And potentially the greatest Disney villain of all time, and yet she didn’t even make my list of Disney villains. Why?
As seen with the “Fantastic Four” movies, the lack of a good villain can sink an otherwise decent movie. The heroes simply need a villain strong enough to present a challenge, but not so overpowering that they can’t be defeated. Lame villains mean the heroes don’t really get to shine. But sometimes the reverse happens, and the villain is so awesome that the audience starts to root for their victory over the insipid, moronic, or otherwise unworthy heroes. Oddly, the best examples of these are Disney movies, or at least their old-school style fairy tales. Quite often, the more awesome the villain, the lamer the hero. This is not always the case, but here are some of the most prominent examples (to me), in reverse order.
5) Gothel vs Rapunzel, Eugene, a Very Dangerous but Non-Talking Horse, and a Vicious Little Chameleon
This is one of the more recent Disney flicks. I liked Rapunzel well enough, but she was just a girl with spunk. I have to say Gothel is really nearly bad enough to rank up with Wicked Stepmother, although her ambition, given the power she had, was disappointingly modest. Gothel hordes a magic plant and uses it to make her young. When the queen’s pregnancy goes bad, the magic plant is located and use it to save the queen and baby. The baby inherits the magic powers in her magic hair, which means the hair can never be cut or it loses all the powers. Gothel kidnaps the baby and locks her in a tower. What makes Gothel really evil is that she pretends to be Rapunzel’s mother. She lives with the girl for almost her entire life and never develops even an iota of feeling towards the girl. That’s a special kind of evil (of course, she is effectively a stepmother, and step-parents are always evil). Well, Rapunzel longs for freedom and sneaks out of the tower with the first boy she’s ever met and spends the day feeling guilty and giddy in rapid turns. Eugene’s in trouble with the law and that’s where we meet the horse, who is much more clever than any of the actual cops. Gothel manages to manipulate Rapunzel into rejoining her by working with Eugene’s evil co-thieves and convincing Rapunzel Eugene never cared about her. Rapunzel buys this. As a bonus, Gothel gets the evil co-thieves thrown in jail. But Rapunzel remembers her past and makes the mistake of confronting Gothel about it, so she chains up Rapunzel with the intention of keeping her prisoner forever. Like I said, that’s a special kind of evil (given this girl regarded her as her mother). But Eugene does some self-sacrificing and that vicious little chameleon trips Gothel into falling out the window. So at least Rapunzel had spunk, but even she needed some rescuing.
4) Ursula vs Ariel, Eric, and Some Talking Seafood
So Ariel, the cheerleader of the sea, falls in love with some human prince after seeing him dance and saving his life. Ursula, who hates everybody, sees an opportunity to manipulate the stupid girl and possibly getting the king’s magic trident out of the deal. Ariel, because she’s stupid, goes along with the deal with the devil and trades her voice for legs. And because Ursula’s cruel, she turns Ariel into a human while she’s still underwater, which nearly kills Ariel. Despite the fact Ariel can’t talk, walks like a drunken sailor, and clearly doesn’t understand the basics of civilization (I.e. a fork is not a hairbrush), Eric falls in love with her in just a day or two. Ursula moves on to the next step of the plan and uses Ariel’s voice to win the prince over. Ariel is upset and surprised at the betrayal because apparently it never occurred to her the person known as “the evil sea witch” might, you know, be evil. In the end the king sacrifices his power and kingdom so Ariel doesn’t get killed. Then Eric, who really hasn’t been much more useful than the statue Ariel originally pined after, decides maybe he should do something and kills Ursula, and they all live happily ever after. Yay.
3) Lady Tremaine vs Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother, and Some Annoying Talking Mice
I can only assume Lady Tremaine (the wicked stepmother) married a complete moron in her first marriage to produce those two moronic daughters. I can only assume this because she is a fairly-good looking lady for her age, poised, calm, collected, and clever. The daughters are not, to say the least. So Lady Tremaine marries her second rich husband, who conveniently dies or something after the marriage. Perhaps she was a black widow. That would be awesome. Anyway, because Cinderella, who is no smarter than her daughters, is a lot prettier, Stepmother hates the girl and punishes her by making her do all the manual labor. Which she does, because she’s stupid. I mean nice. And she talks to mice because that’s apparently adorable. I was rooting for Lady Tremaine’s cat, Lucifer, to just eat them. So word of the ball comes around and all eligible women are invited. Lady Tremaine first tries to give Cinderella so many chores she has no time to complete a dress. When the mice take care of that for her, she manipulates her daughters into destroying the dress. Her cruelty is sublime, and frankly I suspect she was going to try to win over the prince herself since her ugly, idiot daughters had no chance. Well, the Fairy Godmother stops by and gives Cinderella a pretty dress and a ride and lo and behold, she’s so pretty the prince falls in love with her immediately. After her midnight mad dash, the prince scours the kingdom for his dream girl. Lady Tremaine figures out that Cinderella is the girl and locks her in the tower. The only reason the prince finds her is that the damn talking mice swipe the key and let her out. So Cinderella lives happily ever after and Lady Tremaine is stuck with her two idiot daughters. Maybe Lady Tremaine found another rich moron to marry. One can only hope.
