Kids’ movies could be seen as less serious than adult movies, but anyone who has seen Pixar’s Up (2009) will tell you that the genre is able to grapple with mature and complex themes. Given their G or PG ratings, the villains in childrens’ films tend to be less severe than their PG-13 or R-rated counterparts. However, some kids’ movies find creative ways to incorporate sinister villains – sadists, murderers, predators, and sociopaths all have made appearances in childrens’ movies.
For this list, we focused on movies that were marketed and designated for children, as opposed to teens (like The Hunger Games) or family films (like Back to the Future or Star Wars). Naturally, there is some blurring of criteria, and we attempted to address that in some of the entries.
The characters that make up this list aren’t just bad to the bone; they are horrifying villains that seem only constrained by the MPAA rating. In retrospect, some of them are so twisted, violent, and depraved that you have to wonder who thought it was a good idea to include them in a children’s movie to begin with.
Here are The 15 Most Evil Villains In Kids’ Movies:
15. The Penguin (Wallace and Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers)
Feathers McGraw, better known as the penguin from the stop-motion animated film The Wrong Trousers (1993), starring Wallace and Gromit, is one bad bird. The penguin rents a room in Wallace’s house, and harasses Gromit while befriending Wallace. Gromit eventually leaves the house, and Feathers modifies Wallace’s “Techno Trousers” so that he can control Wallace as he walks. Feathers is a criminal who disguises himself as a rooster (by a well-placed red glove on his head), and he uses Wallace in the trousers in order to commit crimes.
Perhaps the most unsettling thing about the penguin is his absolute silence. He is willing to destroy Wallace and Gromit’s relationship, and his two-faced nature is made all the more eerie by his lack of words. When Gromit finally confronts him with a rolling-pin, Feathers pulls out a gun, which truly escalates the situation beyond what is expected in an animated film.
15. Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, is a strange inspiration for a Disney animated movie, given its harsh narrative and violence. It’s not surprising, then, that Judge Claude Frollo is a perverse and terrifying villain. Frollo is a haughty minister of justice who thinks that gypsies are sub-human rabble. Despite this prejudice, Frollo finds his burning lust for the gypsy performer Esmerelda so intoxicating that he believes she is a witch. He decides to give her the ultimatum of either sleeping with him or being burned alive at the stake… in a cartoon movie for children.
Frollo’s song “Hellfire” is one of the most impressive parts of the movie. During the song, he reveals his lust for Esmerelda. Images of burning sexual desire, Esmerelda burning at the stake, and the eternal burning in hell all blend together in a disturbing way that link sex to violence to damnation.
13. Miss Trunchbull (Matilda)
Miss Trunchbull is the headmistress of Crunchem Hall Elementary School who has a hatred of children in Matilda (1996). She wanders the school, threatening students with her riding crop, and holds detention in what she calls “the Chokey”, a cupboard filled with broken glass and sharp spikes. The Chokey is more appropriate for an exhibit on medieval torture than it is for a school, and one has to wonder why Trunchbull didn’t consider any other careers, given her violent hatred of all children.
School administrators usually are meant to stop bullying, but Trunchbull is an awful bully herself. She forces one student, Bruce, to eat a full cake in front of the whole school as a way to punish him for apparently stealing a piece of cake from her. After Bruce successfully eats the whole cake, she cracks the glass platter on his head. It’s clear that she shouldn’t be anywhere near children.
12. Rasputin (Anastasia)
After the tsar of Russia banished Rasputin in Anastasia (1997), Rasputin decides to take revenge on the him. But it wouldn’t be enough to kill his political opponent; Rasputin’s plot for revenge is to murder the tsar’s whole family, including the tsar’s children. In order to have the power to commit this homicidal rampage, Rasputin sells his soul to demonic forces, thereby damning himself for eternity.
Rasputin fails to kill the tsar’s daughter, Anastasia, and she becomes one of the only surviving members of the Romanov family, along with her grandmother. Because of his bargain, Rasputin is unable to die, and so he becomes a rotting corpse whose body is decaying, literally falling to pieces, as he pursues Anastasia. At the end of the film, after Anastasia defeats him, his soul is taken by the demons and damned to hell once and for all. What a pleasant ending for a children’s film!
11. The Child Catcher (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)
The Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) scampers around looking for children, ringing a bell and offering candy in a sing-song voice. He convinces the young Jeremy and Jemima Potts to get into his brightly colored wagon with the promise of ice cream and treacle tarts. As soon as they do, it is revealed to be a cage, and the Child Catcher’s demeanor transforms entirely. He viciously whips his horses and carries the children away. While the Child Catcher is dressed up in the film in a way to make him a caricature, his real-life counterparts are all too real and terrifying, and his scenes in the film are truly disturbing.
