Not too long ago, Mel did an amazing series where she analyzed Disney Princess “I Want” songs. Let’s start 2015 by spotlighting the villains we love to hate and hate to love.
Disney is most famous for their animated musicals and fairy tales, but the Villain Song only really came to fruition with Disney’s Renaissance and the creation of The Little Mermaid. Think about it, Snow White had an I Want song, but The Evil Queen didn’t. Cinderella had an I Want song, but The Evil Stepmother (Lady Tremaine) didn’t. Disney villains got much more fleshed out with every movie—including their names (come on, Evil Queen? Were they even trying?).
I don’t know either, Ariel.
Many Disney movies don’t have clean cut villains like The Evil Queen, but even she represents something deeper. The Evil Queen is symbolic of jealousy, while other films like the Jungle Book are about the danger man poses to animals and nature. The Aristocats is more so about what greed can drive someone to do. How do you give that a song? The nature of how Disney tells their stories has changed, with the Renaissance films focusing more on individual characters and growth. By that logic, the villains needed to evolve to cause a threat to the main character. The villains had to become less abstract.
There are two slight exceptions to this pre-Renaissance rule, however. Peter Pan and 101 Dalmatians both feature Disney villains in the pre-Renaissance era that have songs sung ABOUT them.
Peter Pan has A Pirate’s Life and The Elegant Captain Hook, which are kind of one song, but whatever. Hook has his own boy band singing his praise and it totally works since all the Lost Boys, John, and Michael are ready to sign up to a life of piracy in seconds. Hook himself only gets about a chorus where he threatens everyone’s life:
A special offer today I’ll tell you what I’ll do
All those who sign without delay will get a free tattoo
Why it’s like money in the bank
Come on, join up and I’ll be frank
Unless you do, you’ll walk the plank
The choice is up to you
Definitely villain song material—and I’ve never seen one done so elegantly. This is the first Disney film where the antagonist sings and it’s typical MUAHAHA villainy.
Similar to Hook, except she doesn’t sing at all because who has time for that, Cruella De Vil has a song about her in 101 Dalmatians. The song heralds her arrival and tells the audience how we’re supposed to feel about her. I mean, “devil woman,” and “if she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will,” speak for themselves.
Cruella is also framed in the doorway very creepily and Roger’s ominous tone continue to lead the audience. It’s not like Cruella makes a much better first impression when we finally meet her, blowing smoke everywhere, searching like a madwoman for the puppies, her holier than thou attitude.
Once she leaves, the song continues and Roger has many more insults to spew, which the audience is probably agreeing with at this point.
Now, onto the Disney Renaissance, which gave us music and dastardly foes!
Poor Unfortunate Souls
Ursula’s song in The Little Mermaid gives us so much to think about. First we get a little of her backstory:
…in the past I’ve been a nasty
They weren’t kidding when they called me, well, a witch
Ursula tries to paint herself as a saint now. She uses magic (“a talent [she’s] always possessed”) to help the “miserable, lonely, and depressed.” Of course she can’t hide her true nature and whispers to her cronies that she finds her clients “pathetic.” Or she finds exploiting Ariel too easy it’s just pathetic. I love double meanings.
She’s manipulating Ariel with a false version of herself, claiming she helps so many people and makes their lives better. She’s promising Ariel the same thing.
The next facet of the song is men’s views of women, something we’ve covered briefly in our other Little Mermaid meta.
You’ll have your looks, your pretty face.
And don’t underestimate the importance of body language, ha!
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
Today, this is vastly considered an outdated, wrong opinion to have. But it is so ingrained in our society that some people don’t even realize they still have these views. Women are encouraged to have a career, to use their voice, but women still earn less than a man, they do not hold as many positions of leadership, and many times their ideas are not taken seriously until a male colleague suggests it.
A woman’s looks are still very important, too. There are unrealistic standards women are expected to live up to. Everyone knows how the media warps and twists things, but what about women in power? There are countless articles about what Hilary Clinton, Michelle Obama, the Duchess of Cambridge are wearing, their make-up, or their hair instead of what these women are actually doing. Even when a woman uses her voice and has power, she is brought down by the media and reduced to her looks.
