The Villain Song

Unlike the “I want” song and the love song, the villain song hasn’t really been a stable of the movies before the Disney Renaissance. For two reasons. One, a lot of the early Disney movies didn’t even have a proper villain, but instead a string of antagonists or a more abstract kind of evil. And two, in the early days Disney preferred the more menacing villains less flamboyant. It is hart to imagine the Evil Queen or Maleficent prancing around, singing about the devil deeds they plan to do. Or the Coachman doing a little jig with his donkeys.


Only two of those sing more than one line

If one examines the villain songs up to the late 1980s, one can see how the concept developed – as well as the concept of a Disney Villain. In the golden era, the Evil Queen is the only “true” Disney villain featured – meaning a villain who is pinned specifically against the protagonist. All the other movies either use a more abstract as villain like “Man” (Bambi) or the society in general (Dumbo), or they have multiple character’s which serve as antogonist’s but are not pinned against the protagonist specifically (Pinocchio). Sine the Evil Queen doesn’t sing, Fowlfellow’s “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee” is the sole villain song from the era – if you can call it that. It’s more about convincing Pinoccio of something than about Fowlfellow himself, and it is more a fun than a menacing song.

In the silver era, the time of some of the best known Disney Villain’s started. Cinderella’s stepmother, the Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook, and Maleficent are all from this time. But they only have two songs between them, “Painting the Roses Red” and “The Elegant Captain Hook”. There is one notable aspect about those: They are sung by the minions (mostly, Captain Hook has like two lines in his own song). “Painting the Roses Red” serves mostly as an introduction for the Queen of Heart, and “The Elegant Captain Hook” is yet another one of those fun songs in which the villain tries to convince his victims of something.

The first villain with a really menacing song is Cruella de Ville – but again, she is not the one singing. She is in fact not even present when Roger launches in a over-the-top description of her (which ends in laughter).  Madam Mim is the first villain since Fowlfellow who gets a whole song for herself, but it is not particularly menacing. If anything her desire to like everything bad in the word is amusing. I guess Kaa’s “Trust in me” counts as a villain song, but while the hypnotic tone sounds creepy, the scenes in itself are played for fun. Prince John’s “The Phony King of England” even ridicules the villain of the movie. All in all, during Disney’s dark era a villain who sings is not one we take serious. At least until Rattigan turns up on screen.

“The worlds greatest criminal mind” is the first villain song which is:

1. Sung by the villain
2. Menacing
3. in a scene which not played for laughs

Not that it isn’t delightful to see him prance through the room, but the scene as a whole mostly serves to demonstrate how dangerous he is (after all he kills one if his henchmen in-between). And his second song “Goodbye, so long” is even played while the hero himself is stuck in a deadly trap.

But the song which made the villain song a Disney stable was “Poor unfortunate Souls”. Even though Ursula pretends to offer Ariel a reasonable deal, for the audience it is obvious how manipulative and dangerous she truly is. It’s clearly Ashman’s and Menken’s musical experiences which come into play there. And the success of this song prompted Disney to stick to this concept during the 1990s. “Gaston”, “Be Prepared”, “Mine, mine, mine”, nearly every movie from this point onward had a Villain Song (or had one planned which wasn’t used after all). During the late Disney Renaissance Disney tried to shake up things a little bit, though, and the use of the villain song (or songs at all) became a rarity again and is nowadays mostly linked to the Disney Princess Movies (PatF had “Friends on the other side” and Tangled “Mother knows Best”).

The Song though which is the pinnacle of all the Villain Songs is Frollo’s “Hellfire”, and not just because of the impressive music and the use of a Latin speaking chorus. It is a song which allows the audience to delve deep into the psyche of a villain.

“Beata Maria
You know I am a righteous man
Of my virtue I am justly proud”

claims Frollo, but the audience already knows that he is mostly blind to his own sins – the biggest being vanity and self-righteous judgment, which he reveals yet again.

