Over almost an entire century and more than fifty animated feature films, Disney has given us hundreds of memorable characters and taught us countless lessons as children. That's half due to the complex and wonderful heroes throughout these films, be they unrelentingly kind princesses, dedicated warriors, daring heroes or all of the above. While these heroic characters are obviously integral to the rich stories told by Disney, each animated feature -- like all great stories -- rely partly on the strength of their villains.
Given that these animated features are aimed predominately at children, it's reasonable to expect comically evil villains. You wouldn't be wrong. But give some of these characters a closer look and you'll find that not all of them are truly evil at heart. Some of them are either hiding from something or just lost. We're going to take a look at twenty villains, generally from the era known as the Disney Renaissance era. That includes the animated feature films such as Beauty and the Beast, Hercules, Mulan, Toy Story and so on. We'll rank these villains according to how evil they truly were and because that's our focus, we'll only be looking at human (or approximately human) antagonists. That way we can definitively rule out things like pure animal instinct. So let's start with the least villainous villain...
20 SID PHILLIPS
At first glance, Sid definitely looked the part of a villain. He was coarse, tore the innocent toys apart, created abominations and was mean to his little sister. Woody, Buzz and the other toys in Toy Story had ample reason to be well and truly afraid of Andy's neighbor.
Let's look at this realistically for a second. Sid doesn't know these toys have feelings and as far as we know, aside from the usual antics you can expect between siblings, he's not actually a bully. He's just your average kid who likes playing and creating. The film depicts him as an evil villain but parents -- or really any adult -- can see that he's not very evil at all.
19 JOHN SILVER
Despite the alien setting and a few minor details, Treasure Planet was generally quite faithful to Robert Louis Stevenson's famous story, including in the characterization of John Silver whom, in this reimagining, owes his strength to the fact that he's a cyborg. Much like the Silver of the book, he has a soft spot for Jim, which is actually quite telling.
It makes sense that in his world, he would have developed a hardened heart. He's surrounded by people who would mutiny and set out to destroy him at the first sight of softness. But Jim isn't a pirate, he's not a part of that world, so John doesn't treat him the same. Maybe that's how he would have treated everyone if he hadn't found himself in the life of a pirate.
18 CINDERELLA'S STEPMOTHER
You'll often hear this abusive woman referred to as the Evil Stepmother. But is she actually all that evil? As we said, the Lady Tremaine was abusive toward Cinderella, whom she treated as a servant instead of a daughter. To her own daughters however, she was fairly motherly. She won't be winning any awards for affection even then but it's enough to show us that she's not actually evil.
She manipulated Cinderella, toyed with her emotions and at one point actually imprisoned her to ensure her own daughters had more of a chance with the prince, but she never directly harmed her. She's wicked, but not pure evil as her alias would suggest. At least, nowhere near as evil as the rest of the villains on this list.
17 MADAM MIM
The mad Madam Mim is a powerful sorceress, as she tried to prove to Arthur in The Sword in the Stone. However, though she does occasionally use her incredible powers to harm all things good, she's not actually evil. For the most part, she's just criminally mischievous.
Most of the time, evidently she's just minding her own business, uninterested in actually harming people or conquering anywhere. Power doesn't interest her because she is already powerful. She's evil for trying to destroy Arthur but seeing as how that one attempt is limited to one moment and she gives up after a duel with Merlin, she's still far more innocent than these other villains.
16 CAPTAIN HOOK
This pirate captain's motivation isn't greed or a need to commit evil. He's looking for revenge. Peter Pan cut off his hand and fed it to a crocodile (which is an act almost evil enough to earn that kid a place on this list). He captures the children, abducted princess Tiger Lily but he never really harms any of them. He just uses them as bait for Pan. Whether or not he knew Pan would arrive before any harm befell them is up for debate. The point is, his actions aren't motivated by true evil.
Given that he is a pirate, we can assume that he was never the purest of souls to begin with and judging from his actions in Peter Pan, he definitely belongs on this list. But is he really among the most evil of the villains? Almost, but not quite.
Yzma was fairly complacent in her role as Kuzco's advisor. As she points out in The Emperor's New Groove, she practically raised him. She only turned into a scientifically brilliant but homicidal maniac after Kuzco fired her for trying to rule the kingdom behind his back. Maybe she was always that crazy, but she didn't show it.
She definitely earns evil points for jumping straight to an attempt on the Emperor's life immediately after being let go and more for being pretty uncaring toward the peasants in Kuzco's kingdom. All things considered however, she's far from being as evil as the rest of the villains Disney has given us. She was relatively kind to Kronk after all, presumably allowing him to think she enjoyed his spinach puffs for however long.