The Child Catcher did not appear in Ian Fleming’s book, but was instead created entirely for the film by screen writer Roald Dahl (who is also the creative mind responsible another villainous children’s story creation, Miss Trunchbull).
10. Hans (Frozen)
Prince Hans of the Southern Isles was probably born in Westeros, but somehow found his way into Frozen (2013), a Disney princess film known for its upbeat and catchy musical numbers. While some of the other characters in Frozen include a talking snowman who dreams of summer and some singing trolls, Hans is, in contrast, a calculating and manipulative sociopath. The youngest of too many brothers, Hans realized that he would never be king of his father’s kingdom. He decided that the best way to remedy this is to seduce a young and naive princess in the hopes of stealing her kingdom. After he marries her, he plans to murder her sister in order to secure the throne.
Hans later reveals his plot to a dying Anna, and proceeds to try to strike down her sister with his sword. Anna intervenes magically, curing her symptoms and saving her sister’s life. The story’s ending and Hans’s imprisonment are the expected end to a children’s film, but it’s clear that if this had been Game of Thrones (2011), it would have been a different, bloodier story.
9. Percival C. McLeach (The Rescuers Down Under)
Percival C. McLeach is a ruthless poacher who appears in The Rescuers Down Under, the 1990 sequel to the original 1977 Rescuers film. Madame Medusa, the villain from the first film, isn’t too nice herself, as she kidnaps a child and forces her into a small mine to find a diamond. Like Madame Medusa, McLeach would do just about anything for money. But McLeach isn’t just a man with an illegal and deadly business; he takes great joy from capturing and killing animals. He also has a mean temper, which he usually takes out on his pet monitor lizard, Joanna.
McLeach wants to capture the rare golden eagle, and he will stop at nothing to catch his prize – including kidnapping an eight-year-old boy, faking the boy’s death so that his family won’t look for him, and imprisoning him. He manipulates eight-year-old Cody in order to follow the boy to the eagle’s nest. It is also implied that McLeach would actually kill Cody if his plan had succeeded. Fortunately for Cody, McLeach instead falls into crocodile-infested waters and off a waterfall, dying in the river below.
8. Gremlins (Gremlins)
Gremlins (1984) isn’t exactly a children’s movie, but many people perceived it to be when it was first released in the 1980s. Director Joe Dante claims that the initial trailers for the film made it seem as though it was a children’s movie starring the lovable Gizmo. The film, along with Indiana Jones And the Temple of Doom (1984), was one of the reasons why the PG-13 rating was introduced in the United States. Both films were initially rated PG, but audiences were surprised by their inappropriate content. Given its particular place in cinematic history, the titular Gremlins belong on this list. As Dante said: “[Parents] felt like they had been sold something family friendly and it wasn’t entirely family friendly.”
7. The White Witch (The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe)
Tilda Swinton plays the White Witch in Disney’s 2005 The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe; Barbara Kellerman plays her in the 1988 BBC adaptation. Both performances hold true to C. S. Lewis’s original literary villain, who was, in the books, an allegorical stand-in for Satan. She manipulates Edmund Pevensie, offering him Turkish Delights, in the hopes that he will deliver his siblings to her. She uses her magic to bind Edmund to herself, and only through the self-sacrifice of the lion Aslan (in a somewhat heavy-handed Christ metaphor) is Edmund freed from her power.
The White Witch rules Narnia with an iron fist, and is known for turning anyone who gets in her way to stone, including Lucy’s friend, Mr. Tumnus. In the final battle of the film, she ruthlessly illustrates that she is willing (and hoping) to kill the Pevensie children in order to keep her throne. Only Aslan is able to overthrow her in the end.
6. Governor Ratcliffe (Pocahontas)
Pocahontas‘s Governor John Ratcliffe may be primarily driven by his desire for gold, but his racist views on Native Americans shape his policies as the leader of the Virginia expedition. While Ratcliffe’s name comes from a historical figure, his personality is based on an amalgamation of historical influences and models. Despite the fact that Ratcliffe arrives in the New World and takes land from the Powhatan tribe, he calls them “murderous thieves” and “savages“. Believing the Native Americans to be subhumans that should be destroyed, Ratcliffe issues a decree to all of his men: “This is my land! I make the laws here! And I say anyone who so much as looks at an Indian without killing him on sight will be tried for treason and hanged!”
Ratcliffe’s policies were not necessarily anachronistic, but they seem incredibly harsh for a children’s movie. He requires all of his men to be willing to murder for him, shooting Native Americans on sight – and the penalty for disobeying this cruel order is death.
