Top 10 Villain Songs from Animated Films

To round out my series on the music of animation, I thought it would be fun to explore the wonderful world of the villain’s song! The villains in animated films often end up stealing the show with their larger-than-life personalities, but let’s be honest – a big part of their appeal is in their music. Starting around the Renaissance Era, villains in Disney films and elsewhere started to get these big, showy, theatrical numbers where they were able to ham it up and chew the scenery to bits, usually while outlining their devious plans. These songs usually (although admittedly not always) stand out as some of the best in their respective soundtracks for being so much fun, so catchy and so deliciously evil… it can be hard to resist singing along to them!

Interestingly, this particular style of song seems to be limited mainly to a period of about ten years from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, when animated films were taking a lot of inspiration from Broadway and musical theatre. Although two of the songs on the list are newer, it’s a plain fact that most animated villains these days just don’t seem to get the kind of memorable signature villain songs that we came to love in the older films – in fact, most don’t get any songs at all! Due to this, there aren’t really many honourable mentions to be made, as this list includes the bulk of them – I’ll give a shout-out to Cruella De Vil, though, as an early example, as well as Jafar’s sinister reprise of Prince Ali in Aladdin (1992), which I didn’t include mainly because it’s not really a full song. So without further ado, let’s get into the list!

In the Dark of the Night imagery #1

  1. In the Dark of the Night from Anastasia (1997)

Written by: Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty / Composed by: David Newman / Performed by: Jim Cummings, Christopher Lloyd

Song in a nutshell: “I’m going to kill this girl I barely know out of spite!”

At number ten, I’ve put Rasputin’s song from Anastasia. Now this one isn’t one of the more popular ones, in all honesty – it got decidedly mixed reviews from critics at the time, with FilmTracks saying, “The villain’s song for Rasputin isn’t particularly popular, and some may even wish that Christopher Lloyd had attempted his own vocals. Yet, the deep male vocals paired with high female ghost hauntings are very creative, and outstanding lyrics and a fine balance between the Russian doom and gloom and the slight comedy needed for the genre is decently accomplished. The bass region is well treated in this song, too.” It does indeed have some good instrumental work with the piano and drums, even if the chorus of bug minions singing along with him are a bit superfluous. Considering that the song is about his plans to kidnap and murder a young woman, it’s a surprisingly jaunty tune (it can also be more than a little creepy, with its talk of corpses “falling to bits” and Rasputin randomly donning an Anastasia wig at one point).

Like the next song on the list, this one is from a film based on real historical events involving a lot of delicate politics, so inevitably it suffered a lot of backlash for taking such liberties with the story (even though it never purported to be a documentary on the Romanovs). The real Rasputin was a complex and influential figure in the Russian hierarchy, but this version of him… isn’t. Fans of the film generally agree that the villain is one of its weaker points; Anastasia herself is barely even aware of him until they meet near the end!  Still, In the Dark of the Night is strong enough to warrant a place on the list, largely thanks to Jim Cummings’s enthusiastic performance.

Mine, Mine, Mine #6

  1. Mine, Mine, Mine from Pocahontas (1995)

Written by: Stephen Schwartz / Composed by: Alan Menken / Performed by: David Ogden Stiers, Mel Gibson

Song in a nutshell: “I’m going to commit genocide for personal gain!”

For number nine, I chose Governor Ratcliffe’s song (which he shares with John Smith, the hero) from Pocahontas. Similar to the last one, this song is based on actual historical figures – John Ratcliffe was, in reality, an inept but generally well-meaning leader in Jamestown, rather than the ruthless, greedy racist he’s portrayed as here. He may make for a rather weak villain (one of the film’s biggest problems), but his song is enjoyable in all its hammy pomp and splendour. We learn a lot about Ratcliffe’s character and motivation as he sets his men off, as he puts it, digging up Virginia, while subtly dodging any manual labour himself because of a “crick” in his spine. He then expands on this by dreaming up a scenario whereby he’d take the place of King James himself – clearly, he’s a pretty one-dimensional character, but that moment when he comes down the stairs at court in a sparkly gold cape has still managed to become a popular meme! Towards the end, John Smith joins in with a few verses about his contrasting view of this New World – he wants to explore it, rather than pillage it, telling us (pretty heavy-handedly) that we’re supposed to root for this guy because he’s not greedy. There’s some great brass and woodwind featured in the number, but perhaps the best thing about it is the staging – we get some excellent shots of Virginia, or at least, the filmmakers’ very dramatic impression of it, culminating in a mass of fiery explosions as Ratcliffe destroys it all.