“Beata Maria
You know I’m so much purer than
The common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd”

The song illustrates how Frollo fights with what he perceives as temptation.
“Then tell me, Maria
Why I see her dancing there
Why her smold’ring eyes still scorch my soul”

I feel her, I see her
The sun caught in raven hair
Is blazing in me out of all control

Like fire
This fire in my skin
This burning
Is turning me to sin

For a short moment it seems like Frollo, for the second time in his life (the first one was after he killed Quasimodo’s mother) fears for his soul…but it’s immediately turned around:

“It’s not my fault
I’m not to blame
It is the gypsy girl
The witch who sent this flame
It’s not my fault
If in God’s plan
He made the devil so much
Stronger than a man

His own guilt is immediately forced away, to Esmeralda (who is clearly the victim in this scenario) and even to God himself. If he allows such a temptation to exist, so Frollo’s crazy reasoning, if he allows devil to wander on earth, it is not his fault that he can’t resist. In he final conclusion he claims that either Esmeralda has to die or to be his and his alone.

Protect me, Maria
Don’t let this siren cast her spell
Don’t let her fire sear my flesh and bone
Destroy Esmeralda
And let her taste the fires of hell
Or else let her be mine and mine alone
Dark fire
Now gypsy, it’s your turn
Choose me or
Your pyre
Be mine or you will burn

God have mercy on her

God have mercy on me

But she will be mine
Or she will burn!  

This song is a disturbing look into the mind of a villain, and the most creepy part of it is the fact that Frollo refuses to see himself as a villain. As fanatic as he is he honestly believes that he is at his core a good man, even though he knows that he will succumb to temptation and do something so deeply wrong. He doesn’t even understand that the “wrongness” in his desire lays not in the fact that Esmeralda is a Gypsy, but in his own obsession.

And this is exactly what a villain should do. It should show cast the character of a villain, his deepest desires but at the same time, it shouldn’t slow the movie down but be relevant to the plot. In this case it is relevant because that’s the point from which onward Frollo looses every bit of inhibition.

Thus said though – I don’t think that a movie necessarily needs a villain song. It is a good addition, but a creepy score works just as well – depending on which kind of villain you want to create. Shan Yu was certainly better off without one. But I can’t help wondering if some of the post renaissance villains would have been more memorable if they had been allowed to express themselves in song.


25 responses to “The Villain Song

  • The Animation Commendation

    “Hellfire” is awesome! But “Be Prepared” is my favorite villain song! And Shere Khan is my favorite Disney villain.

    Who’s your favorite Disney villain and what’s your fave Disney villain song?

    • swanpride

      Maleficent…I know, predictable, but she is awesome. And her “Aurooooooora” theme gives me more creeps than all the villain songs put together.
      Honestly, it is too hard to pick a favourite Be Prepared, Poor unfortunate Souls, Hellfire, Mother knows best, Cruella Devil – they are all awesome. It’s way easier to say which ones I don’t like.

      • The Animation Commendation

        I never really liked Maleficent; I don’t know why. I mean I don’t dislike her, but I could never understand why everyone’s like “OMG, MALEFICENT RULES!!!”. That’s probably the main reason why I’m not looking forward to the upcoming eponymous movie.

      • swanpride

        If you had ever seen her on the big screen you might think differently. Plus, she is the archetype for all the Disney Villains which came after her…Jafar is a pretty blatant copy of her.

  • Nat

    I agree. “Hellfire” is the best Disney villain song, and it helps for me that Frollo is my favorite Disney villain.

  • BTW07

    Great post here! My favorite has to be “Be Prepared” too. I was watching “The Princess and the Frog” a while ago and forgot how creepy “Friends on the Other Side” was, especially when it was sung to the Shadow Man.

    In regards to the new “Maleficent,” I read that the line they changed was when she curses Aurora. Instead of saying she’ll die, she says that Aurora will fall into a sleep like death. Sounds like it relates more to the Evil Queen (the sleeping death). I’m not crazy about this choice because “die” has a much more profound impact, especially in the way Maleficent says it in the animated film. That also made her stand out next to the Evil Queen IMO. Maybe it’ll be different when I see it, but right now, my concerns grew after reading it.

