Creating a good villain for an animated film is a delicate balancing act. For children?s fare, a villain needs to be imposing and memorable, but never so demonstrably evil as to upset the youngest viewers and the 700 Club. Even in seemingly adult-aimed movies, it?s often hard to establish a distinct, original antagonist within the 90-minute running time enforced on many cartoon flicks. There are, of course, animated films with no actual villains, but they?re just pretentious.
The films that do have villains often screw it up, spitting out some unmotivated pushover to be swept aside by the heroes. In one way or another, these ten are the most lame, the most disappointing, and the least likely to impress viewers of any age.
10) Edgar from The Aristocats
For many, it?s a challenge to remember that The Aristocats actually had a villain. In fact, movie?s biggest contribution to the Disney canon seems to be the white kitten Marie, one of the company?s most-merchandised characters in the Japanese market, believe it or not. No one recalls Edgar, the bald, inept butler who tries to murder a bunch of cats in order to claim their inheritance. He?s a bargain-basement Cruella DeVil.
Yet it?s almost easier to feel sorry for Edgar. Resembling a haggard, fiftyish office drone more than a scheming murderer, he?s clearly been beaten soulless by years of servitude to a woman so obscenely wealthy and myopic that she?ll leave a fortune to her pets, while the poor starve in the streets of early 20th-century France.
9) Prince Toma from Ranma 1/2: Nihao My Concubine
It?s not Prince Toma we?re attacking so much as it is the clich? he represents. Whenever a popular younger-audiences anime series becomes a movie, that movie needs a mediocre and utterly disposable villain who, like the movie itself, will be swiftly forgotten and have no effect on the overall storyline.
The use-once bad guy of the second Ranma film, Prince Toma fulfills his duty of creating conflict by kidnapping Ranma?s strong-willed fianc?e Akane and threatening to marry her (which was also the plot of the first Ranma movie, but hey). Thing is, he?s not even much of a one-off villain; he?s just a spoiled brat whose mommy issues have him falling for the first woman to smack him around.
8) Blackwolf from Wizards
Wizards was Ralph Bakshi?s attempt to depart from his sexualized urban farces and make a fantasy film, meaning that it?s about semi-naked fairies instead of semi-naked hookers. Seeming like some fusion of David the Gnome with Triumph of the Will (and the aforementioned not-quite-naked women), Wizards plays it obvious with the names: the squat, gruff-voiced hero is Avatar, while his evil brother is Blackwolf.
We?ll admit that Blackwolf actually sets himself up as an acceptable foe, brandishing skeletal arms, a library of Nazi propaganda and a Reich-scale army of stormtroopers and robots. Yet when it comes to cartoon ne?er-do-wells, he goes down like a punk when his brother confronts him.
It is an allegory for the two atomic bombs that ended World War II? A statement about the interplay of magic and science? A sign that Bakshi just got tired of making his own movie? It?s up to you.
7) Sauron from The Return of the King
Sauron was perhaps the world?s first famous literary cocktease: three books of hobbits and wizards and elfery build him up as a powerful, near-omnipotent overlord of pure evil, and he never actually shows the fuck up. This was easier to get around in the books, but it?s a cardinal sin in the world of movies, particular those that kids might be watching. Peter Jackson understood this, and opened up his first Lord of the Rings film by showing Sauron smashing through phalanxes of human soldiers, Dynasty Warriors-style.
Rankin-Bass, however, didn?t quite get it. Their Return of the King movie has an aptly bleak tone, but the baddies are lacking: the orcs are singing, semi-goofy cannon fodder only half the size of an actual human, and Sauron?s only represented as his big ol? all-seeing eye. Yes, it?s true to the books and to Tolkien?s vision, but it?s the most disappointing thing in the world when kids wait over an hour for some demonic Darth Vader to roll out, and the closest thing they get is this guy, ?The Mouth of Sauron.?
That doesn?t count.
6) Alf Dolf from Garaga
Garaga may not be the worst film ever produced by Japan?s animation industry, but it?s a leading contender for the most boring. A meandering sci-fi clunker directed by The Last Unicorn character artist Hidemi Kubo, the movie slaps clich?s from Star Wars, Akira and Planet of the Apes around an exhaustingly lame cast, topped off by a boring android evildoer named?Alf Dolf.
Garaga?s story involves a frontier planet full of monkey-men, telepaths, government conspiracies, terrorist vendettas, and secret agents, and somewhere in this mess is Alf Dolf, who just wants to use some military weapon to destroy the human race, making even genocide seem drab. The bland-looking Alf meets his end at the hands of the movie?s almost-as-dull hero, Jay M. Jay (yes, really), but not before spouting some canned lines about robots being superior to humans because robots learn faster. Maybe so, but they apparently can?t learn how to be interesting. And really, Alf Dolf?
