Evil Disney Queens Are Doing It For Themselves

Society gets a pretty big kick out of whether or not the Disney Princess franchise is “feminist” enough. Figuring out if Disney is harming or helping young girls is a rite of passage for feminist critics, but the dialogue always feels a bit tired. Nerve has actually gone ahead and tried to rank the princesses based on their “feministiness,” and the result is not terribly ground-breaking. While we could blog in circles trying to decide if Mulan is the ultimate powerful vagina warrior or if she is just a tool for the patriarchy, there are already badass feminist probably-queer ladies doing it for themselves in the Disney universe.

The villainesses who stand against the aforementioned princesses are some of the best characters to bear the stamp of the Mouse. They are fierce and fearless divas who get it done, play with gender, and rely on motivations outside of heterolove. Their female masculinity stands out in contrast to the soft and light femininity of the protagonists — all of the female Disney villains are drawn in such a way that they might as well be drag queens, but they are doing their gender in a campy and hard femme way that’s pretty hard to resist. They deserve a major shoutout, so here in no real order are the best of the Disney villainesses who are super badass (and might play for our team).

1. Maleficent. Sleeping Beauty, 1959.

Maleficent is undoubtedly the most powerful individual in the kingdom, if not the entire universe. She is referred to as the Mistress of All Evil and can assemble armies of death and destruction at will and on a whim. Intense and long-term curses are doled out like it’s no big deal. Need to singlehandedly take down an armed fortress? No problem. Maleficent turns into a fucking dragon. A dragon. She teleports, she shape-shifts, she does whatever she wants. She is insanely impressive and the fact that she is not invited to the birthday of a mortal princess is a major slight. It’s also the final straw in a tall stack of instances of Maleficent being ignored by people who should be paying attention. This is literally the Mistress of All Evil, guys. Damn right she curses your stupid daughter, and so what? Curses are like level one 0 EXP to Maleficent. Maleficent is putting your daughters to sleep for breakfast, Maleficent don’t give a shit.

what’s a mob to a queen? what’s a queen to a goddess?

At this point, Maleficent sets out to destroy the lives of the king and queen and murder Aurora because she can. The kingdom has disrespected her long enough, and she is one fierce queen you do not disrespect. For giggles, she captures and tortures Aurora’s boyfriend. For giggles. She could easily unleash an entire legion of demons to destroy everything in her path, but instead she executes a slow and painful manipulation to get back at everyone who has ever wronged her. It’s so masterful that it’s actually playful to her. When the prince tries to take her down because his bright and shining masculinity compels him to destroy dark female power and reclaim his child bride (sorry, was that biased? I can’t tell anymore), she just plain toys with him. Then she turns into a dragon, which is awesome until she’s defeated.

It is truly awful that Maleficent is killed because Prince Phillip impales her on his phallic symbol. I could weep at how awful it is that the last time we see Maleficent, she is a ragged cloak trying to free itself from beneath the shiny penis substitute of the Sword of Truth. Screw you, Walt Disney.

Bonus! Queer Relevancy:
Not-Straight-For-Many-Reasons-But-Mostly-Foxfire Angelina Jolie will be playing Maleficent in a liveaction Disney reboot about the Mistress of All Evil. Elle Fanning will be Aurora, and Juno Temple will be someone named…Thistletwit. The film is supposed to come out in 2014 and hopefully will be better than Kristen Stewart Noticeably Not Making Out With Charlize Theron.

2. Ursula. The Little Mermaid, 1989.

Since magical abilities don’t seem to be a universal mer-quality, the fact that Ursula is a powerful sea witch is something to note, especially considering she’s not of royal blood like King Triton. She’s the ultimate Other of the merworld, as different as she can be. She doesn’t have the prepubescent supermodel body of every other merperson — she’s fat and totally fierce in her body. She’s also a cephalopod with tentacles, distinct from the traditional fishtails. She works the femme with super bright makeup, amazing eyebrows, and girl’s nails are always matching her lipstick. Her ultimate accessory is a necklace that holds people’s souls.

werk what your momma gave you

In “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” which might as well be the opening number at Drag Night, Ursula sarcastically comments on the fact that men don’t like vocal women, that it’s preferred for ladies “not to say a word.” She also throws in that “true gentlemen” completely reject a woman who speaks her mind, and that it’s “she who holds her tongue who gets the man.” Essentially, Ursula is saying that if you’re willing to give up your voice for some dude you just met, you’re a pathetic fool. And she’s right, but she’s the only character with the balls (ovaries? octopus reproductive organs?) to vocalize it.

