The Case of Disney Villain Songs

106495420_644917256122319_263674084724207274_nHello and welcome the Black Case Diaries! We’re in week three of June Tunes, and this time we’re bringing you a ranking of some of our favorite songs in the Disney songbook. 

It’s undeniable that Disney music is an iconic element to the studio’s best animated films. Disney songs have permeated American (and sometimes world) pop culture throughout the last 70 years. Some songs are tender moments between characters while others are show-stopping power ballads that we belt out in our cars. Today, we’re taking a look at some of the most fun and interesting entries in the Disney songbook: The villain songs. 

These songs are incredibly important in terms of introducing the audience to the main antagonist, giving us a look into the mind and motivations of a character. A good villain song is fun to listen to and perform, and it brings (sometimes) much-needed depth to these intriguing characters!

We’re bringing you a top 10 list of our favorite villainous tunes, with some background and history on each. 

  1. The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind (1986)

  • Although it came from Disney’s Bronze or Dark age, The Great Mouse Detective was a fairly successful film
    • Based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the film takes place in the world of mice living beneath the city of London within the Sherlock Holmes universe.
    • One of the stand-out features of this film is its score by the legendary composer Henry Mancini.
      • He was so prolific and meaningful to American music that we have unintentionally mentioned him or his work in all three of our June Tunes episodes so far–we didn’t mean to, he’s just that important
      • He was known for creating The Pink Panther theme, Moon River, and Peter Gunn.
    • Although there is only one character-sung arrangement in The Great Mouse Detective, it’s incredibly memorable.
  • The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind was composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Larry Grossman and Ellen Fitzhugh.
  • If Henry Mancini isn’t enough to get you excited, it was performed by the one and only Vincent Price with an accompanying chorus! 
    • Interestingly Vincent Price’s character, Egghead, in the 1966 Batman was referred to as “the world’s greatest criminal mind” by the narrator.
  • This song introduces the audience to Basil’s archnemesis: a rat named Ratigan who refuses to believe he is a rat. He rules over his minions, singing gleefully about his exploits as a villain with a supportive chorus of animal cronies. 
  • This song made our top 10 because it effectively captures the whimsical nature of a classic cartoon villain, while demonstrating Ratigan’s evil persona. It’s one of the most upbeat songs about murder and crime we’ve ever heard, with some gaslighting and power-hungry pieces to-boot! 
    • The song features Bill the Lizard as an Easter Egg for Alice in Wonderland! 
  • Notable lyrics: Even Meaner? You mean it? Worse than the widows and orphans you drowned? 
    • Earlier in the song, Ratigan mentions the “Tower Bridge Job.” In an earlier version of the song, there was a lyric that explained this crime further. Apparently Ratigan threw mice into the Thames, and shot the ones that came up to the surface. 
  1. Mother Knows Best (2010) 

    • The next entry on our list is from Disney’s first 3D animated princess film, Tangled!
    • This is also the first song on our list composed by Alan Menken, who was one of the architects of Disney’s Renaissance with his memorable melodies that perfectly matched characters and actor voices.
      • Menken spoke on the uniqueness of Mother Gothel’s character and theme music because she was not only a villain, she was a mother and very much loved by her protagonist daughter. 
      • The song is styled after a classic broadway number, and contrasts musically with the pop-oriented songs in the rest of the film.
      • Alan Menken noted the similarities between Mother Gothel and Frollo from Hunchback–the parallels in how they both held someone captive and brainwashed them into believing that they were good.
    • Glenn Slater wrote the lyrics, and had worked with Menken before on Broadway, as well as on the films “Home on the Range” as well as “Sausage Party.” 
    • Performed by Tony and Emmy winning actress Donna Murphy.
    • The song comes within 15 minutes of the film’s opening, and does a great job conveying the relationship between Mother Gothel and Rapunzel. The audience is aware that Mother Gothel is evil and kidnapped Rapunzel, so the context that we view the song is different from how Rapunzel would. Her lies, backhanded compliments, and little digs at Rapunzel give us a glimpse into how she has maintained control over this strong character for so long. Mother Gothel simply raised Rapunzel to not have confidence in herself, so she never thought to stand up to Mother Gothel or question her motives. 
    • Notable lyrics: 
      • Mother knows best, Take it from your mumsy
      • On your own, you won’t survive
      • Sloppy, underdressed, immature, clumsy
      • Please, they’ll eat you up alive
      • Gullible, naïve, positively grubby
      • Ditzy and a bit, well, hmm vague
      • Plus, I believe, gettin’ kinda chubby
      • I’m just saying ‘cause I wuv you
  1. Gaston (1991) 