Toxic Love imagery #1

  1. Toxic Love from FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992)

Written by: Thomas Dolby / Composed by: Alan Silvestri / Performed by: Tim Curry

Song in a nutshell: “I’m going to destroy the Australian rainforest!”

Toxic Love is, I think, the best non-Disney villain song in any animated film. It’s fairly short, but really makes excellent use of its limited run-time! Starring the pollution-monster Hexxus, who is the villain of FernGully, it starts out like a cabaret-style number with a few sensual, brassy flares and a slow, teasing sort of drumbeat – for a moment, it almost feels like Hexxus is going to give us a strip-tease. The imagery as he goes from a skeleton to an “in-the-flesh” villain is fantastic, but once he’s transformed into his final form the song switches tone to become a grimy, grungy, ‘90s-style number filled with on-the-nose lyrics about how awful pollution is, even finishing with a bit of electric guitar as Hexxus makes his way (in a very sexualised way) inside the core of the Leveller. Tim Curry delivers a perfect performance here, hamming it up enormously and making this easily the best song of the whole film. As an extra note, the song’s title may have come from a 1983 Italian drama of the same name directed by Claudio Caligari.

Friends on the Other Side imagery #6

  1. Friends on the Other Side from The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Written and composed by: Randy Newman / Performed by: Keith David

Song in a nutshell: “I’m going to commence a ridiculously complicated plan involving frogs and puppets and voodoo and marriages to take control of New Orleans from the rich people!”

At number seven, we have one of the rare newer villain songs, a popular fan favourite from The Princess and the Frog. The villain of the film, Dr. Facilier, is similar to Ursula from The Little Mermaid (who we’ll be seeing again further down) – like her, he professes to be a sort of magician who makes people’s wishes come true, but is actually a “charlatan” just as Lawrence describes him who is only looking out for himself. This song covers his meeting with Prince Naveen and Lawrence, as he gradually leads them into his trap and ultimately transforms Naveen into a frog. The song features some great swing and jazz-inspired vibes, with some of the film’s deliciously danceable brass and percussion which seem to really suit Randy Newman and a lot of strong vocal work from Keith David. The final imagery of Facilier’s voodoo “friends” chanting along to the insistent beat as Lawrence stares in horror at what’s happening to Naveen is truly spooky; I especially like the last shot of Facilier’s masklike face as he blows the lights out. This was the first proper Disney villain song since 1996 and was beloved by fans – the only reason I haven’t put it higher is because there are a few others that I personally prefer, but this was certainly an easy choice for inclusion on the list.

Greatest Criminal Mind

  1. The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind from The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

Written by: Ellen Fitzhugh, Larry Grossman, Henry Mancini / Composed by: Henry Mancini / Performed by: Vincent Price

Song in a nutshell: “I’m London’s evilest mouse!”

This is one of our earlier examples, from way back in 1986. Ratigan truly was a pioneer of the villain song, probably because he was voiced by Vincent Price. Price was said to have greatly enjoyed performing for this film and as LeFou might say, it’s not very hard to see why – after some fun opening verses from the mastermind himself about his evil deeds of yesteryear, we launch into a spirited chorus from his henchman extolling his wondrously evil nature. What really makes this work are the lyrics; listen closely, and you can hear them belting out lines about widows and orphans being drowned with obvious delight! There’s a short interlude with Ratigan monologuing while playing the harp, of all things, a nod to his rather foppish demeanour, but then it’s straight back to the joyous choreography. The song is probably best known for the short (but effective) scene which occurs in the middle of it – one of the hench-mice, drunk on punch from a fountain, describes Ratigan as the world’s greatest rat, which evidently touches a nerve. The reprehensible rodent’s response is to have his behemoth cat, Felicia, swallow the poor mouse whole, all without so much as dirtying his gloves. In typical flamboyant fashion, Ratigan then immediately gets the others back to the song under threat of suffering the same fate – their terrified yet happy faces are a riot. Overall, the song is a welcome addition to the film and makes great use of Vincent Price. Unusually for a Disney film, though, the soundtrack album was not released alongside the film. It was instead delayed until the film’s 1992 rerelease, when it was issued by Varèse Sarabande: it is still the only Disney film to date to not have its soundtrack released under the Disney label.

Be Prepared imagery #1

  1. Be Prepared from The Lion King (1994)

Written by: Tim Rice / Composed by: Elton John / Performed by: Jeremy Irons, Jim Cummings, Cheech Marin, Whoopi Goldberg

Song in a nutshell: “I’m going to murder my family and take over the monarchy!”

