Nov 8 2013 11:30am

Disney’s Most Magnificent Bastards

Maleficent dragon Sleeping Beauty

Villains in animated films tend to have a bit of an edge in the whole Magnificent Bastards department. All the best villainous actors of stage and screen do a fair amount of scene chewing (I’m looking at you, Tim Curry), but animated villains can take things to a whole other level. Disney villains in particular have a way of worming their way into our hearts, thanks in no small part to campy theatrics, quippy dialog, and the occasional musical number. And they often have the sartorial chops to carry it off courtesy of some fantastic design work.

But in order to truly rise to the ranks of magnificent bastardry, a villain needs substance—some motivation or believable character flaw an audience can connect with. We don’t have to actively root for the bastards (though sometimes we do), but we do need to understand their point of view. I mean, we may love to hate Cruella de Vil, but it’s hard to actually sympathize with her end game of acquiring a puppy-coat. So which Disney villains make the grade?


Syndrome The Incredibles

Syndrome, aka Buddy Pine (The Incredibles)

Syndrome spends most of the movie cultivating a supervillain persona that’s equal parts Goldfinger (private island lair? Check.) and Silver Age comics (goofy costume and mechanical minions? Double check.), and his cocky swagger is entertaining as hell. But it turns out this sociopath has a rather sad origin story: as a kid, his favorite hero rejects him to his face, and the rest of the supers disappear from the world as a pretty direct result of his enthusiastic meddling. Sure, he was a total brat and SERIOUSLY overreacted to this childhood trauma, but I can understand a certain amount of Syndrome’s inner rage.


Scar The Lion King

Scar (The Lion King)

Scar walks the fine line between gravitas and camp, and most of the credit has to go to Jeremy Irons’ superb sarcastic drawl. His main complaint is simply that life isn’t fair, and that his status as Mufasa’s younger brother makes him ineligible to rule over Pride Rock. Anyone with siblings, royal or not, can relate on some level. And although it’s honestly a little cringe-worthy to watch Scar mince his way through “Be Prepared,” he proves himself an adept orator, inspiring legions of goose-stepping hyenas to throw off the shackles of the oppressive lions. Of course, his manipulative and opportunistic nature is also his undoing; he’s a bit too quick to turn on the hyenas after the final battle, and they literally rip their former leader to shreds. Ouch.


Ratigan Great Mouse Detective

Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)

It only stands to reason that the rodent version of Moriarty would be just as amazing as the original. He’s prone to speechifying and dramatic gestures, and it somehow makes perfect sense that he would make use of Rube Goldberg death machines and clockwork robots. He’s easily the most hyperbolic villain on this list, but he still has at least one relatable motivation: an intense inferiority complex. Ratigan hates being called a rat, and I mean HATES. In the books, Ratigan is in fact just a large mouse, but the animated version is clearly a rat trying to pass himself off as big boned. It’s a great touch to make the character more comedic, but also suggests all sorts of interesting things about the potential power dynamics within the mouse and rat society.


Yzma Emperor's New Groove

Yzma (The Emperor’s New Groove)

It was a bit of a toss-up between Yzma and Jafar, since they are essentially the same type of villain—both are long-time court advisors who use magic to achieve a government coup. But where Jafar has apparently always been power hungry (and is perfectly happy to creep all over Jasmine on his way to the throne), Yzma only snaps when Kuzco unceremoniously fires her. Add that to the resentment she must feel for taking on the thankless job of raising Kuzco (not that she did a great job or anything), and it’s no wonder she wants to murder the jerk. Besides, while I personally find Jafar’s cackling evil side a bit grating, Yzma’s comic eccentricity (voiced perfectly by Eartha Kitt) hits all the right notes.


Shere Khan Kaa Jungle Book

Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)

This one might fall a bit under the British accent syndrome, but it’s hard to deny the imperious magnetism of Shere Khan. He’s not even present for the first two-thirds of the movie, but he easy steals the show once he arrives: the introductory scene where Shere Khan casually threatens Kaa still gives me chills. He’s clearly rather vicious before he ever meets Mowgli, but his obsession with the man cub (and his fear of gunfire) reflect an understandable hatred of human hunters and the threat of encroachment. Honestly, I always feel a little badly for him when Mowgli ties the burning branch to his tail.


Ursula Flotsam Jetsom Little Mermaid

Ursula (The Little Mermaid)

Ursula simply oozes confidence and sets the bar for all the campy villains who followed in her wake. She sells every hip shake and innuendo and her face is, well, divine. She’s been kicked out of the palace, possibly for challenging Triton’s rule and almost certainly for her questionable use of dark magic. She’s since scraped by on her own by scamming merfolk of the poor and unfortunate variety (I guess Triton is too busy hosting self-aggrandizing concerts to notice the plight of his subjects...), so who can blame her for seizing the perfect opportunity for revenge? As a bit of an aside, Ursula has the best minions of the Disney villain set—Flotsam and Jetsom are actually competent (not to mention creepy), and the usual bumbling comedy is left to the heroine’s companions. It’s really too bad that Ursula accidentally zaps them.


Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

Maleficent is the one Disney villain I actively root for; Aurora and Philip are both pretty dull, and the three fairies’ petty bickering gets a bit tiresome. The self-proclaimed Mistress of All Evil (how badass is that?) is a bit miffed that she wasn’t invited to Princess Aurora’s christening, but she handles it with a wonderfully passive-aggressive courtly grace. Okay, I don’t condone cursing babies, but it really was a bit of an oversight for the king and queen to just ignore the most powerful magical force in their little valley. And dang is she powerful. Ursula’s giant form is cool and all, but Maleficent goes straight for fire-breathing dragon. Like many tragic villains (and heroes) before her, Maleficent’s major flaw is pride. She thinks so highly of her own abilities that she employs utter morons as minions—they spend 16 years searching for a baby instead of a growing child and woman. And right when victory is in her grasp, she takes a nap and leaves the buffoons in charge of guarding Philip. Things, predictably, go awry.


Boba Fett Star Wars Holiday Special

Boba Fett (Star Wars franchise)

Anyone who’s able to best Han Solo has got to be one hell of a Magnificent Bastard. You should see the looks on your faces, but this is totally legit thanks to Disney’s acquisition of LucasfilmPlus, everyone’s favorite intergalactic bounty hunter even has an animated past, appearing briefly in the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special—and we can only hope that Disney will release a remastered version for all to enjoy. Okay, so the animated Fett doesn't live up to the Mandalorian’s full bastardy potential, but he still rescues Luke and the droids only to attempt to betray them to Vader. Fett blows his chance and jetpacks outta there, but don’t worry, he’ll show up and cause trouble again in the feature films.


Those are my picks, but I’m sure I missed a few worthy contenders. Let me know in the comments which animated villains (Disney or otherwise) should rank among these Magnificent Bastards!

Sarah Tolf is the production assistant for She had entirely too much fun contemplating this list, and burst into giggles when she remembered how ridiculous the Star Wars Holiday Special was. You can follow her on Twitter, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Magnificent Bastards on ‹ previous | index
1. Tesh
Shon Yu in Mulan was a good, menacing, mostly subdued villain. He went crazy at the end, but even then, he wasn't campy, just pure rage. I much prefer that sort of calculating villain over a campy one. That said, Hades in Hercules was good fun. James Woods really made that guy work well.
Alicia Dodson
2. LynMars
No love for any of the Gargoyles lineup?

OK, so Xanatos was a selfish antagonist rather than a straight up villain and MacBeth was also often antagonistic but never evil (both men became allies/sorta friends to the clan), Sevarius (played with delight by Tim Curry) is more of a minion lacking anything resembling ethics as a scientist...Oberon is another grey area, really, as he was acting in accordance with the laws of faerie, which don't really coincide with those of men; it's more alien mindset than actual villainy.

And of course several of the "Bad Guys" get semi-redeemed and their own comic spin off as heroes under mysterious management.

Demona though, she was definitely a tragic villain, unrepetant in her thirst for vengeance against the entire human race (for what's really her own fault). That she turns even on her own daughter for her own gain and need to inflict her pain on others says a lot. Also Marina Sirtis' voice work is fantastic at the nuances of Demona's broken personality.

Thailog was created to be a magnificent bastard, a combination of Goliath and Xanatos, and Sevarius did too good a job. As of the comics, Thailog now outranks Xanatos in the Illuminati.

The Archmage and the Weird Sisters are also strong contenders (and the triplets were apparently set up to be the real Big Bad of the series, before the creator was ousted and then the show cancelled).
3. Mike Pants
Yzma, Jafar, and Ursula are all the same person. Ursula is just a little farther along in her unemployment.
4. Boba Fett Fan Club
Always lovely to see Boba Fett make a list like this. One head's up. Lucasfilm already released a remastered version of the Star Wars Holiday Special cartoon when they issued the full Blu-ray set. It's a bonus feature. See for specifics.
Brian R
5. Mayhem
I have to admit, every time I saw Yzma's "Why do we even have that lever" gag, my mind went straight to Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death with the sewers of Terserus.
John C. Bunnell
6. JohnCBunnell
I quite agree that the Gargoyles crew includes a number of splendid antagonists (Xanatos practically defines the Magnificent Bastard even when he's not being actively villainous), but that series was so firmly defined by Greg Weisman's creative vision that it's kind of an odd fit under the Disney umbrella.

Except that we really, really need the rest of the series-proper out on DVD....
7. Darius Washington
Megatron / Galvatron from the 1986 Transformers the Movie. The amount of autobots he kills (alongside the rest of the Decepticons) in that film is staggering and added to the overall darker tone of the film.
8. Russell H
I remember hearing stories that Ratigan was supposed to be based on Saul Steinberg, the corporate raider who tried to take over Disney at the time THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE was being made.
9. Stingface
what about Smaug in the animated show 'The Hobbit'? i would be cranky too if i was sitting in a hole for centuries and some little people came to steal my rightfully earned gold..
Fake Name
10. ThePendragon
You are insane. Be Prepared is awesome, and quite possibly my favorite musical number of any Disney movie.
Darin Herrick
11. jedisamurai
Wait a minute....if we are going with ALL of Disney... then where the heck is David Xanatos from Gargoyles?!? You know? The one the Xanatos Gambit is named after??
12. Cybersnark
I think the G1 version of Megatron is actually one of the least magnificent bastards he's been; he was after all crippled by being an 80s cartoon stereotype.