As easy as it is to assume the dark, witch-like evil octopus from the depths of the ocean might be the embodiement of evil, Ursula really isn't and that'll become clearer as you see everyone else on this list. Let's take a look at the facts: as devious as her plans for power were, she never actually planned on taking a life, though she might have tried in the end after everything else failed.
She was ambitious and manipulative for sure; getting what she wanted by making deals with poor unfortunate souls that would inevitably lead to their downfall and transformation into one of those shrivelled growths in Ursula's twisted garden. Sure, that makes her evil, but there are plenty far darker.
Everything Clayton did, from deceiving Jane and her father to attacking the gorillas and Tarzan, was done in the pursuit of money; the root of all evil. Throughout Tarzan he showed us that he would go to any length to ensure success. He had come too far and if anyone got in his way, he didn't hesitate to use lethal force.
However, while his pursuit of the gorillas was cruel, his intention was never actually lethal. He imprisoned Jane and her father on the ship and -- though it'd be thin -- you could make the argument that his use of guns was self-defense. Greed and coldness make for a somewhat evil man, but despite his monstrous personality, he's still more human than the rest.
12 THE HORNED KING
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the Horned King would be closer to the top of this list. Just look at the guy! He's goals definitely make him evil enough. He wanted to raise an army of undead soldiers so he could become a god among mortal men and he was willing to do anything to accomplish that goal.
He abducted Princess Eilonwy, constantly abuses his minions and attempted to throw Taran into the cauldron when his plans failed. He's frightening and his actions scream wickedness, but the lack of any kind of real bloodthirst or hatred makes him less evil than he appears.
11 SHAN YU
There's little room for compassion when you're a conqueror and Shan Yu proves that. He's clearly a battle-hardened warrior and his years of experience clearly robbed him of any kind of heart. That much was clear in Mulan when his falcon retrieved a doll from a nearby village and Shan Yu discussed an attack without a moment of hesitation or even a hint of solemnity or regret at the prospect of destroying an entire village.
It's uncertain whether or not anyone got away from the village. We only saw the charred and broken remains of the town along with an entire unit in the Chinese army, butchered. Shan Yu's only saving grace was that he never really showed any cruelty or bloodthirst, unlike the other villains on this list.
He may not have slaughtered or directly harmed as many people as the villains we've mentioned so far, but let's not forget that Hades set out to mortalize and extinguish the life of a newborn baby! It's somewhat expected, maybe even understandable that countless centuries of ruling the underworld might have numbed him to the thought of taking a life.
That's no excuse, especially considering that his only real motivation was to conquer Mount Olympus an overthrow his brother Zeus. That's pretty evil and we haven't even gotten to talking about how he taunted both Hercules and Meg using Meg's soul and behaved incredibly creepily toward her. As far as gods go, Hades in Hercules is definitely up (or down) there among the most evil.
9 CRUELLA DE VIL
The 1961 animated feature, 101 Dalmations, presented audiences with a villain whose goal was to...make a coat. Cruella was a rich woman who desperately wanted a coat made of puppies and nothing was going to stop her. She went to great lengths to acquire those puppies, including hiring goons to break into Roger and Anita's house.
Animal cruelty is evil enough, but consider that Cruella also chased the puppies in a car down the street, completely unconcerned with anyone else around her. She's frightening and teetering on the edge of sanity in her pursuit of a coat. At least the other villains were motivated by something more substantial. If this is just a taste of what Cruella does with her wealth when she wants something as simple as a coat, we can't imagine what she'd do if she ever set her eye on something like power.
8 GOVERNOR RATCLIFFE
Few things are more evil than acting violently on a combination of greed and ignorance and that's exactly what Governor Ratcliffe did in Pocahontas. He was only interested in gold never bothered seeking a more peaceful way of acquiring it. He ravaged the land and attacked the natives.
Even if we forgave him for reacting violently to what he thought was an ambush, there's still so much more that's unforgiveable. Even when John Smith proved that the natives weren't aggressive, Ratcliffe refused to see reason and urged the men to adopt an even more ruthless approach. Even when he saw possible peace in front of him in one of the film's final scenes, he attacked Chief Powhatan, unintentionally hitting John Smith with a bullet. That's not just greed. Governor Ratcliffe was evil.
