It’s no secret that there are myriad kids movies out there that are actually more terrifying than any horror film. Disney movies, specifically, have a long reputation for developing quality, sinister af villains who scare the bejeezus out of children and adults alike. They also have a history of sneaking in unquestionably mature jokes and innuendo into movies made specifically for the little ones.
Disney movies can also be both more endearing and more jarring to watch with adult eyes and mindsets, largely because they played huge roles in the childhoods of many of us—but also because they contain some truly vile and disturbing characters. This list is for them: Disney’s most twisted creations.
One note of import here is that this list isn’t composed of the worst, most evil Disney characters of all time. The characters on this list aren’t all villains, and they aren’t one note. Sure, the hunter who killed Bambi’s mom is one of the most gut-punching, villainous creations Disney has had the audacity to throw at us, but he wasn’t exactly a well-developed character, and we’re not going solely for pure villainy or evil here—we’re going for crazytown-supermega-twisted-evil with a sprig of depth thrown in for good measure. The characters on this list aren’t just evil, they need all the therapists, stat. Here are the 16 Most Twisted Disney Characters.
16 Mother Gothel - Tangled
She’s a fun scene-stealer who, having no magic powers or spells to cast, has had to rely on a certain savvy few possess in order to get by. She’s also a liar and a kidnapper who takes her anti-aging obsession much further than most. In Tangled, a modern spin on the Rapunzel tale, Mother Gothel is an old woman who has lived for hundreds of years, retaining her youthful appearance via a special healing and age reducing flower. When the rest of the kingdom discovers this flower, and give it to their ailing queen, the queen’s newborn daughter, Rapunzel, inherits the flower’s properties—properties Gothel no longer has access to.
Gothel then kidnaps baby Rapunzel and claims to be her mother, locking her up in a tower her entire life and pretty much forcing a life of agoraphobia on her, because people cannot be trusted ever, she tells the girl. She commits further treachery when she stabs and kills Eugene! Yes, Rapunzel’s magic healing tears bring him back to life, but still! Believe it or not, despite being a kidnapper and murderer (sort of), a few more twisted mother figures coming up on this list are actually way worse.
15 Hans - Frozen
This guy was kind of a sociopath. So, you’re like, the 13th son in the succession line, and you realize that you’ll never, ever inherit your family’s titles or kingdoms, so how do you deal? By deciding to marry a princess, kill her, then take over her kingdom, naturally! In Frozen, not only does Hans almost succeed in doing just that, he does so while operating under a purposeful and constructed guise of nobility.
Many Disney bad guys have been just straight up evil (Captain Hook comes to mind). But Hans essentially pretends to be somebody else so he can win her over before killing her and taking everything that’s hers. He’s like a rich man’s version of Matt Dillon in A Kiss Before Dying. He didn’t get away with it, of course, but still—Hans has issues.
14 Chef Skinner - Ratatouille
The sous chef who needs a ladder to reach the stove made this list because of his twisted inner workings. He never murders anyone (although he tries to have poor Remy killed a few times) but Ratatouille’s Chef Skinner (voiced by Bilbo Baggins himself, Ian Holm) is one disturbed little man.
Not only does he discover Linguini’s secret parentage (that Linguini’s father was the late, fine dining master and namesake of the restaurant at which they all work, Gusteau) and keep the truth hidden about it, he does his best to ruin Gusteau’s good name and hard work by commercializing low quality frozen food. He later adds kidnapping (or ratnapping, rather) to his resumé when he takes Remy and tries to force the rat to create some delectable frozen dinners for his frozen food line. Sacre bleu, Skinner.
13 William Clayton - Tarzan
This guy was pure evil, but he was also an impeccable liar and manipulator. Clayton’s primary goal was to capture innocent animals and ship them off to random zoos for profit. Acting under the guise of hunter and tour guide, Clayton never fully revealed his true intentions to his traveling companions until he and his morally challenged cronies proceeded to start throwing nets over every gorilla they found before tossing the baby gorillas into burlap bags—which is difficult to watch at any age.
If capturing and scaring tiny, baby animals half to death isn’t enough, he also shoots and kills Tarzan’s father figure, Kerchak, and tries to kill Tarzan with a machete a few times before dying himself. We’re pretty sure the hunter in Bambi was just trying to eat dinner, whereas Clayton was a sadistic abuser masquerading as a nature lover.
12 Colonel Heller - Bedknobs and Broomsticks
With its 1940s England setting, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a whimsical romp featuring both live action and animation. The movie is a bit darker than most Disney fare, as it is set during World War II and features a main character who tries to use magic to help defeat the Nazi army. Thus, when the Nazi army and their maniacal leader land on an English coast, things get pretty serious pretty fast.
