Bad and Drawn That Way: The Seven Best Animated Female Villains
My top seven favorite female villains in animation and why.
As much as we’re all good people—I’m nearly certain we’re a bunch of freaking saints, right? ;-)— sometimes, you just want to put down the tiara, slide out of the foofy dress, and put on something a little more … bad. Not that we want to BE evil, mind you; I’m not saying that. What I am saying is that we all know that villains get the best lines, costumes, and songs, and that given a choice between cosplaying Ariel or Ursula … it would depend on my mood. Poor Unfortunate Souls is a hell of a song.
I’ve written about villains before. A few times. This article is different from the others in that I want to specifically focus on female villains in animation. I undoubtedly will “miss” a few that you hold dear. If that’s the case, let me know in the comments! Chances are, I haven’t seen the show in question. Or, it is entirely possible that I just like the ones that made the list better.
Either way, feel free to let me know! Some of these have been chosen because of nostalgic ties, others for their badass-ness, intelligence, amazing song, calculating evil, or simply because they were humorous to me. In no particular order, with the exception of Ursula, who is my Number One, here are my top seven female villains in animation!
1.) Ursula has great powers ….
Ariel should have put on those hipster glasses and read the fine print!
Ursula the Sea Witch: devious, temperamental, pet-lover, body-positivity activist, and consummate troll. She’s fascinating in her villainy. Here is a woman with the power to transform beings into other beings, and what does she do? She runs her gig out of a shady cave and when the mer-peeps don’t pay up, she turns them into creepy seaweed zombies, presumably for her own entertainment. I wonder if she ever swam through her garden and called them by name. “Hey there, Anemone. Bet you wish you’d read the fine print! You didn’t get your boy to say yes by the third day, and now you’re seaweed, because you wanted to be hot and get the boy! Hahaha!”
Or, “Hey there, Chuck! You wanted to be hot and get the ladies, but I asked you for no less than FIVE seamonster fangs. FIVE, Chuck. How do you feel about being seaweed? HAH! Trick question! No one asked you!” The entire song, “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” which is literally my favorite thing to sing in ever, is basically Ursula live-trolling Ariel and her teenage angst. It’s all of the worst advice for dating one could give a teenage girl: change yourself for your man, use your body to grab his attention, don’t be yourself, and don’t TALK, for heaven’s sake!
It’s extra evil if you think about it too hard: Ariel is motherless. She may not have had another woman to talk to about her problems, and Ursula totally knew that and played on it. I mean, mad respect for her cunning and evil-ness, but DANG, lady! I can see why she might have been banished. She’s a terrible person. But … there’s an aura of high drama, hyperbole, vanity, and strength all wrapped up in Ursula’s too-fabulous tentacles that is pretty irresistible. She has mad charisma, and she knows it. Just DO NOT explode her poor little poopsies, or she will go Attack of the 50 Foot Woman on you! Only waaay more badass than Calypso in the Pirates movie!
2.) Yzma will put it in a box …
Yzma, quite honestly, just cracks me up. A lot of it (actually, most of it) comes from this scene:
Sometimes, when I’m extremely frustrated with a task or a person or a situation, Yzma’s voice will pop into my head, and I’ll think, “Ah, how shall I do it? Oh, I know. I’ll turn him into a flea, a harmless, little flea, and then I’ll put that flea in a box, and then I’ll put that box inside of another box, and then I’ll mail that box to myself, and when it arrives … I’ll SMASH IT WITH A HAMMER!” This is generally how my internal monologue sounds when I’m really mad. It also adds an appropriate sense of silliness and humor to take the edge off, so thanks Yzma! Thanks for helping me talk myself out of non-productive rage and back into a spot where I can see when I’m being unreasonable. Sometimes.
