It is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone loves a bad boy. From our Mr Darcys to our Gastons, villainous or unlikeable men have dominated culture and media. We like our villains and we find charm in the anti-heroes.
Yet the wicked women of media don’t get the same love. They are admired, at least on the Disney front, but evil women aren’t given the same spotlight.
So I’ve compiled a list of villainesses from animated series or franchises who I think are too good to hate. For the sake of ease, I’ve discounted anti-heroes a la Catwoman and Maleficient. These are women we are meant to root against, but somehow don’t.
These are my top 5 animated villainesses.
5. Poison Ivy (from DC’s Batman franchise)
I have Ivy so low only because she bordered too close on the anti-hero line. In some comic series like Birds of Prey, she is the anti-hero. And [Spoiler Alert] she makes a heroic sacrifice in Rocksteady’s latest instalment in the Batman game series, Arkham Knight.
Ivy was first introduced Detective Comics #181 in 1966. Once a brilliant scientist, she is now an eco-terrorist. I always liked that she had a doctorate. She was Dr. Pamela Isley (Or Lillian in her original conception). She could command plants to do her bidding.
Ivy is an interesting character. She is femme fatale and a seducer of men, but she hates them all. She calls humans meatbags and would kill thousands if it meant saving her plants. Her only real soft spot is for wayward women and for children, especially for Harley. She was recently confirmed as LGBT and in a polyamorous relationship with Harley, making one of two confirmed queer characters on this list. She’s housed orphans before, sympathising with childhood trauma.
As is unfortunately the problem with comic characters though, she is often sexualised in her designs. She sometimes appears more human than plant, sometimes not, however she is nearly always scantily clad and posed erotically. See this Arkham Asylum cutscene for an example.
As a final note on why I like her, there is an alternate timeline of Batman set in Victorian times where Bruce Wayne runs the Asylum. Ivy is there because she is a suffragette. How could I not adore her?
4. Mystique (from Marvel’s X-Men franchise)
Mystique is a staple of X-Men lore. She is the blue-skinned shape shifter who consistently makes top villain lists. She is the other confirmed LGBT character, a bisexual bent on mutant supremacy. She’s the mother of Nightcrawler and the adoptive mother of Rogue.
I like her because she’s a woman with a cause. Her best incarnation is definitely X-Men: Evolution. I like that she’s seductive but it is her intelligence more often than not which helps her evade capture. I also liked that she could look like anything she wanted but loved her default even though it marked her as a target for bigots.
I will always prefer the likes of Magneto and Mystique to Charles Xavier though. More on that some other time.
Mystique constantly makes the top comic villains list, and it’s easy to see why. She’s morally ambiguous, powerful and something of role model to me growing up.
3. Fairy Godmother (from Dreamworks’s Shrek 2)
In the four movies in the Shrek series, only one of them has been a woman. It’s a pity, because she is one of my all-time favourites. Fairy Godmother is the typical image of what a fairy godmother should be. She’s soft-spoken, jovial and glittery. Behind the glitter though she is a mastermind, a blackmailer and a corporate giant.
I like that she is a mother and a doting one. She does everything in her power to make sure that Charming has a happily ever after. She’s powerful, she’s sinister, and she has some of the best lines and scenes in the movie.
But I can sum her up in this musical number:
2. Demona (from Disney’s Gargoyles)
Gargoyles was a Disney show unlike anything else at the time. It ran during the Disney Afternoon in the US, a two-hour block of Disney cartoons played every day after school. It was in competition with shows like Duck Tales and Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers. It was nestled amongst the cute, the bright and the colourful.
In 1994, Gargoyles first aired. It was critically acclaimed for just how different and epic it was. The tone was dark, the stories complex and there was a real passion to just how much went in to it. The story begins in medieval Scotland at the castle. It is here that the Gargoyles live, creatures which are stone by day and mighty protectors by nights. The Captain betray the princess one day, and the Vikings smash the Gargoyles, killing them all bar the two who are scouting and the three in the shadows of the rookery.
Goliath, the protagonist, goes to save the princess, but the mage thinks he has killed the princess. He turns them all to stone, which the clause that they will return to life when the castle rises above the clouds.
Flash forward a few hundred years, and the Gargoyles have reawakened in current day Manhattan. This all happens in the five-part opening of season 1.
One of the central villains of the series is the Gargoyle Demona, who sold out the castle in hopes of them reclaiming their home. It did not work as she had hoped, and thousands of year alone with her guilt corrupted her mind. Once she was Goliath’s lover, his angel of the night and his second-in-command. Now they are sworn enemies, both battling old feelings clashing with new hate.
It is very Shakespearean. Demona would be easy to symapthise with, if she would only accept the blame for what happened. It is because she blames others that the audience knows she is irredeemable. What makes it worse, we do see a younger Demona in a few episodes. This was in full of life and optimism, an idealist not yet jaded by her self-inflicted solitude.
She’s a complex character, more than we usually get from a Disney show. The series went on for three seasons before it continues in the comics. I may do a post about this show one day. There is a lot to talk about.
1. Ursula (from Disney’s The Little Mermaid)
The best of the Disney brood for sure. Ursula has no origin story, at least not one we are privy to. We know she lived in the castle once, but when and why are mysteries. She is not like the other merpeople, since she practices magic is an octowoman and not a fish.
Her villain song is incredible. Poor Unfortunate Souls has some of the best lines, and this verse always makes me smile:
The men up there don’t like a lot of blabber
They think a girl who gossips is a bore!
Yes on land it’s much preferred for ladies not to say a word
And after all dear, what is idle prattle for?
Come on, they’re not all that impressed with conversation
True gentlemen avoid it when they can
But they dote and swoon and fawn
On a lady who’s withdrawn
It’s she who holds her tongue who get’s a man
It’s nice to see a woman who is comfortable in her own skin. She is overweight, but she could change that if she wanted to. Her design was based on the famous drag queen Divine, and Pat Carroll does as amazing job bringing that theatricality to her. She’s a fabulous villainess in red lipstick, and I will always have a soft spot for her.
Some honourable mentions: Zira from Disney’s The Lion King 2 (she has a lust for being bad); The Evil Queen from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (the original and the trendsetter); The Changeling Queen from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (I like the drama and the manipulation).
That’s it from me! I’m sorry about my August silence. With my dissertation deadline I was far too busy to blog. But I’m back and I have a lot planned.
And so, dear readers, we reach the end of another post.
Let me ask you this: do you prefer villains to heroes? Are there any others you would have on your list? And does Disney just do the best bad guys?
Let me know your thoughts.