5 Disney Villainess Role Models


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As in Shakespeare, some of the best Disney characters are the villains. Most Disney villains are men; in MICKEY’S HOUSE OF VILLAINS (2001), only six of the 26 meanies featured were female. But to be fair, most Disney movies are centred on male characters (wait, did I say “fair”?). 

Although the vixen villains of Disney are undoubtedly evil to the core, many of them represent the strongest female characters of the Disney canon. Despite their obvious shortcomings, the dastardly dames exhibit a confidence rarely expressed by their more feminine princess prey. A lot of the qualities young girls are encouraged to think of as bad, like being bossy or manipulative, are really just twisted ways of discouraging leadership qualities in girls.

While most of the princesses teach audiences to be modest, quiet, and obsessed with romance, the female villains are mostly independent, honest, forthright women with good sense and intelligence. In most cases, these women are also more in touch with their sexuality, as exhibited in their wardrobe choices. As Chris Haigh points out, some of these Female Disney Villains would have been awesome leads in their own feature-length movies.

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The Evil Queen from SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937)

Evil Queen

Cons

The Evil Queen is so obsessed with beauty that she literally wants to rip the heart out of her more pretty step-daughter. That’s messed up.

Pros

The Evil Queen is such a wiz at chemistry that she can make a delicious juicy red apple into sleeping death for the first dumb chick who bites into it. And although she is obsessed with being young and beautiful forever, she isn’t afraid to make herself look old and ugly to get what she wants. Talk about ambition.

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CruellaCruella de Vil from 101 DALMATIANS (1961)

Cons

Cruella is willing to murder hundreds of cute little puppies in the name of fashion. Not cool. I’m also a bit concerned about an eating disorder. And smoking can kill you, children.

Pros

Cruella is independently wealthy. In the live-action version of the film, starring Glenn Close (1996), she runs her own fashion design company. She scoffs when Anita wants to give up work to take become a housewife, even though she’s really talented. Like a lot of her Disney villainess colleagues, Cruella has two male cronies whom she bosses around – even though they are dumb as posts, she doesn’t hesitate to take a leadership role with her employees. Also – so glamorous she reminds me of Tallulah Bankhead.

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Maleficent from SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959)

Cons

She gets a little too wound up over not being invited to a party.

Pros

Talk about self-confidence. Maleficent exudes a self-confidence most little girls can only marvel at. Most of the movie is about her anyway because the sissy Aurora girl is asleep for most of it. Like her compatriots in the world of Disney villains, Maleficent is an unmarried professional woman (yes, being a sorceress is a profession). While the little princesses are falling in love with men they’ve never met before, Maleficent is doing magic. And she looks AMAZING doing it.

Maleficent

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Madam Mim from THE SWORD AND THE STONE (1963)

Cons

She “finds delight in the gruesome and grim.”

Pros

Although she can easily transform herself into a stunning beauty, Mim is comfortable enough in her own skin to be shamelessly ugly. She doesn’t hesitate to express self-pride, either:  “I’m the magnificent, marvellous, mad Madam Mim.” When many Disney princesses shy away from gloating and are overly humble about their abilities, Mim stands up for herself. She challenges Merlin to a veritable battle of the sexes wizards’ duel when he suggests he is a better sorcerer than she.

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Ursula from THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989)

Cons

She cons the little man with her financial scheming.

Pros

Ursula is a pretty good businesswoman, despite the fact that she takes advantage of her customers. She is also one of the most honest Disney character, calling out the sexist double standards Disney puts on its female heroines. When Ariel questions how she will win over the man she has fallen in love with (after only seeing him once) without speaking with him, Ursula reminds her not to underestimate the power of body language. Body language is something Ursula understands very well. Poet Melissa May’s homage to the sea witch is the most articulate was to praise this vixen villain and all that she has meant to bigger girls.

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At the end of the day…

It is interesting to note how many of these women have magical powers – of these five, only Cruella is a muggle. In today’s day and age, when women all over the world are fighting for rights to govern their own bodies, these four in particular display an unprecedented dominion over their size, shape, and sexuality. Their lack of feminine humility and chastity upsets traditional values forced upon young girls by the media. One can see how the female power held by these villains threatens the patriarchal order of things so much as to relegate these women to the status of “inherent evil.” When considering the latest Disney triumph, FROZEN (2013), it is essential to note that Elsa, the sister with the magical powers, was initially set up to play the villain of the movie – what a huge step forward that she should be allowed to ally with her “good” sister rather than war against her!

This post is written in conjunction with The Great Villain Blogathon, hosted by Speakeasy, Shadows and Satin, and Silver Screenings.

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14 thoughts on “5 Disney Villainess Role Models

  • Silver Screenings

    Brilliant post! (I knew it would be.) I love how you organized this with Pros & Cons. But mostly I loved the points you made about these strong women who would, indeed, make compelling characters in their own movies.

    Thanks for participating in the blogathon with such an original look at villainesses.

  • Vicki

    In my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons! No-one does a villainess quite like Disney, and you’ve picked all of my faves. I was always more interested in the ‘bad characters’, they seem to have a much more interesting backstory and sometimes I think happy endings are overrated anyway 😉 It’s a shame that these characters seem to exist in their most interesting formats in the animated world.

  • Paul

    I would love to have had a Disney animated film that had any of these ladies as the lead character. They are all deliciously evil and cunning (although Maleficent is obviously my favorite). I’m glad to see them getting the credit they deserve.

    • MargaretPerry Post author

      Haha! You are so right. There are plenty of other villainesses, but they are all awesome for the same reasons and I didn’t want to sound too repetitive. Glad you liked the post!

  • Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman)

    Impressive piece on some most impressive ladies – who are bad, and drawn that way!

    I look back with fondness on the chills provided by these movie villains. It is so fun to be frightened as a youngster, when real harm is out of reach. I may have enjoyed learning the heroine’s songs, but it was much more fun imitating the wicked queen’s cackle or Cruella’s over-the-top demands.

  • kristina

    great analysis! proving you can learn something valuable from even the worst of people and circumstances, 🙂 the villainesses were given so much backstory and depth, no wonder they’d all make a good movie of their own. Thanks for joining us in this blogathon.

  • Leah

    Great analysis. They’re not only much more powerful, but much more interesting than the female leads. How much character development do we really get about most of heroines, besides how nice they are? Love this line: “The Evil Queen is so obsessed with beauty that she literally wants to rip the heart out of her more pretty step-daughter. That’s messed up.” Leah

    • MargaretPerry Post author

      That’s a good one! Although, I don’t know if “Wicked” is so much about using her as a role model as it is about creating a sympathetic backstory. This is in contrast to MALEFICENT, which contributes a lot more to the redesign of that character as a female leader.

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