Where we have heroes, we have villains. And those villains are what make the heroes seem even greater. In this article, we take a look at twelve female Disney villains and what makes them the bad gals of their worlds. Ranked by movie release dates because it’s hard to pick only one! Warning: there are spoilers ahead and things might get dark in some places. We are dealing with villains here after all, even if they are Disney villains.
“I firmly believe that a story is only as good as the villain.” – Clive Barker (Source: www.quotena.com)
1. The Evil Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
I thought Cinderella’s stepmother was bad, but the Evil Queen (also called the Wicked Queen or Queen Grimhilde) takes the cake. Ordering a hunter to kill her stepdaughter and to bring her heart back in a box is messed up. It gets even darker when it is revealed the Queen dabbles in black magic. Could it be that Snow White’s heart would be used for occult purposes?
Being a beauty queen means more to her than being the queen of her kingdom. She is a gorgeous woman but that isn’t good enough. How dare someone prettier even exist? There seems to be a deeply rooted insecurity within her. She values external appearances so much, but at the same time, in her external environment, she is known as a wicked tyrant by those around her.
2. Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
Enter the abusive stepmother. After her second husband passed away, Lady Tremaine turned his first daughter into a servant in her own home.
Her daughters, Anastasia and Drizella have grown up to be spoilt brats and she’s taught them to treat Cinderella like trash.
What makes her a villain is probably pathological envy. Cinderella, in the original story, was her husband’s first and favourite child. He seems to have loved her more than his second wife and her daughters. Lady Tremaine’s one-pointed aim in life is to ruin kind-hearted Cinderella and anyone who helps her. Really – she nearly boils one of Cinderella’s mice alive.
That’s not all though. We find out in the second movie Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, that her daughters are only hers as long as they do exactly what she wants them to do, nothing else. Anastasia falls in love with a baker from town, for which the Lady disowns her. Her cat, Lucifer, (yes, Lucifer) is probably the only thing she might truly love.
In movie number 3, after Cinderella has been married for a year, she gets a hold of the fairy godmother’s magic wand and goes back in time, reversing Cinderella’s happy-ever-after so she can have her revenge.
3. Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)
Maleficent is probably one of the most popular villains in the Disney cinematic universe. The 2014 live-action movie redid her character, whitewashing it. Those familiar with the original fairytale and the first Disney movie know Maleficent’s character to be malicious and vengeful.
Maleficent is too interested in exacting vengeance upon King Stefan and Queen Leah to care about the innocent life she’s cursed to die at sixteen years of age. She obsessively follows up on her curse for sixteen years, her aim clear as crystal: Princess Aurora must die. And as a bonus, Prince Philip either gets locked up in her tower for a hundred years to see his princess at the end of his life, or be killed. Because she wasn’t invited to a party.
The dark fairy has no remorse or guilt to her very end and like Ursula or Cruella; she is an aggressive villain through and through.
4. Cruella de Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Miss Cruella de Vil loves fur. Real fur, not the faux stuff. So what’s a lady to do when she needs fancy fur coats? She kidnaps 15 little puppies belonging to her old schoolmate Anita and her husband’s Dalmatians.
Well, she did try to buy them, but they weren’t for sale.
84 other puppers (legally bought, of course) are kept and she needs 15 more to make the spotted fur coat of her dreams. Our Dalmatian heroes, Pongo and Perdita, enlist the help of all the dogs in London to rescue their pups from Cruella’s lair, called Hell Hall.
Cruella de Vil will do anything to get her way and is prone to violent fits of anger if things do not go according to her plan. This selfish anger drives her to insanity (and terrible driving). Or killing and skinning puppies.
Sadistic, attention-seeking and fabulous, she is not one to be deterred easily.
“I live for furs! I worship furs! After all, is there a woman in all this wretched world who doesn’t?“
5. Mad Madame Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
It’s not an insult, that is what she calls herself. Madame (or Madam, both are right) Mim is quite mad and takes pride in “all things grotesque and grim.” She loves being called ugly, crazy and terrible. Things normally considered good are bad to her.
“Sounds like someone’s sick. How lovely! I do hope it’s serious.“
While her craziness makes her an unpredictable villain, she doesn’t play a very significant role in the movie. She isn’t serious at all and does evil with utmost ease, laughing maniacally.
Her prime goal is to be considered the greatest wizard in the world, even greater than the legendary Merlin. Villain or not, Mad Madam Mim is an entertaining character.
6. Madam Medusa (The Rescuers)
Madam Medusa is one of Disney’s most terrifying villains. Not because she is violent but because she is truly manipulative and two-faced. Being set in modern times makes this movie feel a lot more real and this could up the terror factor for kids watching it.
The red-haired pawn-shop owner kidnaps Penny, a 6-year-old orphan and forces her to find the largest diamond in the world in exchange for taking her to the orphanage where she can get adopted. Of course, she has no such plans. After getting the diamond, she hides it in her teddy bear (the only thing the child has) and takes it from her.
“What makes you think anyone would want a homely little girl like you?” She calls a 6-year-old orphan “homely”, indirectly calling her ugly and implying that it’s her fault for not having parents because she’s not attractive enough.
Her abuse of little Penny is insidious because it plays with the psyche of her victim rather than relying on outright violence. Compared to other villains, Medusa doesn’t scream; she talks in a relatively cool, collected voice. Her villainy is more psychological, which makes it something commonly dealt with in real life, along with little to no comic relief. There’s just no liking this one.
7. Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
This half-human, half-octopus sea witch agrees to help Princess Ariel become human. The daughter of the sea king has fallen in love with the human prince Eric, which is forbidden.
Ariel asks Ursula for help. Here’s what she does: She demands Ariel’s voice for trade, then tells her she has three days to get the prince, or the young mermaid belongs to her forever, another addition to her Garden of Souls. No pressure!
The now mute Ariel has no clue that the prince only recognized her by her voice – which Ursula took. The sea witch keeps trying to sabotage the couple throughout. When that doesn’t work, she disguises herself as a pretty woman called Vanessa who, using, Ariel’s voice, enchants Prince Eric.
By the third day, Vanessa and Eric are to be married. Ariel thwarts Ursula’s plan and reclaims her voice. So Ursula does what any good villain would do – capture Ariel and use her as bait to get her father, King Triton to sign his power over to her so his daughter can go free.
But that’s not enough for Ursula. The crown is hers, she’s turned the sea king into a tiny sea creature and now she tries to kill Ariel and Eric.
Ursula is manipulative, opportunistic and a liar. She would make an excellent businesswoman and a terrible monarch but ends up stabbed to death by Prince Eric instead.
8. The Sanderson Sisters (Hocus Pocus)
These three witches eat human flesh, own a spell-book bound in human skin gifted to them by the Devil and suck the life force out of children to keep a youthful appearance.
Winifred is the oldest and the schemer in the trio, seeing her two sisters as sidekicks in her plans. Her powerful magic makes her the leader. Mary has an ultra-powerful sense of smell. Great for sniffing tasty children out! Sarah, the ditzy youngest one has the gift of enchantment. Like a siren’s, her voice entrances children as they’re called to their doom.
The Sanderson Sisters are probably the most sinister villains Disney might have come up with. Luckily (or not), they behave as any evil witches in an underbudgeted children’s movie from the 90s should – overly dramatic and comically ridiculous.
9. Zira (The Lion King)
Scar might have been the bad guy in the first film, but his loyal follower Zira isn’t far behind. Zira’s name means “hate” in Swahili and that is what she embodies. After Scar’s death, she forms the Outsiders, grooming her three children to hate Pride Rock and Pride Lands. Not following Scar is betrayal to her.
Then Scar’s chosen heir ends up falling in love with the enemy. Zira does not sit around. She takes matters into her own hands, even if they don’t end well for her. Her character is strong, fiercely loyal, and aggressive and feels wronged about Scar’s supporters being banished from Simba’s pride. Her relationship with her cubs is more of an indoctrination than that of a mother.
10. Yzma (The Emperor’s New Groove)
Our villain in this case is the protagonist’s parental guardian and advisor. She might have a bit of an ambition problem, though. Yzma gets herself fired from her advisor role by Emperor Kuzco for meddling and trying to act like an empress. So she deals with it by trying to dethrone the emperor for real.
Just because she’s a villain doesn’t mean things are depressing or serious here, quite the opposite. Yzma stands out as the most entertaining female villain.
Her plans are complicated and grand, but something always gets in the way. Heartless but comical, Yzma bears some similarity to Dr Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb.
She also thinks she’s beautiful. We’ll let you be the judge of that.
11. Mother Gothel (Tangled)
This female villain is called just Gothel in the original tales. “Mother” Gothel has kidnapped and kept a princess prisoner for 18 years. Rapunzel has been raised on lies and kept away from the rest of society because it is too dangerous for her.
Behind her mother’s pretence of parently concern is the truth that Rapunzel was stolen from her parents as a means to Gothel’s ends. She also attempts to tie and gag Rapunzel to hide her somewhere else and fatally stabs Eugene, her daughter’s rescuer.
Mother Gothel is similar to Madam Medusa and the Evil Queen with her passive-aggressive manipulation and obsession with remaining young at all costs.
12. Evanora (Oz the Great and the Powerful)
A master deceiver, Evanora is the main villain here. This may or may not be a spoiler for those who haven’t seen this movie fully but it seems pretty obvious considering she’s always seen dressed in a dark-coloured gown (this is probably a Disney villain thing). The Wicked Witch of the West isn’t just the murderer of her father, the King of Oz but manipulates her sister into becoming a villain as well.
Evanora’s actual appearance is that of a terrifying old lady but she wears a necklace to appear young and beautiful. This is probably a symbolic representation of all her lies. While she’s good at manipulation, when it comes to Glinda (who she tells everyone is the Wicked Witch of the Land), she loses all control and gets insanely violent.
I. Additional Mentions
I’d like to make an additional mention here: the dramatic, throne-hungry Queen Narissa from the movie Enchanted.
Enchanted is a light self-parody Disney released, of its classic movies. Queen Narissa, right from first glance, is a combination of Queen Grimhilde (the Evil Queen) and Maleficent. She can poison apples and turn into a dragon. Her motivation is simpler though: she just wants the throne and needs to stop her stepson from marrying and becoming king.
Dramatic, obsessive and of course, stunningly dressed, Narissa is the archetypal female Disney villain.
I.I. Disney’s Villain Books
These ladies are not role models, but each of them is a powerful female character in her way, with hints of tragic backstories (for most of them, at least) that made them the villains they settled into being.
Villains, male or female, can be fascinating and if you’re interested in learning more about these baddies, check out https://books.disney.com/series/villains/ by Disney Publishing Worldwide for books focusing on these iconic characters’ stories.
Which female Disney villain is your favourite?
P. S. If you’re ready to get into the seriously dark and psychotic origins of these now wholesome fairytales, you might want to try this article. (Warning: This one is definitely not for kids!)
Hi there! I’m a literature major with a hospitality/management background and a diverse range of interests including but not limited to food, travelling, health, lifestyle, history, philosophy and of course, books 🙂