Bonus! Queer Relevancy Ursula’s design was based on Divine, so you know she’s fabulous.

3. Yzma, The Emperor’s New Groove, 2000.

Let’s cut the girl a break — Yzma is trying to overthrow the absolute rule of a despot! Kuzco is a spoiled piece of shit who has been given complete control of an empire with a highly stratified society and, one can imagine from the emperor’s spending, considerable debt. He takes no responsibility for his position, wasting time and energy on selfish endeavors, and is running the empire into the ground. He has chosen to completely ignore the workings of the government and all dealings with the public: these tasks have fallen onto Yzma, who is the uncredited puppet running the empire. Girl raised this waste of oxygen (“Yeah, you’d think he would’ve have turned out better.” “Yeah, go figure.”) and gets no respect. For all her faults, she is still a much more qualified candidate to take control of the empire, and after all those years of not being acknowledged ever, of course she’s pissed off.

“and i’m not a bitch to fuck with!”

Yzma has pretty fantastic outfits and a boy toy named Kronk. Girl single-handedly brings purple back and turns the emperor’s bachelor pad into a full-on Diva Palace. No one does diva the way that Yzma does diva. This entire movie is a comedic masterpiece, but Eartha Kitt making a low purring noise before unleashing her plot to turn the emperor into a flea, a harmless little flea, makes me laugh like nothing else. I’m not even going to lie, I root for her every time.

Bonus! Queer Relevancy: Eartha Kitt as Catwoman on the original Batman series is like…I can’t even. She lives on Pussyfoot Road and her henchmen wear leopard man blouses with black ascots and leather hats. Just watch this video.

4. Helga Sinclair, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, 2001.

Helga Sinclair, where do I even begin? Here’s the first time she appears on screen. Here’s Helga in action being a super action hard femme heroine. Do you need a cold shower? I do. Sorry if I have, like, a disturbingly huge crush on Helga Sinclair. First, she does this lip curl that’s kind of like a sneer, except it’s sassy. Does that make sense? I don’t care. I’m a thirteen year old girl drawing Mrs. Kate Sinclair on my trapper keeper. Helga is all kinds of sass and she is all kinds of woman making it in a man’s world. She is the mind and muscle that runs the entire mission: master of arms, strategic and highly intelligent, level-headed in a crisis. She’s a 30 year old woman, and she’s second in command on what is portrayed as the most impressive scientific and militaristic expedition of its time. The fact that she does what she does for reasons that do not involve romance, a dude, or anything but her own cold hard drive to the top is just…sigh. Plus, girl looks so damn good in a white tank, swinging guns around and being in charge. Excuse me while I swoon.

shane mccutcheon realness

She’s the villain because unbeknownst to the protagonist, the mission she is running is trying to find Atlantis to plunder its riches and harness the power of their superweapon. The movie tries to swing things around in her favor by revealing that they had expected to find ruins, and did not intend on actually killing the Atlanteans. Also spoiler alert, she singlehandedly saves the entire movie and the civilization of Atlantis. I wouldn’t care if she killed a hundred bajillion Atlanteans, because Helga is still queen of my heart.

Bonus! Queer Relevancy: Claudia Christian, the voice of Helga, is kind of a babe in real life. Like for serious.


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Hard-lovin' butch made of tears, sweat, and spit, in that order. Professional lonesome polecat. Kate is living proof that you can take the hillperson out of the mountains, but she's still probably going to run back to the mountains anyway. Kate prefers the trashy to the classy, and the tender to everything else. Full-time writer, part-time lover. Heart got so big and soggy that she had to cut off all her sleeves.

Kate has written 124 articles for us.

92 Comments

  1. Thumb up 11

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    Maleficent! Hells yeah! She’s my favorite! I’ll need to reserve judgement for Angelina-Maleficent until I see it. I feel like this could go either way.

  2. Thumb up 1

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    I’m in love with this article. And serious mad props for some less-common (but so important) choices like Helga. The first time I saw that movie I didn’t know if I was in love or just wanted to *be* her. Helga and Audrey (who was definitely a crush. No one can tell me that grrl isn’t a lesbian.)

  3. Thumb up 1

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    Helga saved that movie for me. I had so many problems with Atlantis (8,500 year old woman can’t read her own language? What?), but every time I got annoyed enough to turn off the movie, Helga came on so obviously I had to keep watching.