*Dramatic reenactment.* What did you say? I have to be transferred to another department? Again? Where I will have to explain the situation to three more new people who have no idea what is going on?? I just want to pay my cable bill and no two humans can tell me the same amount and due date??? Is it all right with me if you put me on HOLD? Yes, but I’m going to turn you into a flea, put the flea in a box, and put the box inside another box, mail the box to myself, and then smash it with a hammer. Would that be all right with you? *End dramatic reenactment.*
Ahem. Where was I? Oh, yeah. Yzma is hilarious, and that’s why she’s on my list!
3.) Princess Azula will defeat you for all time, assuring that you will never rise from the ashes of your shame and humiliation!
Avatar: The Last Airbender is nothing if not nuanced. Even Azula, the evil-est of villainous characters, was given a few windows to let her insecurities shine through. It turns out that even Vacation Azula is … intense. After a match of beach volleyball, her victory chant is comprised of, “Yes! We defeated you for all time! You will never rise from the ashes of your shame and humiliation! … Ah that was fun.” And, she hits on boys by leading with, “Together, you and I will be the strongest couple in the entire world! We will dominate the Earth!” The boy, understandably replies with, “Uh, gotta go!” and wisely gets out of Dodge.
Azula is powerful, driven, ambitious, and capable. These are positive qualities, but when possessed by a person with a calculating intellect who lacks empathy, it becomes terrifying. Azula emotionally and sometimes physically bullies her close friends, her brother, and those under her commend so effortlessly it’s almost difficult to blame her. Sometimes it really isn’t clear that some of her behaviors are even intentional. Most times, it is clear and she did have intent, but the vacation episode highlighted how hardwired and encoded to her core personality some of that is.
She can’t flirt with a boy without including intimidation. She can’t play a game with her peers without including the utter ruination of her opponents. I’m certainly not taking away her evil agency—Azula made her choices, fought her battles, and was justly defeated, but … when you picture her losing herself while doing her hair and talking to a hallucination of her absent mother in the mirror, it is hard not to feel the slightest twinge of sympathy for a young woman who wouldn’t have been able to do the same if the situations were reversed.
Gleefully evil and efficient right up until the end. You’re a thorny, flaming rose, Azula, and you were fascinating to watch.
4.) Queen Beryl will sit there and keep air-polishing her crystal ball literally the entire time you have an audience with her.
Queen Beryl can’t really be faulted for not being impressed enough with Sailor Moon and company to fight them herself (for most of the show, anyway.) She keeps on sending her lackeys after them, learning bit by bit that there is more to her opponents than meets the eye. Thankfully. In the above clip, Queen Beryl is so busy sorcering on that crystal ball she can’t even give poor old Jadeite her full attention.
Sorcer harder, Queen Beryl! You’re almost done. Okay, maybe not yet. Keep going, keeping going … okay, yeah. We’re just going to have you be doing that most of the time in this anime. Sailor Moon was one of my favorite anime shows back in the day, and part of what makes it so much fun is how over-the-top a lot of the villains are (and how clumsy and disorganized Usagi is). Queen Beryl is notable in that she was a reasonably capable female Big Bad at a time when that was not as common as it is today. Sailor Moon was a very lady-led show, both in its heroines and its villains, and really, anyone who can sorcer a ball for that long deserves a bit of appreciation!
5.) Demona trusts no one …
Strong, immortal, eternally youthful, determined, protective—all of these words describe Demona. Unfortunately, she can also be described as cold, violent, traitorous, and genocidal. Ugh. Compromises, right? She and Goliath, the male gargoyle protagonist of the show, were lovers at one point and even had a daughter together in the past, before the gargoyles were cursed to sleep. Demona’s hatred of humans cost her the lives of many of her gargoyle clan, centuries of self-recrimination in the form of acts of betrayal and violence, and caused her to enter into magical arrangement with MacBeth that made them both immortal unless killed by the other.
Demona is nothing if not resourceful. She evolved as time passed, making use of whatever skills she could gain. In the old days, she studied magic with the Archmage. In the modern world, she learned about science, technology, and finance. So basically, Demona is a battle tank/corporate shark who is more than capable of taking down her foes with a sword, her bare hands, financial ruin, or a laser cannon. Take your pick.
