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Top 10 Disney Villain Cliches

VO: Emily Brayton
We’ve all seen these Disney villain clichés over and over again! The traits, motifs, and story arcs surrounding these classic baddies that have been used on more than a few occasions! In this countdown we’re taking a look at the Top 10 Disney Villain Cliches. We’ve included clichés such as the they just look evil, they show no mercy, they almost always have villainous henchmen, most of them die of scary deaths, they were evil from the start and that what they wanted destroys them.

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Top 10 Disney Villain Clichés

Something about these bad guys seems very familiar. Welcome to MsMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Disney Villain Clichés.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the traits, motifs, and story arcs surrounding these classic baddies that have been used on more than a few occasions in Disney movies. Since events surrounding their demise will be brought up, a spoiler alert is in order.

#10: They Just Look Evil

Disney movies often lack subtlety when getting their message across. As if evil deeds aren’t enough to express a villain’s character, many are required to look straight up evil on top of that. Black clothing or green mist are practically required, in case their placement on the hero spectrum was unclear. From Ursula to Lady Tremaine, there are plenty of examples of bad guys any rational human would make a point of avoiding if we encountered them on the street. To Disney’s credit, they’ve been adapting a wolf in sheep’s clothing persona in recent films. The dashing Hans in “Frozen” or the literal sheep in “Zootopia” seemed innocent at first, but later showed their true colors.

#9: No Mercy

The final showdown between the good guy and bad guy is decidedly epic in basically every Disney movie, but while we’re holding our breath as a result of some extremely intense climax scenes, a very familiar trope is taking place again and again. The hero defeats the villain, and said villain begs on their knees for mercy. This of course is a thinly veiled trick, and the moment they perceive an opportunity, the villain makes a final furious attempt at the hero’s life. They can’t just be bad, they also have to be weak and cowardly in their final moments… you know, just to make it’s perfectly clear that we shouldn’t root for them.

#8: Maniacal Laughter

These villains seem to have a strange sense of humor. To be fair, this is a cliché that goes beyond just Disney, but maniacal laughter is perhaps best embodied throughout the Disney canon. Typically, the buildup to this trope includes a discussion with henchmen in an evil lair or an attempt at taking the protagonist’s life. What follows is a sadistic laugh that further underscores how evil they are in a way that is not at all realistic if you stop and think about it. While it isn’t exactly subtle, it’s hard not to smile when this tried and true cliché surfaces.

#7: Name Says It All

We’ve already made it quite clear that Disney intends to be impeccably on the nose when it comes to where their villains stand. The thing is, you actually kind of feel bad for them when you stop and think about it. These baddies were destined to be villainous from the start. The Big Bad Wolf is just acting out in the way God intended. Lucifer was literally named after the devil, what do you expect? Cruella de Vil? That’s one maiden name we wouldn’t recommend keeping. The simplicity of Disney movies is part of their charm, but we’re not gonna let this one go without at least pointing it out.

#6: They Were Evil from the Start

This was touched on in our last entry, as many villains were destined to be evil the minute they were named. As with all films, there are events that spark conflict between the protagonists and antagonists in a typical Disney movie. These villains had made their allegiances clear long before this happened, however. Even when Cinderella was a mere peasant, Lady Tremaine hated her and acted like a complete jerk. Scar was shady as hell before it was even clear that the crown would forever be out of his reach. What we’re saying is, the heroes should have seen this coming. Props to more recent Disney films like “Wreck-It Ralph” for sympathizing with villains and understanding their point of view.

#5: Acting Effeminate

This entry has actually acquired notable controversy, particularly surrounding the LGBT community. Many male Disney villains are depicted as exceedingly feminine in what has been interpreted as a homosexual stereotype. This, when perceived amongst the obvious character traits implying how evil they are, may suggest to impressionable viewers that being gay is a bad thing. To be fair, there has also been a good deal of aggressively masculine bad guys, but snakes, lions, and Arabian sorcerer’s alike have all adopted this cliché throughout the years with varying degrees of obviousness.

#4: Scary Deaths

Many of us had Disney-induced nightmares growing up that in hindsight were 100% justified. With a few exceptions, Disney heroes never actively kill a villain because that would paint them in a negative light, apparently. Nevertheless, the villains still manage to meet their demise… frequently from falling off things, in a way that would make Kenny from “South Park” blush. These supposed kid movies tend to take an extremely dark turn during their climax, while never showing the most gruesome parts of a death. The thing is, not showing this in a film that triggers our imaginations so well opens the door for some horrifying mental imagery. Don’t even get us started on Clayton’s gruesome demise in “Tarzan.”

#3: Villainous Henchmen

This is another cliché that isn’t patently Disney, but has been frequently exploited throughout the decades in their films. Despite a tendency for highly unrealistic plans, these villains attract plenty of supporters that willingly do anything for their cause. In particular, the henchmen duo is a tried and true trope that appears quite often. Flotsam and Jetsam in “The Little Mermaid,” Roscoe and DeSoto in “Oliver & Company,” and Brutus and Nero in “The Rescuers” are all essentially the same characters repackaged into a different talking animal in a different part of the world.

#2: They’re Deceptive

This one is as much a knock on Disney heroes as it is on their villains. Villains, who we’ve established are totally obvious in every way, will approach a protagonist with a promise of some sort, and the hero will trust them entirely without the slightest bit of suspicion. Ariel foolishly gives Ursula her voice in “The Little Mermaid” and Queen Narissa easily puts Giselle asleep in “Enchanted.” Perhaps most iconic, and most frustratingly obvious, however, is the apple that grants Snow White her every desire. Didn’t Snow White’s mother ever teach her not to take food from creepy strangers? Well, her stepmother was the evil Queen… so probably not.

#1: What They Wanted Destroys Them

We’ve already established that it’s never the hero’s fault that a Disney villain reaches their typically terrifying demise. On top of that, and earning our top spot, is the incessant focus on karmic deaths for villains. Taking tragic irony right out of Shakespeare’s playbook, Disney villains seek power and that power results in their downfall. Notable examples include Scar ultimately being killed by his hyena henchmen and Jafar abusing his minions to the point of betrayal. The latter leads to Jafar’s Achilles tendon, his powerful lamp, leading to his death. While this may be cliché, it certainly is a satisfying way to send off a bad guy.

Do you agree with our list? What do you think is the biggest Disney Villain cliché? For more satisfying Top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to MsMojo.

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