I have a little confession to make: Maleficent is one of my favorite Disney characters. I know that we’re not supposed to like the bad guys, but sometimes they are just so relatable! Whether it’s because of their personalities, motivations, or backgrounds, they can be kind of understandable. Look, I’m not saying they are not evil. I’m just saying I get where these Disney villains are coming from.
For this list, we’re looking at some of Disney’s most relatable villains. From Jafar to Maleficent, these big bad villains have managed to garner a little sympathy from audiences. Are there any Disney villains that you identify with?
Captain Hook from Peter Pan (1953)
In Disney’s retelling of Peter Pan’s story (the 1953 animated film is based on J. M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan; Or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up), Captain Hook has been given a much more comical remake. While this was obviously done to fit into Disney’s mold and appeal to young audiences, it probably also made him a little more endearing. Walt Disney himself knew that Hook was likable, too, insisting on keeping him alive at the end of the film.
But the real reason why Hook is so relatable comes down to how he got that hook in the first place. The guy used to have two hands until Peter Pan cut one of them off and fed it to the crocodile. Now, I don’t know about you, but I would definitely be out for revenge if some kid who refuses to grow up cut off my hand. Not only that, but after the croc got a taste, he now pursues Hook relentlessly.
If we look at Barrie’s original play, Peter Pan didn’t even cut off Hook’s hand for good reason. He only did it because the Lost Boys dared him. Who’s the bad guy again? This was sort of brought up in Disney’s version, although it was kind of glazed over. Mr. Smee mentions it as a “childish prank,” something I didn’t pick up on when I was a kid.
Edgar Balthazar from The Aristocats (1970)
Poor Edgar Balthazar! He was just an old, kind of dim-witted butler who had devoted his life to Madame Adelaide. Unfortunately, it feels like perhaps he has devoted himself a little too much and confused the line between his personal life and his job. I don’t really imagine many butlers would expect their bosses to will them their fortunes, at least not in the real world.
Regardless, Edgar thought that should happen, after all his years of service. Lo and behold, Madame Adelaide decided to will all of her riches to her cats instead (which is also weird). And on top of that, she stipulates that Edgar has to stick around and take care of them when she’s gone. Yeah, he got passed over for some cats. That’s probably enough to irk anyone.
As far as villains go, at least he’s somewhat harmless. He could have easily tried to murder the cats, but I guess he didn’t have the heart for that. Instead, he attempts to drop them off out in the country and then tries to ship them to Timbuktu.
Prince Hans from Frozen (2013)
First of all, Prince Hans being the bad guy in Frozen was quite the twist. The moment he rejected Anna’s request for a true love’s kiss to save her and he refused because he didn’t love her shocked just about everyone. We didn’t see it coming because Hans was the perfect prince. He is handsome, smart, charming, and seemingly chivalrous. At the start, he certainly lives up to the Disney Prince Charming archetype.
We all know Prince Hans is the bad guy because of his plans to take over Arendale. He’s ready to be anyone he needs to be in order to make Anna fall in love with him, and then he’s going to murder Elsa so he can get his hands on the crown.
But really, a glimpse into Prince Hans’ background makes him a lot more relatable. He’s the 13th in line in a royal family. In a world where being first in line is pretty important, he’s feeling pretty invisible behind 12 brothers. We can go ahead and assume the level of neglect he grew up with. With an upbringing like that, can we really blame him for turning into the calculative, power-hungry person he became?
Scar from The Lion King (1994)
Scar from The Lion King had a similar situation as Prince Hans. By the time we encounter him as an adult, he is a ruthless, power-hungry character filled to the brim with jealousy. He will stop at nothing to achieve greatness, even if it means murdering his own brother, Mufasa, to get it.
But all of that comes from a life of constantly being in second place. He was the second-born prince of the Pride Lands, always living in his brother’s shadow. At the same time, that also meant that if anything happened to Mufasa, Scar was next in line – that is, until Simba was born. With Mufasa’s heir now second in line, Scar was even further away from ruling, and he was pretty resentful over it.
As a side note, Scar was one of many characters that were used as inspiration for Prince Hans! Unlike Hans, though, Scar succeeds in regicide. And when the plot against Simba doesn’t go according to plan, he manages to convince Simba he’s to blame so that he exiles himself.
Sure, murdering Mufasa is one of the most unforgivable things that happened in the ‘90s. But after growing up in his brother’s shadow for all those years, letting all that jealousy build up… can you really blame him for plotting his way to the throne?
He is widely regarded as one of Disney’s greatest villains. While I’d like to think part of that is because he’s relatable, it’s also because he was brilliantly animated and voiced by the great Jeremy Irons.
Syndrome from The Incredibles (2004)
Syndrome probably garners sympathy from parents the most. He’s really just 10-year-old Buddy Pines, Mr. Incredible’s obsessed fan. He dreams of being just like his hero! And just like any other 10-year-old kid, he is completely oblivious to danger and ends up causing more trouble by getting in the way. Instead of realizing literally any of this, he just feels completely rejected.
All those big feelings simmered for a few years and eventually turned into Buddy recreating himself as an evil genius. Really, he’s just a smart kid who got overly obsessed with the wrong thing. I am willing to bet that most audience members have either known that kid or been that kid.
Of course, it does all turn into some seriously terrible behavior, putting people in danger just so he can make himself look like a superhero. But doesn’t that kind of sound like the behavior of a self-centered teen? I’d say he’s definitely one of the most relatable villains – but hopefully, most people have grown out of this stage!
Jafar from Aladdin (1992)
I know that Jafar is the antagonist in 1992’s Aladdin, and he’s one of the most villainous bad guys we got from Disney Animation. But really, he is just a highly-ambitious guy who can’t stand being second best. Right?
It’s also worth noting that he held disdain for his boss, the Sultan, but mostly because he felt like he could be doing a better job as a ruler. The Sultan was childish and pompous. While this goofy little guy seems kind of concerned for the welfare of his people and his daughter, it feels like his primary concern is ensuring age-old traditions remain intact. He seemingly had no ambitions – something that Jafar had in droves.
Not content with his position as the grand vizier of Agrabah, he tries to use Genie’s magic to realize his dreams. Unfortunately, all that drive and ambition leads Jafar into ruin, rather than into the ruler’s throne.
Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty (1959)
If there is one villain that is incredibly relatable, it’s Sleeping Beauty’s baddy Maleficent. Look, I know she was really deplorable, cursing a brand new baby and all. I will certainly never dispute that she is the villain in this 1959 animated classic. But, hey, when we start looking at how she got to that moment, she becomes one of the most relatable Disney villains out there.
Literally everyone was invited to that party – everyone except Maleficent. And after she expresses her displeasure over never getting an invitation, the good fairy Merryweather flat-out tells Maleficent that she was unwanted. Wouldn’t that upset anyone?
Of course, they upset the wrong person. All that embarrassment and resentment manifested into a harsh snap decision, where she lashed out with a curse. Again, wishing death on an infant is pretty cruel, and Maleficent is definitely a villain here… but isn’t it kind of understandable why she flipped out?