There are sparks of truth every now and then when it is obvious that she still has feelings for Goliath and for her daughter Angela, but she is never above using others as pawns when necessary, and this ultimately prevents her from having sincere relationships. Demona is one of those characters who might be/have been redeemable if the show had only run for longer—she was brilliant and just conflicted enough (barely) by love for her daughter that she might have made as impressive an ally as an antagonist. It’s always her inherent distrust of others that causes her to make mistakes that others find unforgivable. Wanting to wipe out an entire race/species of beings is never a defensible position, Demona. Work on that.
6.) Mom from Futurama will sell you a cell … and probably belongs in a cell.
It turns out that Mom, the owner of Momcorp, whose real name is Carol, is not a matronly woman who just wants to help.
Carol is as bloodthirsty a corporate predator as the Wolf of Wall Street, even more so! All of the robots who work for her have a device inside them that enables her to use them at will. Her environmental practices are wretched, she has no loyalty, and she uses the birthday cards given to her by her employees to create Orphanage Grade toilet paper. Wow.
Mom is, of course, a stand-in figurehead for Futurama‘s many and varied sendups and critiques of our own society and as such stands for Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Tech … probably even Big Purse. Big Purse is a “conspiracy theory” joke between me and my brother that there are no pockets in women’s clothing because Big Purse pays the clothing designers not to put them there. We are all pocketless because of Big Purse, ladies! Wake up and smell the pleather!
“Mom” is a carefully crafted corporate image—Carol even dons a fat suit to play the role! Mom/Carol makes the list because, as usual, Futurama is spot-on with their satire and somehow manage to humanize and provide characterization all at the same time! I love you, Futurama. Please come back. I’ll be good; I swear! Or bad. Whatever you want from me, just be on TV again, okay?
7.) Madame Medusa will kidnap an orphan and put her down a flooded sea cave to look for diamonds.
Okay, Madame Medusa scared me when I was a kid. She wasn’t a witch or a fantastical creature—she had no powers—she was just a really bad person who kept pet alligators and kidnapped little girls and forced them to look for diamonds in scary, dangerous caves. Madame Medusa was just a mean, greedy, scary-looking regular person who could have popped out from behind a shrub, stuffed me in a car, and thrown kid-Sara down into Goonies Hell to commune with One-Eyed Willy without the benefit of Sean Astin’s depraved monologuing. Seriously, that kid lost his mind during that movie.
Anyway, Madame Medusa makes the list because she scared the pee out of kid-Sara. And kid-Sara had a LOT of pee in her. Ask my mom. My long-suffering mom who had to visit every restroom in the universe with me as a child. Sometimes, I just wanted to see what it looked like in there. But, I digress.
These may be my top seven, but I do want to give a shout-out to some others in the category of honorable mention. Evil-Lyn? Evil is actually your first name, and you deserve some recognition for just going with it. Evil-Lyn, Mom? Really? Okay, I’ll embrace it. Even get this weird head-fin so they can tell me apart from Teela.
Magica DeSpell, this list could have used an anthropomorphized duck, and you would have been the one to fill those oddly-shaped webbed-foot shoes!
Maleficent—I honestly just felt you might be over-used these days, what with the remake, but your animated self definitely deserves some love for turning into a freaking dragon and saying “hell” in a Disney movie before Frollo ever thought about perving out by his fireplace.
Do you agree/disagree with my faves? Would you like to tell me how right/how wrong I am? Would you like to share your favorites? Well, that’s what the comments section is all about! Let’s hear it!
Sara Goodwin has a B.A. in Classical Civilization and an M.A. in Library Science from Indiana University. Once she went on an archaeological dig and found awesome ancient stuff. Sara enjoys a smorgasbord of pan-nerd entertainment such as Renaissance faires, anime conventions, steampunk, and science fiction and fantasy conventions. In her free time, she writes things like fairy tale haiku, fantasy novels, and terrible poetry about being stalked by one-eyed opossums. In her other spare time, she sells nerdware as With a Grain of Salt Designs, Tweets, and Tumbls.
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