The Beast-Era version was a smooth gambler and criminal mastermind, with a penchant for scenery-chewing monologues ("yyyyeeess"), whimsy, as well as his own set of rules (willing to let his enemies walk away if they gambled fairly and won) --essentially a Cybertronian Moriarty.

The Animated version took that to the next level, making him a strategic mastermind who managed to bring the Autobots to their knees in S1 despite being a disembodied head with no real army (using lies and subterfuge to manipulate Detroit's criminals into doing his bidding). And when he did get his body back, the second thing he did was to kill Starscream (the first was to take out all of the Autobots in about 30 seconds).

Of course, the Prime version was simply an honest-to-Primus demonic psycho, with designs on not just conquest, but Deicide.

Elsewhere in American animation (leaving out the dozens of truly magnificent animated bastards Japan has given us), there's Van Kleiss in Generator Rex (a smooth, steampunk-looking cyborg), the Choten from Kaijudo (a maddeningly charming mastermind), and Tessler from Tron Uprising (an affably-evil dictator).

Even My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has given us Nightmare Moon (who wanted to spread eternal night over the land --ultimately killing everything), Queen Chrysalis (a shapeshifting vampire Changeling who actually got her own Villain Song), the Great and Powerful Trixie (a scenery-chewing stage magician with a grudge), Sunset Shimmer (Celestia's former apprentice --a dark reflection of the series lead), and even a version of Q (Discord, played by John deLancie himself).
13. Sean Bircher
Someone obviously needs to write an entire article about "Gargoyles" -- or at least Xanatos and the Xanatos Gambit.
Alan Brown
14. AlanBrown
Sleeping Beauty was one of the first movies I ever remember seeing in a theater, and Maleficent scared the crap out of me--especially the whole fire breathing dragon. Later, after I had seen a few more movies, I realized I had seen one of the most impressive princes in the history of Disney movies. Many of them were just objects of affection without any agency to speak of, but this one was willing to strap on a sword, pick up a shield, and go kick some butt.In the newest one, Tangled, that 'mom' that locked Rapunzel in the tower was one of the creepiest villians of them all, though.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
15. Lisamarie
First off, I totally LOLd at the Boba Fett inclusion, and it took me a few seconds to get the joke. Oh yes, Leia is a Disney princess now ;)

Yeah, I take some offense at Aurora and Phillip being called 'dull'. Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorites!!! And yes, partially because of Maleficent - I am pretty sure I would imitate the 'Mistress of all Evil' line (and better yet, "Now you must deal with me O Prince, and ALL THE POWERS OF HELL". Helllll yeah, now that is a villain!

As for favorite/creepiest/complex Disney villains - Judge Claude Frollo is all I have to say about that. Oh, and Tony Jay.

I have to go with Jafar over Yzma, sorry...his beard is just so twisted!
17. Dulox
Sorry but any Disney Magnificent Bastard List without Cruella Deville is incomplete. She wants to make a coat of puppies, kind of reminds me of Silence of the Lambs... I have issues.
I completly agree that gargoyles should be included..........but your forgetting Chernobog...(not sure if im spelling right)...but he was and is the most terrifying disney villan. He pretty much the embodiment of satan and is just doing his job as so. Then the sun comes and F's everything up.
20. JMills
Lovely list, and I'm happy to see two of my faves, Ratigan and Scar. I'd like to add the villain of one of Disney's best and most underrated movies,
Home on the Range, with the yodelling bastard Alameda Slim, voiced by Randy Quaid.
21. Underbelly
While I understand why he wasn’t included, I still have to mention Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. Even when I was little I loved how they played with the concept of what makes a villain… villainess.

While at first he was portrayed as a conceded caricature of pure masculinity, that depiction resembled the typical hero much more than the “bad guy”. However, as the film progressed, so did his character’s demeanor due to jealousy, self-indulgence, pride, and his giant ego. Further, all the while he is being juxtaposed to the Beast and the opposite transformation from the angry and selfish ‘monster’ to the sensitive and gentle man he ends up being.

This interplay on what makes a villain is what I love about Gaston. It is so much more realistic than any of the other cartoon villains. Plus, it ends with something that is scarier than even a dragon: the brutality and mob mentality shown by those who could be so easily controlled. This again is so scary because it is so believable.

As a kid it was easy to see the correlation between Gaston and the most popular boy at school and the ease in which he could rally everyone to being mean with nothing but some words.

Plus, Gaston’s chest hair line was pretty freakin’ hilarious.

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