To open our top five, we have Scar’s famous number from The Lion King, in which he outlines his plan to overthrow the monarchy by murdering his relatives – you know, a family film! The original concept for the song was going to have Scar introducing the hyenas to the lionesses after pronouncing himself king, at which point it was called Thanks to Me, an idea which was ultimately scrapped (although a short, non-musical version of the scene does appear in the film). There was also originally going to be a reprise in which Scar looked for a mate, with Nala a potential candidate! Brrr… thank goodness they didn’t go with that. As it is, the song took a lot of inspiration from the Nazi regime, with the infamous goose-stepping hyenas in the second verse looking up at Scar, who is perched on a cliff in a manner very reminiscent of Adolf Hitler. The staging of this scene, with the beams of light pointing straight up at him and the column-like shadows on the walls, was based on such sources as the Cathedral of Light from many of the Nuremburg Rallies, and the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will (1935) by Leni Riefenstahl. Jeremy Irons (Scar’s voice actor) is usually credited with performing the lead vocals, although Jim Cummings is widely known to have taken over when Irons blew his voice out on some of the more dramatic parts. However, at the 2012 Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, Cummings stated that he actually sang most of the song, with Irons only doing some of the more “talky” lines. Whether or not this is true, Be Prepared is a dark and thrilling number filled with thrumming drums and fantastic visuals, and the backing vocalists also deserve mention for adding a lot of chilling flavour to their parts.

Mother Knows Best imagery #3

  1. Mother Knows Best (and the reprise) from Tangled (2010)

Written by: Glenn Slater, Alan Menken / Composed by: Alan Menken / Performed by: Donna Murphy

Song in a nutshell: “I’m going to psychologically damage this young girl for vanity!”

OK, I have to admit, this one is actually my second favourite, but I’ve tried to keep this as unbiased as possible by placing two other big fan favourites above it. Mother Gothel’s big number from Tangled is a terrific, Broadway-inspired song by Alan Menken (this is his second appearance on the list, but all of the remaining songs were composed by him). Menken and Slater wrote this specifically after being requested to do a Broadway-style song by the film’s directors, Byron Howard and Nathan Greno. While writing it, Menken was briefly worried that the song would inspire “a rash of children trying to kill their parents after they’ve seen the movie,” but of course this proved to be unfounded. Still, it’s understandable why he might have thought that way; the lyrics of this song are amazing, with practically every line serving as a realistically vicious back-handed insult to Rapunzel, beautifully demonstrating Gothel’s psychological manipulation of the girl. Tony-Award winner Donna Murphy was already familiar with Menken as she had worked with him on his musical, Little Shop of Horrors (1982), which also happened to feature Jodi Benson of later Ariel fame. Murphy recorded the song while envisioning Gothel as a spotlight-stealer who enjoys being the centre of attention, which influenced the final version of the song – you can really see a lot of Murphy’s interpretation of the character in the way Gothel is animated throughout the sequence (she’s a lot hammier here than at any other point in the film, that’s for sure).

This has been cited by many critics and fans as Tangled’s best song, with people complimenting its romantic melody, humour and dark tone. Murphy’s stellar vocals have also been widely praised, with good reason – this is undoubtedly one of the best voices we’ve ever heard from a Disney villain, with some people comparing it to the likes of Patti LuPone and even Julie Andrews in its fullness and richness. The song has also been compared to the work of Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, the musical Les Misérables and Disney’s own 1996 film The Hunchback of Notre Dame, whose villain, Claude Frollo, is very similar to Gothel in several ways (Menken was also that film’s composer). A fun titbit of trivia is that, according to Howard and Greno, the line “getting kind of chubby” was lifted from an interview they had with some female Disney employees, where they asked the girls to describe their relationships with their mothers – yikes!

I’d also like to make mention of the reprise, as it’s rare for villain songs to be given a proper one – in this case, the “under-the-surface” darkness of the main song is brought to the forefront during the reprise, mainly by doing away with the humour and having the piece appear after a more serious moment in the story, when Rapunzel is more vulnerable. The expressions Gothel makes during the reprise are horrifying (not helped by the fact that she has begun to age noticeably after several days away from Rapunzel’s healing powers), and that final belt of the title is impressively powerful. All in all, the newest Disney villain song marked a triumphant return to the genre after so long away from it.

Gaston song imagery #4

  1. Gaston from Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Written by: Howard Ashman / Composed by: Alan Menken / Performed by: Richard White, Jesse Corti

Song in a nutshell: “Nobody is more vain, selfish or shallow than Gaston!”

