Disney is home to many of the most nefarious, evil-doing villains, but which ones boast the best musical numbers?
When it comes to a villain anthem, Disney remains quite unparalleled. From a clever orangutan to a cunning lion and a grandiose Sea Witch, the villains often boast the most memorable numbers in Disney movie musicals. A little bit of snark. Maybe an air of superiority. A light-hearted delivery undercut with malicious intent. Let’s break down the top five Disney villain songs in the mega-media conglomerate’s history.
5. “I Wanna Be Like You” | ‘The Jungle Book’
This number may not fit perfectly into the Disney villain box, but King Louie the Orangutan has nefarious intentions with “Man’s Red Fire,” so it counts. Though King Louie is a supporting antagonist, the song’s jazzy swing style and upbeat tempo give Louis a loveable flair and infectious energy. You can’t help but tap your feet and fall under his spell.
Rather than going for a malicious delivery, “I Wanna Be Like You” hides Louie’s desire for power underneath a comedic pretense. The song is a fusion of Jazz and Swing — two genres popular when the 1967 film premiered. Its playful nature earns a merit of distinction, as most villain songs in the Disney realm are lyrically and musically a bit more wicked.
4. ‘”Gaston” | ‘Beauty and the Beast’
Gaston is a self-obsessed and arrogant man who — rather than sing his own villain song — receives a rousing number sung by his faithful right-hand LeFou and the local villagers. He’s much too toxically masculine to serenade audiences with more than a few moments of muscle flexing and boasting about his intimidating stature.
The song perfectly characterizes the villain’s egotistical nature, while using satire to poke fun at the bumbling baddie’s self-importance. The exaggerated praise, Gaston’s belief that he deserves the world because he’s conventionally attractive, and the contrast between what viewers at home and the townspeople know about the character all work to mock the brute. Satirical deliveries aren’t exactly common when it comes to villain numbers, making Gaston a risky sing-songy foray into the unknown that paid off for Disney. It’s now one of the most well-known and celebrated Disney numbers.
3. “Mother Knows Best” | ‘Tangled’
Donna Murphy voicing Mother Gothel in Tangled is undoubtedly one of the best casting decisions Disney has ever made. She vocally captures the character’s psychologically manipulative tactics, turning a maternal figure (one who is designed to protect) into a villain here to deceive.
On the surface, the song is filled with advice and guidance, yet the lyrics mask Mother Gothel’s desire to keep her daughter isolated — barred from the great wide world. Her dramatics are just so juicy — the displays of exhaustion at the idea of the “big bad” outside, the little uptick her voice takes to hint that a question is rhetorical, popping out from dark corners to insinuate the unexpected horrors Rapunzel would face beyond the tower. It’s a genius approach.
She scares her daughter into believing that she shouldn’t yearn for what she doesn’t know. Rather than using sheer force, Mother Gothel exploits the trust inherent to parent-child dynamics, making this song resonate with viewers whose parents should have taken a course or two in psychology before raising children.
2. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” | ‘The Little Mermaid’
Oh, Ursula, the Queen of the Sea. Who wants to be a princess longing for a man when you can be a witch with immense power at your fingertips? The way you sashay around your lair in a dress with a back so low it directs attention straight to your curvaceous hips. You own your territory — unafraid to take up space — your sheer existence is a blow to the patriarchy. You sing this number with moxie and pizazz. You draw viewers into your web of deceit, scheming your way to your goal without a moment’s hesitation. It’s genius.
“Poor Unfortunate Souls” may be a villain anthem, but the character, over the last few decades, has become a cultural icon and a source of inspiration. One of the only full-figured villains in Disney lore, she is proof that one need not be frail to strike fear. One need not be a size zero to zero in on her prey with perfect precision. Pat Carroll’s reverberating vocals and often-guttural line delivery turn Ursula into a femme fatale. She isn’t dainty or proper like Mother Gothel, for why should she be? Why be prim when you can be powerful?
1. “Be Prepared” | ‘The Lion King’
Before venturing into the classic that is “Be Prepared,” choosing between “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and Scar’s anthem was no easy feat (and they’re virtual equals). Nonetheless, “Be Prepared” has snagged the top slot, in large part due to Scar’s irresistible flamboyance, cunning intellect, and overall condescending air of superiority. These qualities make for the perfect villain — one who must use brains over brawn to conquer those who dare to stand in his way.
Scar’s “meticulous planning” is brought to the forefront via Tim Rice’s genius lyricism, which works to underscore the villain’s superior intellect and cunning nature. Unlike other Disney villain songs, which follow a typical verse-chorus format, this number is more of a spoken-word narrative with rhythmic delivery. He lays out his plan right before the execution with a sinister tone (thanks to Jeremy Irons on vocals) — one that alternates between a soft and sultry delivery for lines like “it’s clear from your vacant expression, the lights are not all on upstairs” to a harsher intimidating tone for lines like “even you can’t be caught unawares.”
The song is also the most visually memorable and culturally resonant, drawing inspiration from Nazi propaganda, as the hyenas are seen marching in a manner eerily reminiscent of fascist dictatorial regimes. It’s easily one of Disney’s most memorable cinematic moments (visually and auditorily), and it’s the villain anthem to beat.