Though some of their actions are terrible, the villains are some of the most interesting characters in the world of Disney. Our favorite heroes and heroines would be nowhere without these classic antagonists to battle against. As Disney fans, we’re grateful for characters like Maleficent and Captain Hook, even though they’re so widely hated in their own universes.
Looking back as adults at the behavior of the most prominent Disney villains, it’s clear that not all of them really are as malicious as they’re made out to be. While some villains are just pure evil, others are slightly misunderstood. Read on to find out which Disney villains we empathize with, and which ones really are just bad eggs.
10 Misunderstood: Captain Hook
The villain of the 1953 classic Peter Pan, Captain Hook is portrayed as a child-hating pirate harboring an obsession with finding and killing Peter Pan, the story’s hero. Captain Hook certainly does have a vendetta against Peter, even going so far as to kidnap Tiger Lily to interrogate her about where his secret hideout is located.
However, when the context behind Hook’s vendetta is considered, it becomes easier to empathize with him. Before the story takes place, Peter cuts off Hook’s hand and throws it to a crocodile. Who wouldn’t be mad about that?
9 Pure Evil: Shan Yu
Shan Yu serves as the central villain of Mulan, though his mission isn’t to cause any harm to Mulan personally. Instead, he’s interested in forcing all of her people into subjugation by invading the country with his Hunnic army. When we’re shown the devastation that the Huns leave one of the mountain villages in, it’s pretty clear that Shan Yu is heartless.
While there was no real historical figure called Shan Yu, some have speculated that he is based on the real fifth-century warrior Attila the Hun, who led the Huns on a conquest across Europe.
8 Misunderstood: Edgar Balthazar
Edgar Belthazar doesn’t do anything as terrible as slaying a village or even trying to kill a child. Rather, his crime in The Aristocats is kidnapping his boss’s family of cats and abandoning them in the countryside so they can’t inherit her fortune. He also tries to ship them off to Timbuktu when they find their way back to Paris.
It is far from okay to kidnap and abandon cats, but Edgar’s frustration is understandable. He’s a faithful servant to a lonely widower and after all his hard work she chooses to leave her fortune to the cats instead.
7 Pure Evil: Cruella De Vil
In the grand scheme of things, Cruella De Vil doesn’t cause as much death and destruction as some of the other Disney villains. That said, most viewers would presumably agree that she is still pure evil. Anybody who can look at innocent puppies and think only of turning them into clothing has to be pure evil.
At the end of One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Cruella gets what’s coming to her when she’s stranded with her henchmen and left in tears.
6 Misunderstood: Monstro The Whale
There are a few villains in the 1940 film Pinocchio, and along with Stromboli, Honest John, and the Coachman, Monstro the whale is thought of as an antagonist. By swallowing Gepetto’s ship, he nearly dooms the kindly old man to death. Still, Monstro is a whale. What else is he supposed to do but eat smaller creatures that he finds in the ocean?
Monstro doesn’t aim to make Gepetto and Pinocchio miserable. He’s not on some mission to be an infamous villain. He’s just going about his day. Everybody has to eat!
5 Pure Evil: The Evil Queen
She was the first real Disney villain but, even after more than 80 years, the Evil Queen is still one of the most fearsome. The scene in which she turns into the old hag has been scaring children for generations, if not because of her cackling laugh than the way she shows up at Snow White’s window and convinces her to take the poisoned apple.
The Queen is completely motivated by vanity and it makes her pitiless. She doesn’t care about Snow White or anybody else in her kingdom and would kill anybody to be seen as attractive.
4 Misunderstood: Maleficent
Maleficent is often thought of as one of the most interesting Disney villains, and sometimes, as the evilest of the whole bunch. It does take a lot of malice to plan to kill an infant, wrap a kingdom in thorns, falsely imprison a prince, and turn into a dragon out of rage. But none of that would have happened if Maleficent had just been included in the festivities.
On the one hand, nobody should have to invite someone they don’t like to their gatherings. On the other, it doesn’t feel good to be excluded. We can understand the seed (but not the extent) of Maleficent’s anger.
3 Pure Evil: Jafar
While some Disney villains are funny and loveable despite their evil actions, Jafar really has no redeeming qualities. He manipulates the Sultan, believes that other lives besides his own are worthless, and creates quite a ruckus when he finally becomes an all-powerful sorcerer.
One of Jafar’s most unsettling actions was coming onto Princess Jasmine. Again, in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t as devastating as the way he takes over the Sultan’s kingdom, but it’s something that is deeply uncomfortable.
2 Misunderstood: The Hyenas
Working for Scar, the Hyenas as the secondary antagonists in The Lion King. They help Scar to reign with terror, bully the lions, and take whatever food is available in the Pride Lands, leaving the lions to starve. While all of that is terrible, the hyenas ultimately act like this because they’re starving.
Anybody who’s ever known hunger can empathize with this. When people are starving, they’ll do anything to get by. Scar is the real villain in The Lion King and creates monsters out of the other characters.
1 Pure Evil: Ursula
Some Disney fans have expressed sympathy for Ursula, the Sea Witch of The Little Mermaid story. She is excluded from Triton’s kingdom and seems to lead a lonely, deprived life. Ultimately, her actions are just too evil.
Ursula manipulates Ariel and sabotages the deal that she set up in the first place because she can’t stand losing. She’s dishonest, controlling, sneaky, and above all, heartless and malicious.
NEXT: 10 Disney And Pixar Villains That Deserve The Maleficent Movie Treatment