Thursday, May 5, 2011

Villain Week: Day Four (prescheduled)

Welcome to day four of Villain Week! Today's topic is:

Animated Bad Guys: Villains the Whole Family Can Enjoy

Like most people alive today, I grew up on animated films, mostly made by Disney. Some of my absolute favorites are Aladdin, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Fantasia, and Anastasia. Perhaps unlike most people, however, one of the first things I look for in an animated film is a really good (and by "good" I mean "bad") villain.

Without the Queen, Snow White would have just been a pretty girl living with a bunch of short guys. Without Ursula, Ariel wouldn't have been able to get her wish and would still be singing songs about how much it sucks to be a mermaid. And without Scar, Simba would never have become a man. Or, er, an adult lion. What I'm saying is that villains in animated films really compliment their heroes, perhaps even more so than in books or other types of films.

And so, I present to you: the best animated villains of all time.

1) Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Let's forget about how unlike the book this film is. It's pretty awesome in its own right. Lovable but ugly main character? Check. Hot gypsy chick? Check. Bone-chilling villain with a creepy song? Check.

Frollo is everything an animated villain should be. He has a personality, he's a deeply flawed individual, and he's bat-s*** insane. Right from the start, Frollo is portrayed as being a rotten guy. He kills an innocent woman and then considers throwing her baby down a well...outside of a church. Yep, that guy's going to hell.

The thing about Frollo is that he sees himself as being righteous and that's what makes him so much fun to watch. If he knew that what he was doing was wrong then he'd just be a common criminal. But the man is pious and he thinks that he's doing what God wants him to do and that makes him interesting.

His obsession with Esmerelda is troubling to him because he believes himself to be above carnal pleasures. As a result, he blames her because everyone knows that it's always the hot chick's fault. Never mind that he's a sexually repressed guy who spends most of his time talking to a hunchback and being a jerk. Nope, in the end it's the woman that gets the blame.

So, he's a misogynistic murderer who thinks he's doing God's work. Yep, sounds like my kind of baddie.

Plus (and I'll be talking about this tomorrow) he has one of the coolest villain songs in all of film history.

The relationship between Frollo and Quasimodo, our hunchbacked hero, is rather compelling. Frollo was going to kill him when he was a baby but was stopped by the Archdeacon (voiced by the always awesome David Ogden Stiers of M*A*S*H fame). He became a reluctant father figure to Quasimodo, even though he was cruel and kept him locked up in the bell tower of Notre Dame cathedral. Quasimodo looks up to Frollo, not seeing how depraved and evil he is until it's almost too late. The fact that Quasimodo, although deformed and ridiculed, tries to only see the good in people is why he's one of my favorite animated heroes. The fact that he changes by going through the crucible of seeing people he cares about almost destroyed by the man who raised him is why I find this movie so compelling, even though it differs greatly from the novel. Frollo is integral to this transformation and Quasimodo's love for him makes the end even more poignant.

2) Scar (The Lion King)

Scar is one mean lion. I'm guessing he didn't get a lot of hugs as a child. Cub. Whatever. As the brother of the king of Pride Rock, Scar has some jealousy issues to work through...which he doesn't. Instead, he kills his brother through the cunning use of wildebeests and then blames it on Johnathan Taylor Thomas. I mean, Simba. Tormented and feeling guilty for something he obviously didn't do, Simba, the heir to the throne, wanders off on his own and meets a meerkat and a warthog and has tons of adventures...while his evil uncle completely destroys the entire landscape. I mean, if I were Scar I wouldn't go through all the trouble of committing regicide just so that I could lower the property value of my domain. Lack of ruling abilities aside, however, Scar is a pretty nasty villain. He feels no guilt or shame and he has no problem ruining his nephew's life. He also is willing to work with the unsavory hyenas, convincing them that he'll give them riches beyond their wildest dreams and then screwing them over because he's just that much of a jerk. Oh, and he stole his brother's wife. Someone's been reading a bit too much Hamlet if you ask me.

As for his relationship with our hero, Simba, Scar is the reason behind all of Simba's suffering. He killed his father, banished him from Pride Rock, and then tries to kill him when he comes back to take his place as the rightful king. If Scar had been a decent ruler and hadn't caused everything to dry up and die, Simba wouldn't have had to worry about anything. He could have just lived happily ever after with his grub-eating friends and let bygones be bygones. But Scar has the same aptitude for leadership as a pig has for flying so Simba has to give up hakuna matata and man up to his responsibilities. And I thought my family's problems were bad.

3) Rasputin (Anastasia)

I'll be talking about the real Rasputin later this week, so I won't get into the blatant historical inaccuracies in this film. Anastasia began my obsession with all things Romanov when I was in the seventh grade (I was a weird kid) and Rasputin was always my favorite character in the movie. Okay, after Bartok.

How can you not love this bat?

