Behind-The-Scenes Stories About Disney Villains
In general, Disney villains are more interesting than Disney heroes. Heroes are burdened by likability; they can't risk breaking that threshold by doing something morally problematic. Don't get us wrong - many Disney heroes are fallible beings who sometimes make bad decisions. However, they right their wrongs by the end of their respective films, ensuring that viewers leave the theater with big smiles.
Villains can do whatever they want and be whoever they want. This might be why they have such cool influences and impacts. We have to assume that Disney animators and voice actors get a bit more excited when they're assigned villains, simply due to the sheer amount of personality the evildoers seem to always possess.
Here are some of the best behind-the-scenes stories about Disney villains.
- 11,081 VOTESPhoto: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution / Flickr
Hercules's Lord of the Underworld was written for Jack Nicholson to play in a slow, menacing manner. But Nicholson rejected the part over money. According to Disney historian Jim Hill, Nicholson was offered somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million but wanted $10-15 million and 50% of the profits from Hades merchandise.
The role then went to James Woods, whose fast-talking, wise-cracking take on the character prompted writers and animators to design a new Hades. They never looked back.
- 2768 VOTESPhoto: Bambi / RKO Radio Pictures
The hunter in Bambi, known as "Man," is perhaps the most unique Disney villain by virtue of his absence. He is never shown, even while doing the thing for which he's universally despised. That wasn't always the plan, though, as Walt himself wished to depict Man and give him a gruesome ending.
A scene was drawn showing Man's corpse lying behind a charred tree. After Walt came to his senses, he scrapped that scene along with the one depicting Bambi's mother's execution.
- 3934 VOTESPhoto: Buena Vista Distribution / Flickr
In developing Cruella de Vil, Disney drew from Hollywood's bad girl club, whose leader was Tallulah Bankhead. Although not as famous as her chic-chick contemporaries like Bette Davis and Greta Garbo, Bankhead trounced them in personality. She was outspoken, flamboyant, vulgar, and a chronic smoker, traits that animators - and voice actress Betty Lou Gerson - gave to Cruella. Disney passed on her R-rated traits like exhibitionism, promiscuity, and alcohol and drug use. Cruella's look was also inspired by Bankhead, especially her thinness. At her lightest, the actress weighed 75 pounds.
Ironically, this bad girl of Hollywood was perhaps the most ethical actor of the era. Bankhead was an LGBTQ+ ally, an early supporter of the civil rights movement, and a foster mother/sponsor for many underprivileged children, including refugees of the Spanish Civil War.
- 4700 VOTESPhoto: Buena Vista Pictures
Linda Woolverton, the first woman to write a Disney animated feature, owes arguably her best character to former boyfriends. Beauty and the Beast's Gaston is the villain everyone loves to hate, which makes sense because he's an amalgam of guys in Woolverton's life whom she alternately loved and hated. After divulging this influence to the LA Times, Woolverton seemed to admit that she personalized some of Gaston's most obnoxious moments:
Gaston was arrogant enough to plan a wedding without asking Belle first, presumptuous enough - when he stopped looking at himself in the mirror - to inform her it was her lucky day when he proposed. It was a lark writing that character... I was trying to poke a little fun.
We wonder what other issues Woolverton had with her beaus. No one leaves dishes like Gaston, no one steals kisses like Gaston...
- 5810 VOTESPhoto: Aladdin / Buena Vista Pictures
Jafar was supposed to get a full villain song instead of the minute-long "Prince Ali" reprise. Disney played around with multiple ditties, including "Humiliate the Boy," which went far enough in the production process to be partially animated. In it, Jafar exposes Prince Ali as Aladdin and humiliates him for over three minutes. The song was cut for pacing purposes, but it was also considered cruel - and not for the reasons you may think. Co-director John Musker believes that songwriter Howard Ashman, who would lose his battle with AIDS during production, had used "Humiliate the Boy" to vent his frustrations about the illness that was bringing his 40-year-old life to an end. The lyrics definitely express some dark themes:
Oh, it's a thrill.
Oh, it's such fun.
To see another fellow's dreams.
Turn into nightmares, one by one.
- 6807 VOTESPhoto: The Lion King / Buena Vista Pictures
Yes, Scar's iconic raspy voice may have been achieved with a performance enhancer of sorts for Jeremy Irons.
The legendary actor smoked in the booth while recording Scar's lines. But beyond that, he even smoked while singing the song "Be Prepared." The drags between lines and verses had to be edited out.