The Nazi leader, Colonel Heller, isn’t in the movie long, but historical record cements his dementia, and after he kidnaps the film's heroes to, as he says, “induce panic and spread a little mischief,” he makes an immediate impact. Impulsive, impatient, and egotistical, Heller was also prone to getting way loud with the film’s heroine, Mrs. Price, and her young charges, and he got wildly annoyed with anyone who remotely challenged him. Good thing he ended up retreating to Germany.
11 Jafar - Aladdin
It’s said that power corrupts, but Jafar was corrupt before he got power—it was after he attained it when things got truly scary. When we first met Jafar, he was Grand Vizier of the Sultan, and his main hobby was thinking of ways to trick Princess Jasmine into marrying him. But when he got a glimpse of Aladdin’s magic lamp complete with a wish-granting genie, he had to have it. And once in his possession, Jafar’s twisted nature came out full force.
With one of his wishes, Jafar became the most powerful wizard alive, and promptly exiled nearly all of the good guys. He then turned himself into a ridiculously terrifying snake the size of Kansas who was ready to kill Aladdin before he got easily duped and turned himself into a genie—this guy really was all over the map. We kinda see what drove him mad, though: if you had a parrot named Iago with the voice of Gilbert Gottfried talking in your ear constantly, you might go a little crazy, too.
10 Mr. Dark - Something Wicked this Way Comes
It turns out the High Sparrow from Game of Thrones (Jonathan Pryce) has always been terrifying on many levels. His character in this dark fantasy released by Disney in 1983 is appropriately named Mr. Dark, but because he has tattoos of every person he has sucked into his weird carnival cult all over his body, he is also called The Illustrated Man.
Mr. Dark tempts adults and children alike with his cool magic tricks, like making an entire carnival appear in a few seconds, or offering youth to old men. His goals are pretty simple: he wants to take over the town and control everyone living in it, turning them into mindless automatons the moment he grants their wishes. He is all at once seductive, scary, and intriguing. Just don’t ever agree to take a spin on his carnival.
9 Gaston - Beauty and the Beast
Hunters simply aren’t ever the good guys in Disney movies. Like Hans and Clayton, Gaston’s debonair looks and his air of nobility were distracting at first. He seemed harmlessly arrogant and conceited about his looks, kind of like an outdoorsy Joey Tribbiani, sans the charm. But Gaston soon showed his true colors when his wooing of Belle fell short.
Upon learning that Belle loved the Beast, instead of accepting rejection and moving on, Mr. Thick Neck convinces a group of locals to help him try to put the Beast down—and he would have succeeded, had it not been for magic spells that celebrate true love. Gaston also physically and verbally abuses his faithful (and much tinier) chum Le Fou pretty much the entire time they hang out, displaying a major lack of empathy along with a lack of appreciation for the one person who likes him as much as he likes himself.
8 King Triton - The Little Mermaid
King Triton was not the primary antagonist in The Little Mermaid, Ursula was (more on her in a few). Yet, it was King Triton’s ridiculously closed-minded antics that led Ariel to seek out Ursula in the first place. It’s safe to say he never won any Father of the Year awards. While many Disney parents are either doomed or dead, King Triton was neither—but he almost doomed his daughter and himself with his pigheaded stubbornness.
Triton’s absolute refusal to listen to his daughter or to let her leave the ocean floor put him in the same league as characters like Mother Gothel. Both refused to let their children live life and explore a little bit by (gasp) actually leaving the house (or the water, in this case). When he learned that his daughter met and was interested in a human, he freaked out, and pretty much literally blew up her room and all of her most prized possessions. Wait, who was the villain in this movie again?
7 Lady Tremaine - Cinderella
The clichéd evil stepmother was certainly reinforced by this one. With her stellar lineage and her subtly voiced threats and manipulations, Lady Tremaine would probably make Cersei Lannister smile and nod with approval. Lady Tremaine is a stepchild’s worst nightmare. She pits her daughters and stepdaughter against each other constantly, and instead of encouraging or fostering Cinderella’s happiness, she locks her in the attic, shatters the glass slipper that could ensure her happy union with the Prince, and forces her to become a housemaid after her husband/Cinderella’s father died.
Perhaps the most twisted thing about Lady Tremaine is that she waited until Cinderella’s father passed away to reveal how depraved she really was. Plus, who saddles their child with a name like Drizella?! Twisted, indeed.
6 The Wicked Queen - Snow White
Her inclusion cannot be a surprise to anyone—if anything, we’re sorry if the Wicked Queen being on this list is almost too expected. But her character is so well known for being the ultimate awful, wretched stepmother that we had to include her here. Let’s unpack the Wicked Queen for a second: she literally sits in front of a magic mirror and talks to it, on the reg, usually asking its opinion about who the best looking female in the world is.