2) Wicked Queen vs. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
The Wicked Queen forced Snow White to work as a scullery maid which indicates that either Snow White’s father had been bumped off or was at least under such a dominated condition he didn’t object to his wife forcing his daughter, a princess, into a life of manual labor. She was effectively running the kingdom. She had an immensely powerful artifact that she apparently used only to boost her own ego and a private dungeon filled with spellbooks on black magic and nasty potions. The dungeon even had an escape tunnel, which is really showing a lot of foresight on her part since a likely end to an evil queen who wields black magic is at the hands of a torch-wielding mob. In the meantime, Snow White talks to birds and falls in love with a passing prince through a song. When the magic mirror declares that the Snow White is prettier than the Queen, she orders a huntsman to not only kill her but put her heart in a decorative box she clearly had made just for that purpose. I suppose she intended to put it on her mantle as a reminder of how evil and beautiful she was. But because the Queen left the job to a soft-hearted minion, Snow White is not killed and wanders into the cottage of the seven dwarves. She’s so stupid it takes her a lot of time to realize just because the dwarves are short, they are not children. One would think the beards might be a clue. The Queen realizes her error and sets out to kill Snow White in the nastiest way she can think of – eternal sleep which would lead to being buried alive. When she sees the cure for the sleep is true love, she basically replies, “Ha! Like that ever happens!” Despite choosing the scariest disguise imaginable to gain Snow White’s trust, the girl is so stupid the Queen gets her to take the poison. The dwarves go into a rage and chase the Queen off a cliff to her doom (i.e, death by torch-wielding mob). They don’t bury Snow White and that same prince happens to come along and wake her up. She rides off with him and I can only assume that her own kingdom, without a King, Queen, or Princess, ultimately collapses due to the power vacuum.
By far the best Disney villain ever was the magnificent Maleficent. She was evil to her core and I loved her for it. You should love her for it too. She’s snubbed at the royal birthday party, crashes it anyway, and then takes out her ire on the innocent baby princess. She curses the princess to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and then die. I can only conclude the kingdom’s main export must have been textiles or else there probably wouldn’t be a lot of spinning wheels to go around. So there you go – in one curse she destroys an economy and the hopes of the king and queen for continuing the monarchy. But alas, the three good fairies decide to hide the girl for her own safety, yet for some reason they decide the day she gets to go home is the day the curse is supposed to go down instead of the day after. Apparently that would have been the sensible, smart thing to do and no one in that kingdom besides Maleficent and her crow have a lick of sense. These fairies, by the way, are shown to be so lame in trying to make a dress and cake for Aurora’s birthday party without magic I am astonished to the point of disbelief that they could possibly have fed and clothed themselves, much less raise a child from infancy, for sixteen years without magic. They are completely inept at the most basic tasks of human life. Maleficent doesn’t find the baby until she’s grown, and I blame this on stupid minions (really an endemic problem with even the best of villains). In the meantime, Aurora’s fallen in love with Prince Philip after one song and dance number. Well, Maleficent enchants Aurora to prick her finger and then captures Prince Philip with almost no effort. Her monologue on how she’s going to imprison him for a hundred years only to release him and let him rescue his true love as a decrepit old man is awesome. Then the stupid fairies come and mess it all up by saving Philip’s sorry ass at every turn. Literally. They bust him out, they give him magic weapons, they save him from goblins, they get him out of the castle…some hero. Maleficent goes completely bonkers and turns into a dragon “by all the powers of Hell!” Yes, she says that. In a Disney film. In 1959! Damn. And is defeated anyway by stupid, silly fairies, an inept prince, and a sleeping princess who spends only 16 minutes in her own movie. Bummer.
In short, it’s sad when such awesome villains lose to such lame heroes. Good heroes are more common than good villains. By the way, I was glad to see Maleficent again in Kingdom Hearts. I heart Maleficent.