You knew this one was coming! Gaston’s self-titled number from Beauty and the Beast is very bright and cheery for a villain song, but I had to put it nice and high because of the sheer popularity it enjoys. Every Disney fan loves this one; it has some of the best lyrics of any Disney song ever written, making it prime meme material in the internet age. Similar to Ratcliffe, Gaston’s sole motivation is essentially greed, but not for money, in this case – he wants the heroine all to himself and is prepared to do anything to get her. After having just witnessed his hero being rejected by Belle, it is LeFou who launches us into this lively piece, twirling and prancing about as he sings about Gaston’s many virtues and talents (it’s really no surprise that they made him ambiguously gay in the remake). Of course, an ego like Gaston’s can’t resist being stroked for long, so he soon joins in with some ridiculously over-the-top verses of his own, indulging completely in his deluded vanity as he sings about his physique while the adoring townsfolk look on with pride. There’s a lot of bombastic brass and sweeping strings, with the song being compared to the music of Broadway duo Lerner and Loewe – definitely one of the most entertaining numbers on the list.

There is also a short reprise, or rather a continuation of the main song, after Maurice has been thrown out of the tavern. This is notable for the more overtly sinister lyrics, as Gaston and LeFou actually state outright their plan to make a fool out of Maurice in order to gain access to Belle; the creepiest thing about this part is that the townsfolk still adore Gaston after hearing it!

Poor Unfortunate Souls #1

  1. Poor Unfortunate Souls from The Little Mermaid (1989)

Written by: Howard Ashman, Alan Menken / Composed by: Alan Menken / Performed by: Pat Carroll

Song in a nutshell: “I’m going to perform a dangerous operation on this vulnerable teenager and use her to overthrow the monarchy!”

For my number two slot, what else could I pick but this? Poor Unfortunate Souls is, of course, Ursula’s big showstopper from The Little Mermaid, the first instance of such a Broadway-inspired villain song in a Disney film. The lyricist, Howard Ashman (RIP mate), recorded himself singing the song in the role of Ursula and then sent his version to Pat Carroll to convince her to take the role, which she did. His version was actually released commercially in the four-CD set The Music Behind the Magic (1994) and Carroll admitted that she borrowed some of his inflections for her own performance (which he was said to have been delighted with). The song as delivered by Carroll in the film is bouncy yet dramatic, with several dialogue-filled interludes as Ursula weaves her trap like a used-car salesman around a naïve Ariel. Ursula is said to have been inspired by famous drag queen Divine, who was known for some scandalous appearances in films like Pink Flamingos (1972) and more family-friendly roles like the 1988 version of Hairspray. This theatrical inspiration is obvious in the song as Pat Carroll really hams it up with some of her lines, especially everyone’s favourite – “And don’t underestimate the importance of… BODY LANGUAGE, HA!” At the song’s finale, after Ariel has signed her name away, there’s a final creepy section in which Ursula recites a sort of incantation, accompanied by Gothic organ music and featuring several twisted versions of ordinary words:

Beluga, Sevruga

Come winds of the Caspian Sea (refers to caviar of the beluga sturgeon and the critically endangered starry sturgeon, or sevruga, both native to the Caspian Sea)

Larynxes, glossitis (the voice box and an inflammation of the tongue)

Et Max Laryngitis (invoking massive swelling of the vocal chords, ouch!)

La voce to me (the point where she takes Ariel’s voice)

There is also something of a reprise later on when Ursula is disguised as “Vanessa.” Scuttle overhears her singing to herself on the wedding ship and upon investigating he finds her singing about her evil plot in Ariel’s beautiful voice, although her malice still creeps through. Props to Jodi Benson for her versatile performance in that scene! Interestingly, this song also received a cover from the Jonas Brothers (of all people) in 2006 – not the first band you’d think of when looking for someone to cover this, is it?

Hellfire #6

  1. Hellfire from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Written and composed by: Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz / Performed by: Tony Jay

Song in a nutshell: “I’m going to murder this woman and ransack the entire city of Paris unless she sleeps with me, because I blame her for my blasphemous lust!”

Here we have the granddaddy of all villain songs – Hellfire. Performed magnificently by the late, great Tony Jay as Claude Frollo, I seriously doubt this one will ever be topped for sheer, raw power. The song opens deceptively peacefully, with the Archdeacon and his altar servers walking through Notre Dame while swinging an incense-filled thurible and chanting the beginning of the Confiteor, a Catholic penitential prayer usually recited by Roman Catholics during Mass as an “admission of guilt and wrongdoing.” This creates a sense of dramatic irony as Frollo goes on to sing about how his feelings are not his fault, leading to the haunting counterpoint of Mea Culpa (my fault) which is perhaps intended as an echo of his conscience. The Confiteor bridges the gap between this song and Quasimodo’s Heaven’s Light performed in the previous scene – that is also about Esmeralda, but offers an alternate (yet still extreme) view of the same woman; where Quasi sees her as an angel, Frollo sees her a witch. The Latin themes continue throughout Hellfire, with the ending including the Kyrie Eleison (another important prayer of the Christian liturgy) and Frollo addressing the Virgin Mary by her Latin name, Maria (interesting choice to have him praying to her while filled with lust for Esmeralda). Frollo’s handling of the scarf she gave him serves as a visual representation of his feelings; as he continues to struggle with his conscience, he clings to it, but once he commits to his sinful course he is able to discard it.