When the mirror finally gives a female’s name other than her own, she sends a hunter to bring her the heart of the young lady named fairest in the land—and it matters naught that the young lady also happens to be her 14 year-old stepdaughter, Snow White. When her hired hand refuses to comply, the Wicked Queen transforms herself into an unattractive old woman and gives her stepdaughter a piece of poisoned fruit, celebrating when she thinks she has killed her. This dame is definitely the template for demented mother-type characters, many of whom made this list.
5 Ursula - The Little Mermaid
This queen of the poor, unfortunate souls is a liar, a manipulator, and a terrifying witch/sorceress. But she also has an incredible set of pipes, and she can drive a really hard bargain. Ursula gets Ariel to trade her voice for a pair of legs and a shot at being human, and we realize later how cunning she is when we learn she was planning on trapping Ariel to get to her father, the king, and usurp him.
Also disturbing: Ursula disguises herself as a beautiful young woman who attempts to trick Ariel’s beloved Prince Eric into marrying her instead of Ariel. But her take on gender roles may be what's most disconcerting. From “Poor Unfortunate Souls”: “On land it's much preferred for ladies not to say a word And after all dear, what is idle babble for? ... 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 gets a man.” No, sea witch. No.
4 Princess Mombi - Return to Oz
Widely renowned as one of the more messed up Disney movies ever made, Return to Oz will leave viewers young and old feeling more than a little unsettled. In cahoots with the film’s central villain, the Nome King, Princess Mombi is a chief reason why. Mombi, has an odd head fetish—she has 30-40 of them just sitting around in a room akin to the House of Black and White, except Mombi’s heads are encased in glass, they resemble doll heads that move, and she wears them interchangeably.
When she meets Dorothy, Mombi develops an unhealthy obsession with her head, and the movie only gets weirder from there. She kidnaps Dorothy with the hope of eventually taking the girl’s dome once she becomes an adult. Instead, Dorothy gets free and awakens a sleeping Mombi’s head, which in turn sets off the other heads, which all start saying Dorothy’s name. Mombi’s headless body then chases Dorothy around for a bit before succumbing to the Nome King. Adults everywhere are still scarred by that scene alone.
3 Scar - The Lion King
Voiced with delicious vexation and with sarcasm that drips from the tongue by Jeremy Irons, Scar is one of the truly great Disney villains, and if his arc sounds Shakespearean in nature, that’s because it is. Loosely based on King Claudius’ role in Hamlet, Scar is the jealous brother of Mufasa, King of the Pride Lands. Scar plots to have Mufasa and his young cub, Simba, killed. While Scar succeeds in killing his brother, Simba escapes, but not unscathed.
Scar then emotionally manipulates Simba, convincing the cub that he caused his own father’s death with his carelessness, as Mufasa was out looking for his son when he was killed. Simba runs away, and Scar takes the throne, later proving himself to be an inept and disastrous leader, as the entire kingdom, land and animals alike, suffer under his ruthless regime.
2 Judge Claude Frollo - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Judge Claude Frollo is a deranged, priggish bigot and sexist (good thing he is a minister of justice, yes?) who pretty much terrorizes every character that is subservient to him, as well as the audience. Frollo is a pious man who also happens to be a homicidal maniac of sorts. He dreams of obliterating the entire gypsy population in the film, he has zero empathy for anyone, and he believes the evil he does is fine, because in his mind, he is acting on his God’s will.
His attitude towards Esmerelda was also very telling: love me lady, or I’ll have you burned at the stake. He also kills Quasimodo’s mother with zero remorse early in the film, and promptly tries to drown a tiny Quasimodo the second he sees his deformed face.
This guy had maybe one redeeming quality: he was nice to his horse. The one character more twisted than he is isn’t so kind to animals…
1 Cruella de Vil - 101 Dalmations
She makes men like Tarzan’s Clayton seem rather tame by comparison. It doesn’t get any more twisted than this über-wealthy sadistic socialite whose name is literally a play on the words ‘cruel’ and ‘devil.’ Cruella is easily Disney’s most terrifying villain—it’s almost like the depths of her cruelty have layers upon horrifying layers. Not only does she want to skin puppies to make coats that look like Holstein cows, it seems as though she can’t wait for this puppy killing to go down—she may be the least patient Disney character we’ve ever seen.
And don’t tell her no. When she is refused, she doesn’t respond well. She tries to run a van full of puppies off the road, she makes fun of people with perfectly legitimate professions when they don’t give in to her, and she has but one priority: herself. Her residence, Hell Hall, is aptly named. Seriously, who steals and skins baby animals? It’s like the song says: if she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will.
Which twisted Disney characters did we forget to list here? Tell us in the comments.