  • When we first meet Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, we see him more from Belle’s perspective as he unsuccessfully tries to woo her. After she turns down his (frankly disturbing) offer to be his “little wife,” Gaston’s friends cheer him up with a song about how great he is. Imagine every jerk who has ever been turned down getting his own musical number sung by his drunk buddies and you have “Gaston”!
  • Beauty and the Beast’s songs were written by the legendary duo of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. The melody is reminiscent of a jaunty bar tune, while the lyrics achieve a level of comedy not quite reached in other villain songs.
    • The song was compared to the work of Lerner and Loewe, which Menken has cited as an influence to his music before.
    • It is later reprised in the film with one of the funniest lines in any Disney song: 
      • “Lafou I’m afraid I’ve been thinking,”
      • “A Dangerous pastime–”
      • “–I know” 
    • Some of the song lyrics were meant to be test lyrics, but were so popular throughout development, they ended up being in the final recorded song.
  • Performed by Richard White, Jesse Corti, and Chorus.
    • Richard White is an opera singer and his only acting credits on IMDB are for roles in which he voiced Gaston, even as late as the early 2000’s.
    • Jesse Corti, who played Lafou, is a prolific voice actor for video games and movies.
  • Notable lyrics
    • No one shoots like Gaston
    • Makes those beauts like Gaston
    • Then goes tromping around wearing boots like Gaston
    • I use antlers in all of my decorating!
    • My what a guy, Gaston!
  1. Cruella De Vil

  • One Hundred and One Dalmatians is from 1961 and a part of Disney’s Silver Age.
    • Walt Disney based this movie on the children’s novel by Dodie Smith titled The One Hundred and One Dalmatians. 
    • The film follows Pongo and Perdita, two lovely dalmatians that bring their human masters(Roger and Anita) together. Perdita then has puppies that incidentally are coveted by Cruella De Vil. She kidnaps them and the parents must find them before she turns them into fur coats. 
  • Written by Mel Leven.
  • Performed by Bill Lee.
  • This song is sung by the character Roger who introduces us to Anita’s old “devoted” school mate as she has pulled up to their home. He had just finished the melody and when he saw her approaching was inspired by her name for the lyrics. His expressions and body movements during the song help to clearly illustrate her evil and menacing nature. What is neat about this is that once Cruella is in the house Roger has moved to the upstairs where he continues to play her theme with musical instruments such as the piano and trumpet. He finally mocks her after she has left by wrapping a sweater around his upper body and holding something similar to her cigarette and holder.
    • It is one of only two villain songs made by protagonists in mocking. The other being The Phony King of England in Disney’s Robin Hood.
  • Notable lyrics: 
    • If she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will
    •  She’s like a spider waiting for the kill
    • She ought to be locked up and never released 
    • The world was such a wholesome place until Cruella, Cruella De Vil
  1. Friends on the Other Side

  • Princess and the Frog is from 2009 and a part of Disney’s Revival.
      • While Princess and the frog took inspiration from classics like The Brothers Grimm Frog Prince and E.D. Baker’s The Frog Princess, it also used the life experiences of Leah Chase whose life story was used for Tiana’s background and goals.
    • The film follows Tiana, who is a hardworking young woman that in life just wants to make her dream of owning a fine dining restaurant a reality. Life becomes a bit more challenging when she happens upon Prince Naveen who has been turned into a frog by the evil Dr. Facilier. Believing that she may become a princess by kissing him she is then also turned into a frog unexpectedly and they must find a cure together.
  • Music and lyrics by Randy Newman.
  • Performed by Keith David.
  • This song introduces us to Dr. Facilier and his friends on the other side. It also serves the purpose of letting us know how Naveen has come to become a frog before he is to meet Tiana.
    • The evil character Dr. Facilier, AKA The Shadow Man, begins by telling Lawrence (Naveen’s valet) to not disrespect him.  From there he proceeds to make Lawrence and Naveen feel welcome enough to have their fortunes read by tarot cards. Once he has done this and convinced Naveen that his future is rich, and Lawrence that his fortune in life will be switched with Naveen’s, he proceeds to change Naveen to a frog and gives Naveen’s appearance to Lawrence.
  • The song takes after The Little Mermaids “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” considering that both songs elaborate on the villain’s capabilities and lures the protagonists into a trusting and false sense of security. This provides the villains with willing subjects in their evil plans. 
    • In order to falsely lead Naveen into the trap he reveals a tarot card that shows Naveen as wealthy but if you look closely there is a lilypad underneath him that signifies the unstable truth. The lyrics during this reveal are “And when I look into your future it’s the green that I see.”
  • Notable lyrics: 
    • You do have have a soul, don’t you, Lawrence?/ Make your wildest dreams come true
    • I got voodoo, I got voodoo/ I got things I didn’t even try/ And I got friends on the other side
    • It’s the green that I see 
    • I hope you’re satisfied/ But if you ain’t, don’t blame me/ You can blame my friends on the other side 
  1. I Wanna Be Like You