To have a Disney song tackle this issue and use it as a “scare tactic” essentially from Ursula to Ariel gives the song a great, complex layer. She’s basically saying, “You’re worried you won’t have your voice? Don’t worry, I’m actually doing you a favor by taking it. He won’t want it.” Poor Unfortunate Souls is a twisty-turny, manipulative song and is a fantastic start to the inception of Villain Songs!
What could be more vain and villainous than to name a song about yourself?
Like Poor Unfortunate Souls, this song also sheds some light onto Gaston for us. We learn he’s always been obsessed with his looks (“when I was a lad I ate four dozen eggs”), he’s always had gross macho tastes (“I use antlers in all of my decorating”), and he loves to spit (“I’m especially good at expectorating!”).
But really, this song shows us how Gaston feels entitled to Belle, how he sees her as property he should be able to own because he wants her and it doesn’t matter how she feels.
Who does she think she is?
That girl has tangled with the wrong man.
No one says ‘no’ to Gaston
Publicly humiliated! Why, it’s more than I can bear
First, you tangled with her, dude. Belle did not want to tangle with you and made that very clear. Second, man has some deep entitlement issues. Third, his pride was wounded when Belle rejected him in front of everyone, so that’s really what he’s most angry about. He never cared about Belle. He cared about the image she was: the pretty girl in town. She was an enigma to everyone. No one quite knew what to make of her. By claiming her, Gaston would have won the prize, essentially.
This song is representative of larger issues that plague us today, like when young athletes do not get properly punished for raping girls. The media laments their promising career, caring nothing about the victim. This song is the entire town coming together to make Gaston feel better, to tell him how much they all adore him and how perfect he is. Gaston hasn’t done anything wrong in this song.
Gaston did not rape Belle, but the scene where he proposes in her home certainly has elements of rape culture in them. He goes to her home. He pushes himself through the doorway when everything about Belle is radiating “I do not want you here.” And Belle has that right. She can not want to be around someone. She can not want them inside her home. A woman does not have to verbally say “no”— her body language can convey that, the tone of her voice, even. And Belle conveys that she is in a situation she does not want to be in.
A sampling of the things he says in that scene: “There’s not a girl in town who wouldn’t love to be in your shoes.” And: “This is the day your dreams come true.”
Basically: “I am God’s gift to women, worship me.”
He’s literally forcing himself on her even as she’s trying to say no. She is pressed against the door and ducking away from him as he tries to kiss her. That is forcing himself on her. This scene directly leads to the angst ridden Gaston we meet during his Villain Song moment. He feels unjustly rejected.
Like Poor Unfortunate Souls, the song gives some insight into our villains and also looks at what men expect from women. In Ursula’s case, the woman was supposed to be pretty and quiet and not cause trouble. For Gaston, women should be mindless and worship him. They cannot say no.
Prince Ali (reprise)
Jafar’s villain song in Aladdin doesn’t come until the end of story when he thinks he’s won. It’s very different from the other two because it is a victory song. It has its roots in Hook singing about threatening children since here, Jafar is carrying out his master plan in song. Man, what a great evil laugh.
Jafar blows Aladdin’s masquerade and banishes him. He’s got control of the genie; Jasmine and the sultan are powerless. This song vastly differs in tone from the other two. Ursula is trying to get her plan in motion and succeeds by the end of the song. Gaston is in a “Woe Is Me” mood and in the man-dumps. Not Jafar. No way, this guy is winning. And he’s insulting people:
His personality flaws,
give me adequate cause
to send him packing on a one-way trip
If personality flaws are all we need, I think there’s a lovely trip waiting for Jafar, too.
Jafar’s villain song is really short, but it changes the game for all villain songs that follow.
Scar is plotting in The Lion King. He’s got big plans to murder his brother and take over as king. This song combines all the elements we’ve seen in the previous ones: bit of backstory, thinks he’s the best thing since sliced bread, and insults galore.
We all joke about Scar and “what was Scar’s name before he got the scar?” But the truth is, we don’t know much about Mufasa and Scar. We know they’re brothers and Mufasa was older so he became king. We know Scar resents this. We can infer that maybe Scar didn’t get enough love as a cub. One of the final lines in the song is “Be king undisputed, respected, saluted, and seen for the wonder I am.” From this, I’m guessing our speculation is true. Scar was always seen as second to Mufasa, a fast he’s always resented.