5. The “Other Mother” (Coraline)
In Coraline (2009), Coraline wants the attention and affection of her parents, but when they move, she finds that they don’t have time for her. However, she also finds an entrance into the “Other World”, where her “Other Mother” and “Other Father” are always attentive and affectionate. They both resemble her real-life parents, except that they have shiny black buttons for eyes, like dolls. They tell her that she can stay in the “Other World” forever… as long as she sews buttons on over her eyes. Coraline is horrified, and from that point on the dream-world devolves into a nightmarish landscape.
The “Other Mother” is actually “The Beldam”, a spider-like monster that steals children’s eyes and consumes them. What’s worse is that the “Other Mother” has taken children before – and has kidnapped Coraline’s parents. Coraline only narrowly escapes, and manages to rescue her own parents, but she witnesses the horrors firsthand – one of the inhabitants of the “Other World” has had their mouth sewn shut by the “Other Mother”, and the other children who fell for her schemes are just ghosts.
4. Shan Yu (Mulan)
Shan Yu is the leader of the Huns invasion in Mulan (1998), and he revels in death. He coldly quips that only one man is necessary to deliver a message as he shoots one of two Chinese scouts in the back. Later, he discovers a doll and says that he should “return” it– it is later learned that he destroyed the whole village, murdering men, women, and children. Most of the violence that Shan Yu commits is off-screen, but that violence is still used to illustrate his merciless nature.
Even after Shan Yu discovers that Mulan is a woman, he does no hesitate to try to kill her in cold blood. While this could be seen as him choosing to not underestimate her, as many other men in the film have done, it may actually speak more to his cruelty and willingness to kill anyone who stands in his way.
3. Voldemort and His Death Eaters (Harry Potter)
The Harry Potter films are about good versus evil, and Voldemort is the evil that Harry must face. Tom Riddle, better known as Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), is so infamous in the world of witches and wizards that even after his supposed death, many refer to him as “He Who Must Not Be Named”, for fear that uttering his name might cause some sort of repercussions. Voldemort is revealed to have spent the entire first movie living on the back of another man’s head, and he only gets more grotesque from there. At the end of the fourth movie, he is reborn through dark magic; pale, noseless, and vampiric, he truly looks the part of a villain.
Voldemort is not only a murderer and a sadist, he also has a cause to kill for. Voldemort believes that “pure blood” wizards are the only people who should be allowed to live, and his eugenics-fuelled agenda is incredibly sinister for a successful movie franchise that is aimed primarily at children. Additionally, he has managed to cultivate a group of followers who are willing to anything – including kill and torture – for him. The “Death Eaters”, as they are called, most notably include Bellatrix Lastrange (Helena Bonham Carter), who laughs as she murders Harry’s godfather Sirius Black.
2. Nazis (The Sound of Music & Bedknobs and Broomsticks)
Perhaps the only thing more scary than eugenics-crazed, murdering wizards are eugenics-crazed, murdering soldiers from real life. The Nazis’ infamous systematic violence brought about the Holocaust and the deaths of millions of Jewish people, as well as other groups deemed “inferior”. Of course, the Nazis have appeared as villains in countless films, but featuring them as villains in children’s movies is exceptionally sinister, even if the full array of atrocities that they committed is not mentioned.
In The Sound of Music (1965), Herr Zeller is the major antagonist who forces the von Trapp family out of their home, while Liesl’s sweetheart Rolf is so indoctrinated to follow orders that he betrays her and her family. In Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), Colonel Heller is one of the primary antagonists. His troops end up fighting animated suits of armor. In both Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Nazi “Blitz” of London prompts the children to be forced to relocate to the countryside.
1. Scar (The Lion King)
Scar is a real piece of work. The Lion King (1994) is loosely based on Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, and Scar plays the part of the king’s murderous brother Claudius, who kills the king (Mufasa) in order to steal his throne. In the original Hamlet, Claudius also marries Hamlet’s mother and we see that reflected in Scar’s pursuit of Simba’s mother Sarabi in The Lion King.
It isn’t enough that Scar murders his brother in cold blood, taunting Mufasa when he believed Scar would save him from falling to his death. Scar also plans on also murdering his nephew Simba and keep the throne for himself.
Scar’s song “Be Prepared” has overtones that connect him to the Nazi regime; some of the shots of goose-stepping hyenas are reminiscent of the famed propaganda film The Triumph of the Will (1935). Scar is pure evil – but as an animated lion, he somehow made it into a children’s movie.
Who was the scariest villain from your childhood? Did they make the list? Let us know in the comments!