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Okay, now that we’ve done away with the light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek villains [The 10 Best Cartoon Villains - Part One: The Funny Villains](they had it coming!), how about the ones who aren’t winking at the audience, aren’t camping it up? Just as before let’s run them down (non-automotively) in reverse order, from mildest to meanest…
10. Frank Bean, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. “Possibly the scariest man currently living,” according to one of the film’s characters. (Due to his resemblance – both vocal and physical – to media mogul Rupert Murdoch?) Not content with being the ringleader of the film’s trio of villains (“Bogus, Bunce & Bean / One fat, one short, one lean / These horrible crooks / So different in looks / Were nonetheless equally mean”), Bean is also an unforgiving music critic: coming across an underling indulging in a bit of impromptu lyricizing, Bean pelts him with a lit cigarette and opines “you wrote a bad song, Petey!”
Anytime a live-action director like Wes Anderson dabbles in animation and adapts the work of an author like Roald Dahl, odds are you’re not going to wind up with a standard issue Hollywood cartoon; indeed, Anderson applied his quirky yet straight-faced sensibility to an animal tale that was pretty unusual to begin with.
9. A tie between Mok in Rock & Rule and Hexxus in Ferngully, The Last Rainforest. (This is a sneaky trick to cram 11 villains into a ten-best list, but don’t tell anyone.) Once you overlook the rather unusual schnozzola sported by Rock & Rule’s hero (okay, so the human race has wiped itself out and animals have evolved upwards to take their place, but does he have to have a snout stretching out to here?), you can enjoy ultra-decadent, rock and roll megastar Mok’s evil scheming. (You see, if he finds the ‘perfect voice’ he can unleash a demon from another dimension yadda yadda…)
The velvet voiced Mok might resemble the love child of Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Dorian Gray, but he sings like Lou Reed and Iggy Pop – which is not surprising since that pair of punkers perform Mok’s songs on the soundtrack.
And as for his musical counterpart… Tim Curry gender-bended for all he was worth in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and wore a wicked set of horns in Ridley Scott’s Legend; as Ferngully‘s Hexxus, the unleashed spirit of destruction, he belts out “Toxic Love,” a torch song to pollution that would make Dr. Frank N. Furter jealous as all hell. Viscous goo one second, shadowy smoke the next and a leering grin on his face the entire time, Hexxus can’t wait to destroy the titular rainforest and replace it “with parking lots and shiny shopping malls” with a little help from his friends, the “greedy human beings [who] will always lend a hand.”
Lyric-wise, Curry had a little help too: Thomas Dolby, Mister “Blinded by Science” himself wrote and produced “Toxic Love,” one of the best I Love Being a Villain songs ever.
8. Dr. Facilier, The Princess and the Frog. ‘The Shadow Man’ originally ranked higher on this list, but the competition knocked him down a few slots. (These guys are villains, they know how to fight dirty.) He’s no slouch in the singing department either: thanks to Keith David he delivers a powerhouse performance of “Friends on the Other Side,” his ILBaV song, backed up by an exceptionally creepy chorus of voodoo dolls and scary masks.
Animation villains tend to hold the upper hand until the very last second (if not later) when a risky gambit on the part of the hero suddenly saves the day. Facilier happens to be an exception to this particular trope; halfway through the film he’s forced to turn to his Friends to keep his plans afloat – and it’s pretty obvious he’s already quite a bit in debt to (and more than a little intimidated by) said Friends.
7. Shere Khan, The Jungle Book. George Sanders lent his sophisticated, urbane voice to the sophisticated, urbane tiger, a one of a kind performance that could never be duplicated (except by the late Tony Jay, who did an excellent job voicing Khan in the direct to video sequel).
Khan’s above-it-all delivery is an interesting alternative to the voiceless predator usually threatening the hero in a Disney film. (i.e., the leopard in Tarzan, the bear in The Fox and the Hound and the saurians in both Rescuers movies.)
6. Scar, The Lion King. Another glib feline Disney villain. He edges out Khan for the number five slot thanks to his ILBaV song, “Be Prepared,” expressing sentiments definitely not boy scout-approved. Jeremy Irons’ plummy delivery and sarcastic personality are on the money as Scar imagines himself a fuehrer in the song’s Triumph of the Will-style imagery.
Scar (voice by Jeremy Irons) ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
5. Tai Lung, Kung Fu Panda. Tai Lung may be animation’s most unique villain: not only does the Ian McShane-voiced snow leopard have a reason for his villainy… he might also have a legitimate grievance.
Your typical villain is usually of the ‘I’m the bad guy because I talk like a bad guy while I do bad things, end of story’ variety. Not Tai Lung: believing he was robbed of his destiny as the Dragon Warrior, he intends to make things ‘right.’ It’s a motive earning him the tiniest touch of sympathy and dimension rarely enjoyed by a villain. In the film’s penultimate moments kung-fu master Shifu admits it was his own pride in his student’s prowess that made him blind to Tai Lung’s character flaws. The look of astonishment on the snow leopard’s face at Shifu’s confession is unforgettable, and for a moment it seems as if he is about to realize the error of his own ways… but only for a moment.
