The Film with the Best Villain Day 4: 30 Days of Animation

(As always, opinions are mine and do not reflect or refract anyone else’s)

Who doesn’t love a great villain?

I mean, really – we love a story about a hero, and we root for the good guys (most of the time), but come on. I, for one, am here to see the baddies.

No medium has given us a bigger collection of wonderful bad-guys to discuss than animation — but has that long and storied tradition followed through into the digital age?

Let’s take a look, shall we?

What animated film has the best villain?

Some Runners-Up: Disney

Much ink has been spilled over choosing the best Disney villains, and there are some really tough choices there. Once Disney (and by extension Pixar) hit the CG era, the tradition hasn’t slowed down at all. Let’s take a look at a few of my own favorites.

In Toy Story we had Sid, but I have a hard time seeing him as a villain. He had no idea that he was destroying sentient beings — that’s kind of a horrifying thought, really… These toys had to watch themselves and their friends get eviscerated by an unknowing child, and were perfectly capable of running away or crying out, but unwilling due to a code of conduct instilled in all toys.

copyright Disney / PIXAR

copyright Disney / PIXAR

I take that back — Sid is a fascinating villain.

Also from early Pixar, we had Randall and Waternoose from Monsters, Inc, and the prototypical supervillain Syndrome from The Incredibles

copyright Disney/PIXAR

copyright Disney/PIXAR

Syndrome is easily a more compelling villain of these, since we get to see his history and there are plenty of opportunities for us to soak in his bitterness. I really wish that his downfall had more to do with his actual character flaws, though. It seems like Edna Mode re-wrote the ending of the film, because really it was his fashion sense that got him killed. No capes, dahling.

In Toy Story 3, we also had a classic villain in Lotso-Huggin’ Bear, which is quite possibly the best name for a villain ever.

copyright Disney/PIXAR

copyright Disney/PIXAR

Lotso was wonderful in part because you wouldn’t expect a purple fuzzy bear to be a fascist. Life is weird that way.

Disney’s own ventures into CG animation have had pretty mixed success, and I’d be pretty hard-pressed to name many of them before Tangled — The Disney Company’s first really successful attempt at translating the Patented Disney Animated Product to CG. Part of the formula for Disney Animated Product is a compelling villain, and that’s exactly what we got in Mother Gothel.

copyright Disney/PIXAR

copyright Disney

Gothel is self-centered, controlling, a little creepy, and more than a little ambitious. You get the barest hint that she actually does care about Rapunzel more than being simply a means to an end, but she’s never shown as being conflicted, which I think is to the film’s detriment. I would love to see Gothel actually struggle with the fact that her immortality is tied to a person whom she loves but has lied to for her entire life. Rapunzel herself doesn’t seem that broken up about the only mother she’s ever known falling five hundred feet to her death. I think there was a LOT of room for their relationship to be explored and expanded.

There are plenty of other notable villains from the CG Disney and Pixar films, but one of my personal favorites is Charles Muntz from Up

copyright Disney/PIXAR

copyright Disney/PIXAR

Muntz provides a wonderful foil to Carl. Both men took balloons to the jungle driven by obsessions – Muntz to find the mythical bird, and Carl to fulfill his wife’s dream of adventure. Muntz is an old man, hardly threatening, but he’s played with such maniacal conviction by Christopher Plummer that you can believe him capable of anything to achieve his goals. And let’s not forget what his motivation ultimately is — He wants to kill and stuff something surpassingly rare and beautiful.

That’s pretty evil, right there.

Some Runners-Up: Everyone Else

Outside of Disney/Pixar, the villain pool sadly starts to dry up a bit. In the two villain-inversions Despicable Me and Megamind, their own villains were pretty dull. The bad owl from Legend of the Guardians was pretty wicked cool to look at, but not all that interesting on his own merits.

Rango‘s big-boss turtle was too stereotypical, and a lot of the other animated films rely much more on plots that don’t require a villainous figure at all.

In a lot of cases, one of the protagonists plays villain — lying to the others, getting revealed, and typically rescuing the others from a situation they created. This, and a heartfelt apology, win them back to the good graces of the others. Or they sacrifice themselves and die.

Or, as is the case with the Ice Age films and The Croods, Nature red in tooth and claw seems to be the only villain necessary.

