Surviving the tail-end of winter calls for one obvious activity: marathon watching old Disney movies. But when re-watching them as an adult, one thing was crystal clear to me: there were so many Disney villains that weren't evil. Sure, you may have been taken in by the ominous minor key change in the soundtrack when Jafar, Ursula, or Scar (or whoever) entered, but the beauty of Disney is that almost every character was well fleshed out, including the baddies. And that meant the sympathetic motives for their wicked deeds were easy to find.
It doesn't help, perhaps, that the villains are often the most charismatic people in the movies. Call me that most cliched of things — a sucker for a bad boy — but the heroes and heroines of these films are often so squeaky clean that they're just a little bit insipid. I mean, when you think of The Lion King, were you entranced by Simba? Probably not, because Scar had a gorgeous baritone growl and stole every scene he was in. The villains are wonderfully charismatic and a little bit naughty — just like you, probably. So get ready to have your mind blown. You know I'm right. These villains were actually not that bad.
1Yzma ('The Emperor's New Groove')
Think about it this way: Kuzco wasn't exactly a benevolent ruler. Heck, he threw an old man out of the window for "throwing off his groove." Yzma's just another lady in the workplace seeing a man doing a job he didn't earn that she's sure she can do better. Did ambition get the best of her? Yes. But give her this at least: is her brand of intentional tyranny really worse than Kuzco's callous neglect?
2Gaston ('Beauty And The Beast')
Sure, he's a bit of a d*ck. He won't take no for an answer, keeps interrupting Belle when she's reading, and is generally that guy from your gym you hate. But, on the other hand, he does do what he thinks is a good and selfless thing, i.e. gathering the village and theoretically risking his life to go rescue Belle from what appears to be a horrifying monster. He's not a great guy, but he's also not a completely terrible one. He was just working off some alternative facts.
He's stuck hanging out with dead people, so he plots to overthrow Zeus and take over Olympus. Isn't this effectively just the ancient Greek version of applying for other jobs when you know you're never getting promoted?
4Ursula ('The Little Mermaid')
Ursula's tricky, but she's not that tricky. She draws out an entire contract that Ariel could peruse if she wants to for their deal. So Ariel can't really get mad about the whole legs for voice bargain, because, well, she signed on the dotted line. Life lesson: always read the T&Cs, guys.
5The Queen ('Snow White')
Isn't the Queen meant to be a metaphor for older women's fears that they grow invisible as soon as they've passed the sexual sell-by-date that society imposes on them? And, if taken literally, hasn't the Queen just internalized the misogyny of a male-dominated society, where, for a woman to get power, she has to be hot and sexy enough to marry rich? Look at real life queens, like all of Henry VIII's wives that he killed off or divorced so he could marry prettier, younger models. Sure, the Queen's rotten to the core, but all the same — it's understandable.
6Edgar ('The Aristocats')
Poor guy. After decades of loyal service as a butler, he finds out his mistress has left her entire fortune to... her... cats. Wouldn't you be kind of pissed? And concerned about your former employer's mental health? No wonder he decides to take matters into his own hands.
7Sid ('Toy Story')
Was Sid evil? Or was he just a little boy with some unfortunate braces who just wanted to treat his toys, like, well, toys. You know, not tiny human beings but as objects whose purpose is to entertain you. How was he supposed to know that they were conscious beings?
8Captain Hook ('Peter Pan')
Um, it was thanks to Peter Pan that Captain Hook lost his hand. He's completely traumatized. Doesn't the fact that he's a little mad at Peter Pan, who doesn't seem to have ever atoned for cutting off Hook's hand, make sense?
9The Evil Stepmother ('Cinderella')
Haters are going to hate, but the Stepmother is just doing everything she can to look after herself and her kids in a society where the odds are stacked against women. She's married for money, and it seems to be working out for her, so no wonder she's energetically shoving her not-aesthetically-blessed daughters into the Prince's path while doing everything she can to keep the more photogenic blonde stepdaughter from going to the ball.
10Maleficent ('Sleeping Beauty')
She acts out because she didn't get invited to a cool party. Who hasn't been there? Maybe you didn't curse someone, but you definitely sulked for a few days and made some passive-aggressive comments on social media, which is the real world version of that.
11Mother Gothel ('Tangled')
For a start, we've got the whole Queen from Snow White deal. Mother Gothel's obsessed with youth and beauty because she lives in a society that tells women that they must be young and beautiful to be of interest. Secondly, while she's motivated to kidnap Rapunzel by the magical properties of her hair, she doesn't just chain her up in her cell and show up to steal her hair every now and then. She genuinely treats Rapunzel as her daughter; she's just a sh*tty mom.
12Prince John ('Robin Hood')
OK, so he taxes heavily. But look at Sweden. They have the second highest rate of tax in the world (after Denmark) and yet they enjoy subsidized childcare, guaranteed pensions, and, in the case of unemployment, "80 percent of their previous salary for the first 200 days of inactivity." Their society works, OK? So why punish Prince John for trying something new and potentially implementing a more Scandinavian model?
13Syndrome ('The Incredibles')
Syndrome just wanted to help fight crime, but, on meeting his idol, was treated patronizingly. No wonder he's trying to make justice a more level playing field by inventing gadgets to give ordinary folks superpowers. If he hadn't resorted to murder and kidnapping, he really could have made something of himself.
Listen, my defenses of all these villains aren't denials that they aren't, well, completely garbage humans. But their intentions and motivations are either sympathetic or understandable or both. I think we can all agree on that.