It’s this attention to story and character that makes Kung Fu Panda one of my favorites: Panda is way superior to most other films of its ilk (including its own sequel) thanks to the interlocking relationship between its three protagonists (Po the panda, Shifu the red panda and Tai Lung), each of whom has issues with the other two in serious need of resolution; there’s a lot more going on here than kung-fu fighting.
4. Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty. Her icy elegance alone makes her a formidable contender – and she sure knows how to make an entrance (in a blaze of eldritch flame) or exit (dwindling into a sliver and vanishing into a ghostly moon of her own creation). Maleficent has impeccable fashion sense too: spiky black and purple robes and a headpiece shaped like a set of elegantly curved horns. (It is a headpiece, right? I mean, her head couldn’t really be shaped like that – could it?)
The self-described “mistress of all evil” is one nasty babe alright, whether she’s sarcastically taunting her captive prince or shooting lightning bolts at her cartoonish minions (“a disgrace to the forces of evil”). In fact, she’s so bad-ass she even manages to sneak a naughty word (“…and all the powers of [h-e-double hockey sticks]!”) into a Disney ‘toon while turning into the coolest-looking cartoon dragon ever.
3. The Evil Queen, Snow White. Her performance may be way over the top by 21st century standards, but it’s still damn scary. Imagine being a kid in 1937 as her grotesque witchface fills a movie palace’s giant screen, and looking straight at you she cackles “she’ll be buried alive!” You’d probably be hiding under your seat if you hadn’t wet it first.
There’s a pair of ‘wow’ shots in the film that never fail to impress me. In the first, the elegant queen downs the potion that will transform her into a withered hag. The foreground and background elements framing her suddenly slide in opposite directions and dissolve into a blur as the room begins to spin about her – a simple yet powerful multiplane effect.
In the second, she’s just plummeted from a cliff. The previously hectic soundtrack turns dead-silent and the camera follows a pair of vultures as they slowly spiral downward to enjoy a good meal… while the shot slowly goes out of focus and fades to black. It’s a breathtaking moment of visual storytelling, one that more than a few present-day action directors would do well to study.
2. The Other Mother, Coraline. ‘The Other Mother’ is a perfect doppelganger of Coraline’s real life mom, save for the unnerving pair of buttons where her eyes should be. Even so, the substitute mom starts out as a real sweetie pie, charming Coraline with a yummy dinner in a magical dimension as colorful as the youngster’s real world is drab.
As events unfold and the Other Mother reveals her soul-snatching agenda, she transforms into her true self: a mechanical-limbed spidery creature with a leering death’s-head of a face. Don’t let your kids watch this film just before bedtime: her final, relentless pursuit of Coraline is 100-proof nightmare fuel.
1. Rattlesnake Jake, Rango.It would’ve been a tie between the Other Mother and Jake for the number one spot, except Mother starts out as a kindly figure while Jake is a scary, cruel s.o.b. from the moment he arrives. Slithering and coiling about with a mechanical, ratcheting clatter, Jake sports a Gatling gun for a tail and a harsh, gravelly voice. His lack of theatricality leaves no room for us to distance ourselves; like Heath Ledger as the Joker, we simply can’t look away. (And Jake returns the favor: his intimidating, slit-eyed stare is often aimed directly at the audience.) Jake is a totally self-aware creature without a shred of pretense; when his intended victim tells him “go to hell,” his response rings true: “where do you think I come from?”
In spite of his evilness, Rattlesnake Jake not only survives his encounter with the hero (an extremely rare fate for an animated villain), he comes to respect his opponent: “I tip my hat to you, one legend to another,” says Jake and Rango returns the gesture; talk about giving the devil his due…
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Not an easy selection to make; I was constantly juggling the above order until I had one that felt right. (However Jake had dibs on the number one slot from day one.) The competition to get on this list was fierce to begin with; there is simply no shortage of villains in the feature cartoon world. All the folks below were on my short list; it grieved me greatly to send any of them back to the minors. I’m sure I’ve overlooked plenty, probably including your favorite meanie. (Speaking of which, how did I manage to leave Yellow Submarine’s Chief Blue Meanie off the funny villains list?)
THE RUNNERS-UP: Cinderella’s stepmother Lady Tremane…paranoid government agent Kent Mansley (The Iron Giant)…Tony Jay’s hot ‘n bothered Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)…the scheming Colonel Muska (Castle In the Sky)…narcissistic Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)… and a tough yet kind-hearted broad I wish I could’ve found a spot for: Castle in the Sky’s Captain Dola.
Joe Strike is a regular contributor to AWN. He has written about animation, sci-fi and fantasy entertainment for the New York Daily News, Newsday and the New York Press. Joe has scripted the Nick Jr. series Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! and taught Mass Communications at New York's St. John's University. Heis currently hosting “Interview with an Animator”[animator.interviews.com], a series of audience-attended conversationswith noted figures in the animation community at a variety of New YorkCity venues, including the Paley Center for the Media, The Society ofIllustrators and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. Joe can be reachedvia email@example.com.