Rasputin (the movie version) is pretty epic. The guy sells his soul, betrays the Russian royal family (leading to the Bolshevik revolution), and then comes back from the dead to hunt down and kill Anastasia. Plus he, like Frollo, has a pretty awesome song and dance number. He's remorseless, cruel, psychotic, and relentless--all good qualities in a bad guy. While he's not as awesome as the real life, flesh-and-blood Rasputin, he does a pretty good job of being evil.

Anastasia is one of the only Meg Ryan movies I can stomach (the other is French Kiss, but that's mostly because of Kevin Kline and Jean Reno). She's also a pretty decent heroine--stubborn, sarcastic, independent. She and Rasputin don't face off until the end but she makes a pretty good show of keeping him on his toes throughout the film. This is one of those good guy/bad guy relationships where the hero isn't really changed much because of the villain. Instead, Anya becomes a better person through her interactions with other people (Dimitri, Vlad, the Dowager Empress, etc.). I see this as a strength rather than a weakness. Rather than Rasputin affecting her, she affects him--although not in the "he becomes a better person" way. Instead, she just makes him angrier, more obsessive, and more violent. And, oddly enough, I like it that way.

4) Jafar (Aladdin

Jafar is probably, hands down, my favorite animated villain. He's greedy, sleazy, and his humor is drier than the desert. He also has that cool hypnotizing staff thing that I sometimes wish I could get my hands on ("No, professor, you don't want to assign us that paper." "I don't...want to...assign...that paper." "You want to give all of us A's." "I give all of you...A's."). For all of his faults, Jafar's a pretty suave guy. I can't say I'd want one of my future daughters to bring him home to meet the folks, but he's a snazzy dresser and he's got that smooth-talking attitude that I love so much. Unlike a lot of villains, Jafar has the science of nefarious plans down to a "T". He's forward-thinking, flexible, and determined enough that he's not going to let a little setback ruin his day. Sure, he might scream a little and abuse his parrot, but he'll figure out another way to the throne. He even succeeds for a little bit, getting the sultanship (is that even a word?) and the girl before that nosy street rat screws everything up.

Despite the fact that he's a goody-goody and commits just as many crimes in the name of good as the ever-dull Jean Valjean, I actually like Aladdin. He's smart, romantic, and has a good heart. His relationship with Jafar is the epitome of the epic battle between good and evil. Just when it looks like evil is going to triumph, good swoops in and saves the day...with a little help from a big blue genie. Aladdin tries to be something that he's not but finds out that being yourself is far more important. And Jafar inadvertently helps him to realize this by revealing his true nature. It's fun to watch a film where the villain does something right when he's trying to do something wrong. Jafar thinks that he can break Aladdin's spirit by showing Jasmine who he truly is, but instead he only strengthens his spirit, leading to his eventual downfall--getting stuck in a fracking lamp with Gilbert Gottfried, which I think is enough to make any evildoer wake up in a cold sweat.

5) Ursula (The Little Mermaid)

I debated between her and Cruella DeVille but decided in the end that Cruella is really just a fashion-crazy chain smoker while as Ursula is pretty much made of evil. If Satan liked tentacles, he'd probably marry this woman...octopus...thing. Ursula is a witch, literally and figuratively. She preys upon innocent people who have self-esteem problems and uses them to gain power and influence. She's like the playground bully except she operates underwater and when you fail to meet her demands she takes a whole lot more than just your lunch money. Ursula is smart and sinister and downright spooky. She knows how to get inside your head, how to make you feel like she's your only hope for happiness. And people believe her. I don't really know why, but they do. Think of it this way: you really like someone but you don't feel that you're what they're looking for. You meet a woman whose eyes go all crazy and who sounds like she's been smoking six packs a day for the last 800 years and she's not really a looker or anything and she says that she can help you and you're just supposed to believe that she's not going to gut you if you cross her? I mean, look at her. She even looks nefarious. In some ways I think those poor suckers had it coming. I mean, they signed a contract for gods' sakes. Have they never read Faust?

Ursula is directly responsible for much of what happens to Ariel in this film. Not only is she the reason why this little mermaid gets legs, she's also the reason why she has no voice, why she almost loses the man she loves, and why she almost dies. Yeah, that's someone I want to sign a contract with. The strange thing is, however, that I'm really not sure how Ursula changes Ariel in the end. And, unlike Anastasia, Ariel isn't even directly related to Ursula's demise. That, according to this film, is the man's job. (I hope no women who watched this film got it into their heads that most guys would kill a giant octopus for them. I don't think I'd ever love someone that much.) In fact, Ariel doesn't seem to appreciate the life that she has even after Ursula almost kills her father. She still wants to have legs and go live with vapid Prince Eric. So, I guess we can say that despite being evil incarnate, Ursula doesn't really have a lasting effect on Ariel. She's still a raging psychopath though and I can appreciate that.

Obviously, your list may differ. I'd love to hear who your favorite animated villains are in the comments section.



  1. Oh wow. This was a great post. I could talk about cartoon villains for a really long time. But then you would a novela in your comments :) So I'm just going to leave it at...this was a really good post. :]

  2. Glad I'm not the only one and glad that you liked it. :) I wouldn't have minded a novella. I love talking about baddies with people.