7 QUEEN OF HEARTS
Nothing seems truly evil if you consider the fact that all of Alice in Wonderland took place in Alice's imagination, so let's forget that for a second. The Queen of Hearts appeared to lead a somewhat hedonistic life, which you'd expect in a land as nonsensical as Wonderland. No one could rise above her because anyone who disagreed with her or just mildly annoyed her lost their heads...literally.
Simply put, the Queen of Hearts was a cruel dictator and while initially she met Alice with some amount of kindness, that semblance of a soft demeanour quickly disappeared. Everyone, including the king either walked on eggshells around her or tried their best to avoid being noticed at all by avoiding mistakes like leaving a white rose unpainted.
6 DR. FACILIER
The street-wise people of New Orleans knew to avoid the Shadow Man. He was a deceitful con artist, trying his best to make money with the powers given to him by his friends on the other side, the Loa. He wanted money and power and to that end, turned Prince Naveen into a frog so it'd be easier to harvest his blood. Incurring a massive debt to the Loa in the process.
Facilier wasn't hesitant when it came to taking lives. He crushed Ray, he came close to piercing the heart of Mr. La Bouff and he was more than willing to offer all the souls of New Orleans to the Loa. He's a dark villain with a wicked heart. The only thing separating him from the truly evil is that none of the things he did seemed to come from a particularly hateful place.
While plenty of villains in Disney's animated films either attempted to and/or succeeded in taking lives for various reasons, Jafar is one of the few villains that showed actual cruelty amidst the plotting and execution of their evil schemes. After trying to get rid of Aladdin a few times, he became Sultan. It was clear from his talk with Iago that he wanted to annihilate Jasmine and the former Sultan, but instead of doing that immediately, he chose to torture them.
As if cruelty wasn't enough, Jafar proves time an time again that he's generally creepy and -- apparently like a lot of nobles in and around Agrabah -- pretty bigoted toward those of the lower classes. His defeat in Aladdin and his demise in the direct-to-video sequel were each well deserved.
Maleficent cursed a newborn baby Aurora and foretold that she would prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall on her sixteenth birthday, all because the dark fairy wasn't invited to the child's christening. As far as motivation for evil acts go, there's no doubt we can all agree that that's pretty high up there in terms of pettiness and coldheartedness.
She was so eager to ensure torment that she threatened to imprison the prince until he became an old man. Only then would she let him go so he could attempt a feeble rescue. All of that together is far crueller than anything most other villains have done. It's fitting, because that kind of pure evil allowed the prince's (and the fairies) victory to have more of an impact.
3 EVIL QUEEN
"Which one?" You may be asking. The first to appear in Disney's long list of animated feature films. Snow White was the first Disney film to give us an almost demonic villain. She was more than just an evil queen, she was a witch as well and she used all her power and skill to try and get rid of Snow White, for no other reason than because some mirror told her that Snow White was the fairest in the land.
When hiring the huntsman didn't work, she turned to magic to poison her innocent stepdaughter, after -- as the beginning of the film implies -- the evil queen made Snow White work as a servant in her own castle. Sounds familiar, right? Yet another evil stepmother, only this one is blatantly envious and homicidal.
Let's get one thing straight: Gaston is not a good person by any stretch of the imagination. He's incredibly misogynistic, conceited, crude and very much a sociopath. He abuses those around him and he tried to have Belle's father sent to an asylum to force Belle into marriage, which destroys any argument that could have been made about what was and wasn't acceptable behavior in the 18th century. He's a terrible person through and through, which suits the story of Beauty and the Beast perfectly.
With no defensible reason behind any of it, at this point, we don't even have to mention that he tried and very nearly succeeded in slaying Beast. You can already see that Gaston is a deeply evil person, almost as evil as a human being can possibly be. There's only one villain who miraculously proved himself to be even worse.
1 JUDGE CLAUDE FROLLO
Part of the reason why Frollo is such a dark and complex character is the fact that The Hunchback of Notre Dame, though adapted for younger audiences, stays surprisingly faithful to the original novel by Victor Hugo. While on the surface, Frollo appears to act on a need to purge the world of sin, he's also motivated by all the ugliest emotional drives including jealousy, shame, desire and of course, anger.
The thing about Frollo is that evil in him is essentially rooted in his failure to confront it. He hides behind faith and authority. Unlike the other villains on this list, Frollo is both bigoted, murderous, completely delusional and unforgivably cruel, especially to Quasimodo, who was taught to think himself a monster. Perhaps the scariest thing about Frollo is the fact that unlike other Disney villains, Frollo is frighteningly human.