  • The Jungle Book is from 1967 and a part of Disney’s Silver Age.
    • It is very loosely based on The Jungle Book written by Rudyard Kipling in 1894. They reconstructed it into a fun feel good family film with wonderful music.
    • The animated classic follows Mowgli, a young boy who was abandoned and raised by wolves, and now must be convinced to leave the jungle for fear of his life. He is joined by Bhageera the panther and Balloo the carefree bear.
  • Music and lyrics by the Sherman Brothers.
  • Performed by Louis Prima and Phil Harris.
  • In this song we are introduced to King Louis and his desire for the secret of fire. We see what a smooth talker he is and how hypnotic his personality can be. Bagheera sees right through this act and tries to rescue Mowgli with the help of Baloo as a distraction.
  • Richard Sherman said he and his brother aimed for a jazz sound, with a Dixieland-like melody. He said “when we first got an idea for ‘I Wanna Be Like You,’ we thought, an ape swings from a tree, and he’s the king of apes. We’ll make him ‘the king of the swingers.’ That’s the idea, we’ll make him a jazz man.” 
    • The “scat dialogue” between Baloo and King Louie came from two recording sessions. Louis Prima recorded first, with the intent that Baloo would simply repeat after him, but Phil Harris decided not to and made up his own.
  • Notable Lyrics: 
    • What I desire is man’s red fire to make my dreams come true
    • Ooh-bi-doo, I wan’na be like you/ I want to walk like you, talk like you, too
    • You see it’s true, an ape like me/ Can learn to be like you, too
  1. Mine, Mine, Mine (1995)

  • The fourth film scored by Alan Menken for Disney was Pocahontas, with lyrics by the Broadway great Stephen Schwartz. 
    • After Disney suggested the two men work together, Menken felt that Schwartz’s lyrics were the perfect combination of classic, theatre, and folk influences.
    • Schwartz is most known for his contributions to Broadway with Pippin, Godspell, and Wicked.
  • Sung by Governor Ratcliffe, “Mine, Mine, Mine” is a heavily European influenced song that introduces the audience to the intentions of the British settlers, and their lack of respect for the land they have invaded.
    • It contrasts the idealism of John Smith’s character with Ratcliffe, and plays on the double entendre of the word, “Mine.” 
    • The upbeat melody and joyful singing of the chorus gives us a look into how the settlers see themselves, despite the damage they intend to do. We can’t help but be drawn to the loud, happy sounds of a full orchestra pounding out an upbeat melody, climaxing with one of the best musical breakdowns in Disney song history.
    • In the original version, the song was meant to end with a wide shot showing the destruction of the land, bringing the audience back to the harsh reality of what they just happily watched.
      • This did not do well with test audiences, so Disney changed the scene to end with Ratcliffe’s maniacal smile instead.
  • Performed by David Ogden Stiers, Mel Gibson, and Chorus.
    • Stiers was a prolific voice actor in films like Lilo and Stitch (he played Jumba) and on TV shows like Teacher’s Pet and The Regular Show.
    • Before Pocahontas he played Major Charles Winchester on MASH.
    • Mel Gibson voiced John Smith.
  • Notable Lyrics
    • So go for the gold; We know which is here; All the riches here; From this minute; This land and what’s in it is Mine!
  1. Be Prepared (1994)

  • The Lion king is from 1994 and a part of Disney’s Renaissance.
    • This movie is known to be an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. 
    • Simba is meant to inherit Pride Rock and all the lands surrounding it but when his Uncle Scar’s dastardly plan succeeds Simba must run away for fear that everyone will blame him for his father’s death.
  • Music by Elton John (uncredited).
  • Lyrics by Tim Rice (uncredited).
  • Arranged and Produced by Hans Zimmer.
  • Performed by Jeremy Irons, with Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, and Jim Cummings.
  • In this song Scar points out the stupidity and faults of the hyenas and even before the song had pointed out their failure to kill Simba. He then proceeds to persuade them that if they join with him and follow his lead that they will rule the Pride. The second half of the song he tells them to prepare and lays out his plan to kill the King.
    • A reprise of the song was cut because after Mufasa’s death they felt that it was inappropriate.
      • The first was an attempt to seduce Nala to be his Queen.
      • The second was to the lionesses after Simba’s departure to persuade them to allow the hyenas on the Pride. 
  • Jeremy Irons reported that after the line “You won’t get a sniff without me!” his voice gave out and so they had to have Jim Cummings finish the song.
  • The beginning lyrics “I never thought hyenas essential/ They’re crude and unspeakably plain/ But maybe they’ve a glimmer of potential/ If allied to my vision and brain…” was cut for the movie but are in the musical and on the official soundtrack. 
  • During this song the hyenas perform a goose step which was fashioned after footage of the Nazi troops marching in Berlin with Hitler observing them.
  • Scars character in Kingdom Hearts II is named Groundshaker, which references that there is an earthquake that reshapes all the terrain during the song.
  • Notable lyrics:
    • Shenzi and Banzai: No king! No king! La-la-la-la-la-la!
      • Scar: Idiots! There will be a king!
      • Banzai: Hey, but you said, uh…
      • Scar: I will be king! Stick with me, and you’ll never go hungry again!
    • A shining, new era/ Is tiptoeing nearer
      • Shenzi: And where do we feature?
      • Scar: Just listen to teacher
  1. Hellfire