The scene the song is a part of received much press coverage around the time of the film’s release, particularly the decision to give a film filled with such dark themes as lust and religious sacrilege a “G” rating. It features some of the most infamously daring imagery ever seen in a Disney film, with the “fires of hell” literally roaring around Frollo in the fireplace and a silhouette of Esmeralda writhing in agony within them as Frollo imagines her burning alive. As you can imagine, the film’s producers were anxious that the song might be axed for being too much, but Roy E. Disney and Michael Eisner (who were then chairman and CEO respectively) ended up loving the idea and there was no need to make a plea for its inclusion. The producers felt that the scene was important in portraying Frollo accurately as he was in the original Victor Hugo novel (although having it read it myself, I find the Disney version far eviller) and intended to make it one of the greatest animated sequences ever produced (they succeeded admirably, as I’m sure most fans would agree). Frollo was brilliantly animated by Kathy Zielinski and the sequence was storyboarded by French animators Paul and Gaëtan Brizzi, who were then the heads of Disney’s satellite studio in Montreuil, France. The special effects of the scene, including fire, smoke and shadows, required significant support from the Feature Animation visual effects department.

Kirk Wise, one of the film’s directors, stated that the song needed an accompanying visual sequence more meaningful and powerful than in earlier Disney features, something like the Night on Bald Mountain section of Fantasia (1940) where the devil himself is personified as the malevolent Chernabog rallying his demons on Walpurgisnacht. He also mentioned that he and Chris Jenkins, the visual effects artistic supervisor, wanted to ensure that the shots of Esmeralda as a “fire-spirit” in the flames would not endanger the “G” rating from the MPAA, so they carefully went through every frame to be sure that her figure was fully clothes at all times, despite her provocative dancing.

This is rightfully regarded as not just one of the film’s best songs but as one of the greatest Disney villain songs ever made, with its heavy string, timpani and choral bass rhythms and inspired uses of real Latin prayers for effect. Tony Jay’s rich, deep bass is the perfect voice for such a dark, tortured character and Frollo remains his most lasting legacy to the world of animation. It’s still astounding to think that this film actually managed to get a “G” rating – probably thanks to those bloody gargoyles – when it’s filled with references to sin, damnation, lust and even Hell itself (not to mention the pole-dancing scene with Esmeralda…). Although it was apparently boycotted at the time by religious conservatives, the film otherwise managed to escape relatively unscathed; I’m so glad that critics were able to appreciate Disney taking such a risk instead of condemning them for it. Now if only they could make something this incredible again! Seven years on from Mother Knows Best, we’re in real need of a good villain song…



So there you have it – the darkest and most delicious pieces of music performed by some of the animated world’s most dastardly desperadoes. I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring the music of animation with me over the past few months; it’s been a lot of fun to read and write about these pieces and I’ve learnt a great deal about the creation of many of them. Perhaps you’ve even discovered a few new favourites amongst the songs I’ve covered?

If you have suggestions for further music posts or any other villain songs you think I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments below. I’ll be returning with more listicles on other subjects in the future, but I have some short reviews of classic Looney Tunes shorts pending which I’d like to get to first, if I get the time. Thank you for visiting and please do come back soon for more!

Click below for the last three music posts:

Top 10 Animated Film Scores

Top 50 Credits Songs from Animated Films

Top 20 Songs from Animated Films


References – wiki for In the Dark of the Night – wiki for the Pocahontas soundtrack – wiki for FernGully: The Last Rainforest soundtrack – wiki for Friends on the Other Side – wiki for The Great Mouse Detective soundtrack – wiki for Be Prepared (and here’s Jim Cummings talking about his role in the song): – wiki for Mother Knows Best – wiki for Gaston – wiki for Poor Unfortunate Souls – wiki for Hellfire

6 Replies to “Top 10 Villain Songs from Animated Films”

    1. I just looked it up and it does have some fabulous singing in it! Apparently it was performed by Ernest Borgnine and George Hearn (who was Sweeney Todd on Broadway in the 80s).I have to admit that I’ve not seen that film, so I don’t know the context. (As a kid, I did love An All Dogs Christmas Carol from two years later, though!)

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: