When it comes to storytelling, one of the most important aspects is the villain. Villains can often be more memorable than the heroes, as they serve as dark mirrors to the hero’s goals and values, and delight audiences with how wicked they are in achieving their goals. Even objectively bad stories can be saved by memorable villains.
The world of animation has seen plenty of amazing villains, especially in family films. The realm of animation allows for exaggerated designs and creative expression of their personalities and powers. However, with so many films released every year, some get overlooked for one reason or another.
Merlock – ‘DuckTales: Treasure of the Lost Lamp’
Ages ago, the warlock Merlock discovered that, when he combined his magic talisman with a genie lamp, it could grant him unlimited wishes. His list of wishes included immortality, sinking Atlantis, and destroying Pompeii. Eventually, a thief was able to steal the lamp from him, and now he’ll do anything to get it back.
Merlock is easily the darkest and most conceptually interesting villain in the DuckTales lineup. Even without the lamp, his talisman allows him to shape-shift into different animals, which grants him access to a multitude of different skills and abilities. Christopher Lloyd also does a wonderful job of making him sound terrifying and maniacal.
Thrax – ‘Osmosis Jones’
When Frank DeTorre eats a contaminated hard-boiled egg, he allows the deadly pathogen, Thrax, into his body. Wielding the power to burn anything he touches, Thrax wastes little time in asserting himself as the dominant crime boss in Frank’s body. He plans to kill Frank in 48 hours and gain recognition as the deadliest disease.
Everything about Thrax oozes confidence. Nothing will stand between him and his goals, and he’s not afraid to kill his own men to prove a point. Laurence Fishburne enhances this through his performance, which makes Thrax sound amused by the various attempts made against him since he sees nothing as a threat.
Rothbart – ‘The Swan Princess’
When his attempt to usurp the throne of King William failed, the sorcerer Rothbart was stripped of his powers and banished. Before leaving, he vowed to regain his powers and take everything the king loved for his own. Years later, Rothbart makes good on his threat by kidnapping his only daughter to marry her and legally become king.
Thanks to his powers to create, change, and destroy, Rothbart’s magic allows for many fun visuals. He makes the best use of the power to change, both by changing princess Odette into the titular swan princess and himself into a terrifying chimera when he needs to do battle. Veteran actor Jack Palance does a good job of making Rothbart sound both intimidating and intelligent.
Darla Dimple – ‘Cat’s Don’t Dance’
In a world inhabited by humans and anthropomorphic animals, Darla Dimple is the largest child star in Hollywood. Though she plays characters who love animals, Darla hates them behind the scenes, especially when she thinks they’re trying to upstage her. This causes her to go to war with a young and wide-eyed cat named Danny when he went off-script.
Based on famous child-star Shirley Temple, Darla offers a fun satire of actors and the personas they create for themselves and the public eye. The animators also go all out with her, giving her exaggerated expressions that range from innocent to psychotic. Then there is her manservant, Max, who is so big he can’t fit into the frame, giving her a fun big guy-little girl dynamic.
Rattigan – ‘The Great Mouse Detective’
Disney has brought many iconic villains to the world of animation, but one of their most under-appreciated is Rattigan. This rodent counterpart to James Moriarty has grand ambitions to seize the mouse-throne of England. Besides that, he wants to prove to his rival, Basil of Baker Street, that his is the superior intellect.
Rattigan is one of the most entertaining villains in Disney’s lineup. His crimes are as much a game to him as they are serious, which often results in him giggling and laughing at his own wickedness. Legendary horror actor Vincent Price perfectly captures Rattigan’s charm, class, and sadism with every inflection, to the point where you forget you’re watching a performance.
Rasputin – ‘Anastasia’
Enraged at being dismissed by the Romanov family, Grigori Rasputin made a pact with dark powers in order to place a curse upon the family. This resulted in the Russian Revolution and the death of the Tsar and his family, though Rasputin drowned while trying to kill his youngest daughter, Anastasia. Since his curse is unfulfilled, Rasputin lingers in limbo until Anastasia dies.
Since Anastasia is presented as a fairy-tale version of history, this interpretation of Rasputin works wonderfully. It plays off of the real-life mystery of Rasputin’s life and powers while allowing director Don Bluth to inject his normal brand of dark and surreal animation. This doesn’t mean he’s incapable of silly moments of levity, however, especially with his albino bat sidekick, Bartok.
Eris – ‘Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas’
As the God of Chaos, Eris’ existence is based around spreading as much anarchy as possible. She enlists the help of the master thief, Sinbad, promising him anything in exchange for stealing the Book of Peace. When Sinbad tries to back out of the deal, Eris takes the book herself and frames him in a bid to plunge a kingdom into chaos.
Though she only has less than seven minutes of screen time, Eris is certainly the highlight of this film. Her animation is some of the most fluid and stylistic in all of DreamWorks, moving with the fluidity of liquid and smoke. It allows the animators to flex their creativity and blends perfectly with Michelle Pfeiffer’s playful performance.
The Colonel – ‘Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
During the American Indian War, a cavalry fort captures a wild stallion. When the stallion resists any attempt to train him, the base’s colonel denies him food and water. Even after escaping with the help of a Lakota warrior, the stallion would run into the Colonel and his men as they continue their push westward.
Much of the Colonel’s design and personality draws inspiration from the real-life George Armstrong Custer. His battle to break the stallion thematically demonstrates how 19th-century America was focused on expansion and shaping the land to their will. Still, he is not without his own code of honor, which is perfectly demonstrated without words during the film’s climax.
Xibalba – ‘The Book of Life’
On the Day of the Dead, Xibalba, ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, decides to make a wager with his wife, La Muerta, who rules the Land of the Remembered, over whom the mayor’s daughter will marry. If Xibalba wins, he and La Muerta will swap realms, while if she wins, he will stop interfering in mortal affairs. Being the trickster that he is, Xibalba is willing to bend the rules in order to win.
Xibalba has many of the traits people love to see in trickster-type villains, such as Loki from the MCU. These include a love of stirring up trouble which ultimately backfires. Xibalba also stands out thanks to a creative design and the wonderful voice work of Ron Perlman, who makes him sound sinister, intimidating, and childish at once.
King Haggard – ‘The Last Unicorn’
Within a crumbling castle overlooking the sea, King Haggard broods in near isolation. Though he rules over a small kingdom, Haggard finds little joy in anything. The exception to this is unicorns, which he desired to the point of using a demonic Red Bull to herd them into the sea for his eyes only.
Haggard’s drama has an almost Shakespearian level of tragedy to him. All he wants is to find happiness in life, but he’s so desperate that he’s willing to rob the world of something beautiful without batting an eye.Sir Christopher Leeperfectly captures the complexity of the character and was so in love with the role that he voiced Haggard in the German dub as well.