And potentially the greatest Disney villain of all time, and yet she didn’t even make my list of Disney villains. Why?
Because her actual presence is minimal, but the havoc she wreaks is epic. This villain has the shapeshifting powers of Queen Grimhilde (Snow White’s stepmother), the transformation powers of Ursula the Sea-witch, the sheer power of Maleficient, the needless cruelty of Mother Gothel (Rapunzel’s fake mother) and Lady Tremaine (Cinderella’s stepmother), and the petty vindictiveness of any of the above. Although her evil is undone by true love (because Disney), unlike her other magically-inclined counterparts, this powerful sorceress survives the tale. And she doesn’t have a name, or even a spoken line. Her role in the story is relegated to the prologue.
So who is this mystery villain who is so powerful and yet nearly completely overlooked? The enchantress in Beauty and the Beast.
Her sheer power and skill in shapeshifting and transformation is pretty obvious since she cursed the inhabitants of the castle to become sentient objects and the prince into a giant, hairy monster. But the needless cruelty and petty vindictiveness are a little less obvious, especially since so little time is devoted to the enchantress. But I’ve got arguments that she should rank in the top tier of Disney villains:
1) This kingdom is in trouble –
a) Given that the Beast shuts himself off from the world for ten years and no one in the nearby village talks about this although they seem to know not only where the castle is but a short-cut (since it takes them far less time to get there than Maurice or Belle), it’s clear to me that either the royal family was very hands-off when it came to ruling, or their power had declined such that even the nearby peasantry had forgotten their existence. Also, this kingdom apparently doesn’t have adult rulers when the story starts. See below.
b) As no mention is made of the Beast’s parents, and it was stated he did not know how to love, I conclude that he is an orphan without siblings. This is Disney, after all, and main characters almost always have one dead parent if not both. It’s not clear how long he’s been an orphan but given that he’s only eleven when the prologue starts, the death of his parents either occurred recently enough it’s left a scar on his psyche, or long enough that he doesn’t even remember them. Throw in the fact he’s a prince, probably spoiled, and also paradoxically probably burdened with adult responsibilities (see lack of parents, and also lack of any character like a fancy hat named “Mr. Vizierly” or something that might indicate a de facto adult ruler), and the fact he is a child ( or worse, a preteen starting to cusp into puberty) I think it’s safe to say the prince is not emotionally well-adjusted.
2) The prince is a child! –
I can’t emphasize this enough. The prince is eleven years old. His kingdom is not in a good place. He’s not in a good place. Even nice, well-adjusted children have bad days. How was this nameless enchantress to know she didn’t just catch the prince on the day after he learned his parents were dead? She gives him no chance to apologize. She curses him and heads on her way apparently not caring whether he breaks the spell or lives out his days as a hideous monster. She also makes sure he doesn’t have an easy out, or incentive to leave since it seems clear to me the castle is enchanted to always have fresh food and water available. He doesn’t have to leave or else starve to death; he has all he needs to survive holed up in the castle wallowing in misery.
3) She curses everyone else too! –
For the sake of argument, I’ll say maybe the enchantress had some secret magic to see into the prince’s heart and realize he was cold-hearted and bad to the bone. This is a Disney fairy tale world, after all, and generally a character’s alignment is pretty clear. So the prince is a terrible person who deserves what he gets. However, everyone else in the castle is cursed too. What the heck did Mrs. Potts do to deserve being turned into a sentient teapot? She’s not the prince’s mother or any kind of authority figure to him. Her jurisdiction is the kitchen. What about Chip? Chip is just a kid who clearly has no influence whatsoever on the prince. He probably doesn’t even work in the castle yet. I’m pretty sure Chip is only about seven or eight. What does turning poor Chip into a teacup have to do with teaching the prince how to love? Cursing all the servants only makes the prince feel guilty for his mistake, and moodiness and un-managed anger is just not attractive. For crying out loud, the enchantress cursed the dog! The dog! So if the prince doesn’t learn to love in time, all these innocent people are cursed to exist as sentient objects. Will they die? They don’t seem to age. Would the prince as the Beast age and die while the servants look on helplessly?
4) What is even her deal? –
Consider if anyone else had answered the door. Lumìere obviously would have let her in because he’s the stereotypical hyper-sexual Frenchman. Sure, she’s ugly, but a true gentleman doesn’t leave a woman out in the weather. So she would have been let inside and there would have been no reason to get mad. If Mrs. Potts had answered the door, the enchantress would have been directly brought inside and handed a cup of tea before she could blink. If Cogsworth had answered the door, well, he probably would have told her to go away, but he’s pretty much the only one. Had a lower-ranking servant answered the door, the question of admittance would have most likely gone to Mrs. Potts. So most likely the enchantress would have been treated hospitably.
Does she just go from castle to castle as an ugly old woman with the rose testing the hospitality of the inhabitants? Would she have cursed everyone if Cogsworth had answered the door? Does she do this hoping that a member of the royal family might possibly need/deign to answer his/her own door? Or did she target that castle and that royal family and show up night after night waiting for the prince to open the door? Or did she know that night, at that moment, he was going to answer his own door? What’s her long game? What’s she getting out of this? Either she’s an agent of chaos who wanders around testing people for her own secret purposes or she was targeting the prince outright.
The havoc this nameless enchantress wreaks on the nameless kingdom is considerable. Her motivations are murky at best, but when angered/insulted, she strikes back with swift, cruel, petty vengeance. I am astounded at the level of villainy presented in such a short prologue. My hat is off to this evil enchantress who made such trouble and lived through the tale. Obscurity seems to have served her well.