  • If we laid out all the plans of Disney’s villains, Frollo’s intentions are quite possibly the most evil. This song is unique from some other Disney villain songs, because it doesn’t exactly introduce the audience to Frollo. The soundtrack of Hunchback hints at Frollo’s personality with his sung piece before “Out There,” which gives “Hellfire” a bigger payoff. 
    • Starting just after the sweet and soft theme of “Heaven’s Light” sung by Quazi Moto, Hellfire stands in stark contrast. The song begins with love and idealism, and leads into a dark ballad of lust and conflict.
    • In this song, we get a grotesque look into the mind of Frollo, a man who sees himself as right and just, and blames everyone around him for his own faults.
      • More specifically, Frollo doesn’t understand his lust for Esmerelda, referring to her as a siren. Knowing that sex without love is a sin, Frollo arrives at the grim ultimatum that he will burn her at the steak if she doesn’t choose to love him.
    • At the end of the song, God answers Frollo’s prayers when a guard alerts him that Esmerelda has escaped, giving him one more chance to let her go and choose heaven over hell.
    • Frollo exhibits some form of each of the seven deadly sins in the song, most notably lust, pride, and wrath.
  • Alan Menken, the film and song’s composer has pointed out the similarities between Frollo and Mother Gothel. While he used Broadway music elements in Mother Gothel’s song, Menken relied on the choral tones and instruments often used in church music to drive home the song’s theme of religious hypocrisy. 
    • Throughout the film, Frollo exercises his holier than thou attitude, using his position in the church to commit atrocities that the church itself would condemn.
    • The priests that appear in the song sing, “mea culpa” which means “My fault.”
  • Stephen Schwartz returned to bring words to Hunchback of Notre Dame.
  • Performed by Tom Hulce, David Ogden Stiers, Tony Jay, and Chorus.
    • Hulce is a tony-winning musician and actor. He was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Mozart in Amadeus.
  • Notable Lyrics
    • It’s not my fault; I’m not to blame; It is the gypsy girl; The witch who set this flame; It’s not my fault; If in God’s plan; He made the devil so much stronger than a man
    • Hellfire; Dark fire; Now gypsy, it’s your turn; Choose me or Your pyre; Be mine or you will burn
  1. Poor Unfortunate Souls

  • The Little Mermaid is from 1989 and a part of Disney’s Renaissance period.
    • It is loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen Danish Fairy Tale.
    • We follow the young mermaid Ariel and her fantasy to live on the surface of earth where she can walk and be free. In order to obtain this life she must make a deal with Ursula the sea witch.
  • Music by Alan Menken.
  • Lyrics by Howard Ashman.
  • Performed by Pat Carroll (Ursula).
    • Howard Ashman recorded a version of the song with himself in the role of Ursula, to send to Carroll to convince her to take the role, which it did. Carroll admits that she even borrowed some of the inflections she used in the song from Ashman, and that he was delighted she had done so.
    • Before this song was written, Ursula was originally going to sing a song called “Silence is Golden”. The lyrics of this were partly reused in “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”
    • The song combines Broadway theatre with Burlesque and serves as the leitmotif for Ursula throughout the film.
  • Notable lyrics:
    • But on the whole I’ve been a saint/ to those poor unfortunate souls
    • It’s she who holds her tongue who gets a man!
    • I’m a very busy woman and I haven’t got all day/ It won’t cost much. Just your voice!

Honorable Mentions

Savages

  • Savages (Part 2) (1995)
  • Music by Alan Menken
  • Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
  • Performed by David Ogden Stiers, Jim Cummings, Judy Kuhn, and Chorus

Kill the Beast

  • Music by Alan Menken
  • Lyrics by Howard Ashman

Shiny

  • Music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Siamese Cats

  • Music by Oliver Wallace
  • Lyrics by Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke

The Elegant Captain Hook

  • Music by Sammy Fain
  • Lyrics by Sammy Cahn

Headless Horseman 

  • Performance by Bing Crosby

The Phony King of England

  • Lyrics by Johnny Mercer
  • Performed by Phis Harris

Heffalumps and Woozles

  • Music and Lyrics by the Sherman Brothers

Mad Madam Mim

  • Music by George Bruns
  • Lyrics by the Sherman Brothers
  • Preformed by Martha Wentworth

Sources:

 

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