5) Prince John from Robin Hood
Peter Ustinov?s performance as Prince John is the high point of Disney?s anthro-animal Robin Hood, but that?s mostly because of Ustinov?s vocal talents and the fact that the rest of the movie is an example of what put Disney in the creative doldrums by 1983. The whole thing?s a rote adaptation of a classic legend, and most of what?s changed isn?t changed for the better; it turns Prince John from a cruel tyrant into an effete whiner with a severe streak of infantilism. The Lion in Winter this ain?t.
Of course, half of the para-mythical Robin Hood?s appeal was his ability to make royal bullies look like imbeciles, but Disney overplayed it by robbing the movie of any real villain: its Sheriff of Nottingham resembles a pudgy wolf version of Roscoe P. Coltrane, with bumbling vulture-men for his elite guard. Even younger viewers are left wondering why the overtaxed rabbits and badgers of Robin Hood?s England don?t just walk into the castle, push their oppressors over and take their lunch money.
4) Witches and Slime from My Little Pony: The Movie
My Little Pony sometimes slipped in a genuinely frightening villain: for example, there?s the giant stone dog that ravages the pony countryside and turns the little horsies and other forest creatures into statues with looks of pure fucking terror frozen on their adorable faces. The My Little Pony movie is much softer, casting a trio of bumbling witches and a giant wall of googly-eyed purple Ghostbusters slime as the biggest threats to pony freedom. There?s also a giant, one-eyed spider in there, but even that?s about as threatening as an episode of The Get-Along Gang.
The ?Smooze? might?ve scared us if, like Transformers: The Movie, the My Little Pony feature had visibly killed off all of its older-toy characters, with the outdated ponies being brutally drowned in a flood of groaning, gibbering, halfway-sentient sludge. Instead, there?s an uncohesive musical number and a few scenes of everyone escaping a NyQuil-colored deluge. Like kids are going to learn anything from that.
3) John Ratcliffe from Pocohontas
Pocahontas brought about the end of Disney?s hastily proclaimed second golden age, which started with The Little Mermaid and lasted for about three subsequent films. Ratcliffe is dwarfed by the film?s other problems, which also include unremarkable heroes and a preachy, predictable script that?s both too politically correct to have any bite and too tied to history to be much fun. But Ratcliffe doesn?t help. A bloated, double-chinned avatar of colonialist greed and oppression, he?s too pompous and exaggerated to be threatening. He?s also voiced by David Ogden Stiers, who does his best but can?t make the character any more threatening than the snooty, prank-attracting doctor he played on M*A*S*H.
Then again, Ratcliffe gets the movie?s best musical number by default, in which he goes on for nearly three whole minutes about gold and digging, interrupted only by clinching proof that Mel Gibson should never sing.
2) Golobulus from G. I. Joe: The Movie
If there was one thing that G.I. Joe did better than any other ?80s toy line, it was capturing a semblance of plausibility. Sure, there were weather-controlling machines and giant tube-worm monsters and battlefields of always-inaccurate lasers, but the characters, from the gimmick-centered heroes to the cockney Mad Max extras riding water skiffs, could conceivably have existed in real life. However, when the G.I. Joe movie came around, Marvel wanted to go bigger, weirder and further into fantasy. And so it created Cobra-La, a bizarre ancient civilization, apparently designed by sea anemones, that had spawned Cobra Commander and sent him forth to conquer the world.
As a toy, Golobulus must?ve focus-tested well: his top half?s a conventional Joe figure, but his lower body?s a massive poseable snake. As a retconned villain, though, he can?t pull it together, not even with Burgess Meredith?s voice. He lacks the endearing delusion of Cobra Commander or the cool outfit of the otherwise laughable Serpentor, and he?s ultimately taken down by the unappealing Lt. Falcon and Sgt. Slaughter?s wrestling movies.
1) Rasputin from Anastasia
It takes a lot of work to make Rasputin into a mediocre cartoon mustache-twirler. After all, we?re talking about a notorious monk who bent the Russian royal family to his will, seduced noblewomen by the score, and had to be successively poisoned, shot and drowned before he was truly dead. A monk so famed that even his wang is swamped by rumors and legends (seriously?check it out).
And somehow, Don Bluth neutered him. Yes, that?d be the same Don Bluth who frightened children nationwide with the snarling, murderous rats of The Secret of Nimh. The same Don Bluth who was forced to tone down his vision of canine hell in All Dogs Go to Heaven. The same Don Bluth whose original cut of The Land Before Time had to lose 10 minutes because the T-Rex was just too damn scary.
By the time he made Anastasia, Bluth wasn?t scaring anyone. The film doesn?t completely sanitize the Russian revolution (the heroine?s royal relatives still die, but in vague off-screen terms), but Rasputin, cast here as the sole reason the impoverished Russian lower class rebelled against an uncaring bourgeois leadership, is a cackling, toothless buffoon done in by a few stomps from teenage Anastasia?s shoe. And then there?s his limply rhymed theme song.
Not that we expected Rasputin to sing about his pickled penis or anything, but you could have done better than this, Mr. Bluth.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.