Like Ursula, Scar is still figuring out how to put his plans into motion. His previous attempts at assassinating his brother have failed. Like Gaston, he puts himself above everyone, including the hyenas that are trying to help him take power. And like Jafar, he’s got plenty of insults to go around. And by the end of the song, he’s reveling in his sure to come victory.
This particular villain’s song treads the darker side of an I Want song. Scar wants power, in fact, he deserves power (“justice deliciously squared”). While Ursula wants Ariel’s voice, and Gaston wants Belle, and Jafar doesn’t want anything because he’s already winning, those songs all have a bit of other meanings buried beneath them. Whereas, Be Prepared, is really Scar’s I Want song, and This is How I’m Gonna Get it And It’s Gonna Be Amazing song.
Mine, Mine, Mine
Ratcliffe’s song in Pocahontas is really interesting. I think Pocahontas is one of Disney’s most underrated films and I have no idea why because it is AMAZING. There are a lot of layers to it.
The gold of Cortes
The jewels of Pizarro
Will seem like mere trinkets
By this time tomorrow
The gold we find here
Will dwarf them by far
Oh, with all ya got in ya, boys
Dig up Virginia, boys
This is essentially the conflict between the English settlers and the Native Americans. Ratcliffe and his men expect to become rich, richer than Cortes and his successful expeditions (ie: rape and genocide and disease). The stories of wealth from the New World are what they’re chasing. Ratcliffe doesn’t care about preserving the land or the homes of the people that already live there. From the first verse of this song, we know that Ratcliffe expects nothing less than vast riches. This villain song sets up the rest of the film. If Ratcliffe doesn’t find the gold, then he’s going to assume the Natives have hoarded it all for themselves and thus we have conflict.
“Dig up Virginia, boys” is such a chilling line to me. It shows zero compassion. It reduces the Powhatan tribe to nothing, basically. They do not matter. And land is nothing more than a commodity.
Next, in a familiar trend, Ratcliffe’s song gives us a peek into his backstory, too.
My rivals back home
It’s not that I’m bitter
But think how they’ll squirm
When they see how I glitter!
The ladies at court
Will be all a-twitter
Ratcliffe wants fame and fortune, but he also wants to be better than his rivals. We don’t know much more than this, but it shows us he’s trying to prove himself. He’s competitive. He wants a story to beat Cortes’. He probably wants other people to eventually sing about finding more gold than him—but of course that’ll never happen because Virginia is the richest of them all.
Make the mounds big, boys
I’d help you to dig, boys
But I’ve got this crick in me spine
This provides another look into Ratcliffe. He expects the gold will earn him favor with the king (“My dear friend King Jimmy will probably build me a shrine” and “The king will reward me, he’ll knight me, no lord me”), but he also already treats himself as a king. He orders his sailors around, he has them do all the digging. They do the work and he gets the reward.
Keep on working, lads
Don’t be shirking, lads
Mine, boys, mind
Mine ME that gold
I love that part, where all the pretense is gone. The “I have a bad back” is transparent enough, but for a moment Ratcliffe is totally consumed by his want/greed that he can’t even remember to try and mask his villainy.
But in a very different move, this song also features John Smith, the central male character of the film and also the love interest. He partly shares Ratcliffe’s views in that he sees the land as something he can take and “claim,” in his own words. He’s misguided like Ratcliffe, but he’s not there for the gold. He’s there for “adventure,” and to find “danger.” John Smith’s character arc entwines itself with Ratcliffe and then they run parallel to each other, both Englishmen going on separate journeys. They both traveled to Virginia because of land and they both share this song. Smith distances himself from the other settlers both visually (to the audience) and emotionally (he can’t see what Ratcliffe is doing, the destruction is not real to him) by not being part of the digging party. He’s already gone off to explore the new land.
It was an interesting and bold move to craft the song this way. This is the first villain song to include a non-villain character in it. Pocahontas is one of those films that has so many deeper meanings and Ratcliffe and Smith are both complex characters that prove this.
Next week I’ll tackle the deleted song from The Emperor’s New Grooze, Snuff out the Light. We’ll also wrap up with the final Villain Songs: Hellfire, Friends on the Other Side, and Mother Knows Best. I’ll also discuss the films Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, and Frozen by exploring why these films lack Villain Songs.
What do you think of the Disney Villain Songs? Do you have a favorite?