like having the Devil as your antagonist: there’s no other motivation but to be evil. It’s a dragon-lady in a literal sense (I’m not taking the Maleficent movie into account, mind you. It’s a post-rationalization. I’m just looking at the original Sleeping Beauty), and the god of the Underworld. Why wouldn’t they be evil?
Jafar and Captain Hook –
I love Jafar. But I had to stick to my criteria. Jafar drops in the Contribution to Story, because his motivation, except power is unclear. He is not a new twist, there’s no love angle here, no clear why. He just fills in as the traditional power-hungry villain. A villain just because we needed one. BUT a MEMORABLE and fun one. Though Iago and the singing might have had to do a lot with that.
Captain Hook, I just really had to evaluate based on the Disney version – where his being an antithesis of Peter Pan was downplayed a bit.
So there you have it.
My top Disney villains. For now.
Let’s see if new ones come up, if I understand some other old villains in new ways, if you convince me to reconsider some, or if I change my criteria entirely.
Until then, Frollo, Shere Khan, Ratcliffe, Shan Yu and the Butler from Aristocats will have to wait… They might make it to some other list (like worst villains?) or their henchmen could.
If you have any other villain I might have skipped, or any other criterion I should add, or if you just have anything to say about this, please do so. After all, I am, by no way, calling this “definitive.”