To get even one runner-up outside of the Disney/Pixar lineup, I had to go all the way back to the first Shrek, and Lord Farquaad.

copyright Dreamworks SKG

copyright Dreamworks SKG

Farquaad isn’t all that interesting on his own, but I love that he and his kingdom seem to represent the Disney Corporation from the perspective of the S, K, and G of Dreamworks SKG (that’s Spielberg, Katzenberg, and Geffen, if you’re curious). It’s no mistake that Duloc is introduced as a theme-park full of large-headed mascots, after all.

If you look at it this way, things take on a pretty mean spirit. Farquaad is a petty tyrant destroying classic fairytales. And he’s definitely compensating for something. Ouch.

And the winner is…

You might be surprised to find out that prior to 2013’s Epic, Fox’s Blue Sky Studios actually made a film that wasn’t in the Ice Age franchise. I give you my favorite CG Animated villain, Kangaroo from Horton Hears a Who.

copyright FOX / Blue Sky Studios

copyright FOX / Blue Sky Studios

To start with, I am really conflicted about this film in general. I think it’s the feature-length adaptation that butchers Seuss’s legacy the least, but that’s not really saying much, when you consider the competition. That’s a discussion for another day, though.

Kangaroo is absolutely wonderful, and voiced by Carol Burnett, one of my absolute favorite comediennes. She is authoritarian, conniving, mean-spirited, and her sole motivation in the film seems to be to quash the imaginations of the youngsters. She can’t widen her horizons enough to even fathom the concept that the world might be bigger than what she sees, and the fact that others believe differently drives her crazy. She can’t have an imagination, and she will burn the world down to prevent anyone else from having one either. She almost commits genocide!

Pretty intense, really. And she learns her lesson at the end, which I think is really important for a proper villain. A villain with an element of redemption is automatically more interesting to me.

So whatever Horton‘s other flaws, Kangaroo isn’t one of them.

Tomorrow: What film has the best score?


  1. Great post! I’m enjoying the theme this month. I definitely agree that Kangaroo is a great villain, and to me the film itself is one I would label as underrated, too. But I must disagree with your assessment of Muntz from ‘Up’. I didn’t much enjoy this one due mostly to the fact that I never felt the presence of a strong villain character. I felt the same about ‘Ratatouille’, but that’s irrelevant here. Muntz’ motivation, as I recall, was wholly centered around restoring his reputation as a great explorer. He had to find and capture (and, sure, probably kill) the rare bird to prove something. He wasn’t after the rare specimen out of spite or some inexplicable hatred for creatures in general. Muntz obviously wasn’t blameless, though. His real crime, which was the extermination of other explorers who either tried to thwart or achieve his goal, was merely touched on with a shot of their helmets kept as trophies. I felt that real villains in the story were the pack of militant dogs that pursued the heroes throughout. Despite off-ing other explorers, I thought his ending was abrupt and a bit harsh. Especially given that his character arc was more of a straight line, with no realization of his folly, etc.

    That’s my $0.02. Thanks again for the great posts!

  2. I completely agree with your comments about Gothel and Rapunzel. As someone with real-life “mommy issues,” the relationship between mother and child, even in Tangled’s case, runs so much deeper than the film shows. I realize that Disney probably watered it down to keep it kid-friendly, but I would love love love to see a more grown up version that shows the inner conflict and the extensive recovery Rapunzel would have to make from the trauma of seeing her mother-figure die. And all that after finding out about the whole being lied to for 18 years thing. Gold mine of psychoanalysis there.

  3. I like Scar more.

    • Or Jafar

    • Ed Whetstone says:

      which is perfectly fair, but I’m only talking about CG animated films this month. That being said, especially in the realm of big cats, I think Shere Khan wins over Scar any day.

      • I thought it might have been only cg stuff, but I guess I didn’t look hard enough to find that criteria. I think Shere Khan is a better big cat, but his role as a villian isn’t anywhere near as impactful as Scar, imo. Scar is also more sinister, being voiced by Jeremy Irons, and all.

        He also has one of the best Disney songs EVAR!


  1. […] young, naive, and eminently marketable princess. I already mentioned my problems with Mother Gothel in the villains post, but I’d like to break down one other qualm before I get to the […]

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