    • swanpride

      Urgh…and another hint that they want to go the “she isn’t really that bad” route….don’t they know that Maleficent is so popular exactly because she IS that bad?

      • BTW07

        That’s the problem with developing villain backstories. While it is interesting and sometimes really entertaining to see how villains became villains, it may take away from the reasons why audiences love the villains to begin with. So, we then start to see an anti-hero version rather than simply a villain.

      • BTW07

        So, this just got released! Angelina Jolie says that line I mentioned. I’m still not crazy about the change, but the dragon scene looks awesome!! 🙂

      • swanpride

        Wait…did I just see THE RAVEN! turn into a dragon instead of Maleficent?

        I give up! As it stands, I can only hope that this movie will be forgotten fast.

      • BTW07

        Yeah, I didn’t notice that on first viewing. Not thrilled about that choice although the dragon does look really cool.

    • Annabella

      Did you two ever watch Maleficent? She doesn’t say the same thing in the animated movie. I hated that movie. I was told I dislike it, “because it is a movie not about true love” or something. No, I hated it because it was just bad. Maleficent is basically the devil, and they completely changed it. They made her bad, because she got her heart-broken. That’s way less “feminist” than the Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

      • swanpride

        Obviously you haven’t discovered my second blog yet…When I discussed Aurora and the Three Fairies there, I also did a really long rant about Maleficent. I HATE that movie, and this is not something I say lightly. If there was ever one movie I want to erase from existence it is this one.

      • BTW07

        I wrote a post awhile ago on another blog (would need to dig it up), but it basically echoed swan pride. The movie was so disappointing and I HATED the line change. Not to mention how they made the fairies idiotic characters who didn’t care about Aurora’s well-being. Sure, I get it. Villains aren’t always the villains and there’s two sides to every story. But it was lazy writing.

      • Annabella

        Well, I’ve read everything in the movies and lyrics. I figured you had more, but I haven’t figured out how to use this website or to find other blogs. When i click home, it keeps taking me back so yeah lol.
        I understand. I had been waiting forever for that movie to come out, because it looked really good. But, I was so disappointed. One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

      • swanpride

        You can just click on one of the links I provided in some articles or you can click on my Name. Hononoring the heroine happens to be my main blog.

      • Annabella

        I was so upset that they basically got rid of flora, fauna, and merryweather. They made them so useless and in the animated movie, they’re a huge part. I heard they’re planning on doing a Cruella. I hope they do the opposite of Maleficent, and actually make Cruella how she is supposed to be-insane. The way they did it in Once Upon A Time is a good example.

  • anii654

    Great post. Hellfire is truly one of the best villain songs (if not the best) in the canon. I never fully noticed that the songs pre Disney Renaissance that were about villains were used in a comedic way. A villain song is not necessary at all, but if you are not going to give them a song to add depth and reasoning into why they are doing what they are doing, you need to do it another way. Another thing Frozen lacked; a villain song to give more depth to a lackluster and contrived villain.

    • swanpride

      I guess “Let it go” was the original villain song before they “adjusted” the story. Frozen is pretty high on my list for an analysis why the songs not work despite being pretty good isolated from each other.

      • anii654

        Oh yeah, I forgot that she was originally going to be a villain, but changed it. That would definitely be an interesting article that I would definitely read. I am not looking forward to reviewing Frozen.

      • swanpride

        I already explained most of it in my article concerning Frozen at Fanpop, but I’ll go in more detail when I come around writing about the music.

  • Cartoon19

    Favourite villain song : Hellfire from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. A great villain song that not only makes Frollo a very complex character. But it also one of the many reasons that makes Frollo in my opinion the best Disney villain ever.

    Least favourite villain song: The yodelling song from Home on the Range. A terrible villain song that not only makes the villain of the movie extremely hard to take seriously. But it’s just a song that makes you feel embarrassed to be watching the movie.

    • swanpride

      To be honest, that was the one scene I kind of liked in the movie. It was unexpected, colourful and came so out of the left field that it made me laugh. But, yeah, on its own it is quite the Wtf moment. And considering that even Princess and the Frog has a good villain song….

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