    I somehow went my entire childhood without watching Sleeping Beauty and experiencing the awesome that was Maleficient. Thankfully my friend fixed that in college.

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      atlantis definitely has its issues, i would have to agree with you there. i praise it for audrey and helga but their characterization falls short on kida, who, at the end of the day, is still a bluer version of the “exotic indian princess” trope. but i also like how it stands on its own outside of cutesy disney animation. like, they just killed two thirds of the crew right off the bat. flat out murdered those dudes, and it’s like no big deal. there’s action and complex characters and the animation looks like something that should be on toonami, and for that i still love it.

      and obviously helga

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        Oh, man yeah. Beautiful animation and design going on in that movie. But the white savior complex that it had like whoa kept distracting from the actually good parts of it. Mainly I just got annoyed at all the wasted potential. I loved the idea of what would happen to an isolated, technologically advanced, extremely long lived culture that presumably saved all the cultural elites (the forcefield thingy surrounded the palace and city center when the city was in full evacuation mode, so I assume all the elites were priority). And instead they kinda killed that idea what with apparently everybody forgetting how to work everything for no explainable reason.

        Yeah. I have multiple rants.

      • Thumb up 4

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        I find that most Disney movies are made better by the presence of the villian. But I was not prepared for the awesomeness that was Maleficent. I’m actually disappointed she was killed instead of just defeated. Defeated leaves room for the possibility of revenge.

  4. Thumb up 3

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    “Bonus! Queer Relevancy: Claudia Christian, the voice of Helga, is kind of a babe in real life. Like for serious.”

    ummmmm…. Have you not seen babylon five! She’s a total babe! She plays a high ranking lesbian officer of an giant futuristic space station. You all’s need to watch this!

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        Yeah, she even has a relationship that is ALL BUT OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED (this show aired in the mid-90s so that was kind of a big deal).

        Although there are still people who are like “WHAT, IVONAVA NEVER DID IT WITH [redacted]” even though, erm, yeah, I TOTALLY take showers with my platonic friends after spending the night together.

  5. Thumb up 15

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    Okay, so I know she’s not a villain, but can we get a little love for Megora from Hercules in this house? I mean, my decade-long crushing on her may have a little more to do with my decision to take Classics at uni than I would care to admit.

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      yeah i wish this wasn’t just a villain list or i TOTALLY would have included audrey because she is hands down one of the best female characters in disney (yeah, i said it, whatever)

      and she wasn’t just a mechanic she was THE mechanic in charge

      i don’t know who chose the crew for that expedition but they were all kinds of equal opportunity employing

  6. Thumb up 9

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    This would have come in handy in the 9th grade when I did a project about how Disney hates gay people (or at least effeminate men). Yes, I was That Girl.

    (Furthermore, I saved the powerpoint as some frustrated scramble of swear words and it showed up on the first slide during the presentation.)

  7. Thumb up 0

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    Thank you thank you thank you for including Atlantis on this list. It was my favorite as a kid and I watched it a few weeks ago and was so happy to see that’s—at least to me—one of the best Disney movies made, not just in terms of fun story but in terms of making characters that weren’t shallow.

  8. Thumb up 7

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    kate, now that i think about it, that whole queer villain thing really permeates through disney, doesn’t it?

    like maleficent is awesome and badass, and aurora is raised by nuns (fairy nuns, but still nuns). but then again nuns are awesome because female-defined society/no male influence, etc. etc.

    in tangled, the mother wants to keep her daughter from the world (and from men!).

    the guys too!! and that one annoying dude in mulan is super fey ALL THE TIME but it’s okay for the men to dress as women as long as it’s an act?? and pocohontas’s villain is fabulous (with a rent boyboy servant!!!!) scar, duh. captain hook has curly shiny hair and smee (but he also represents adulthood so he’s kind of straight forcing peter pan to continue with reprotime? rachel stop talking about adolescence).

    DO THE UGLY STEP SISTERS PRACTICE ALTERNATIVE KINSHIP STRUCTURES???

    ok i need to stop now.

  9. Thumb up 1

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    I know a bunch of people that super love Angelina Jolie or are at least semi-fans, but is there anyone out there who really doesn’t like her? You know, besides me? People think I’m seriously cra-zay, with a capital C, for not liking the way she looks or acts one bit.

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      i’m definitely not her biggest fan, at least in terms of acting. i haven’t seen anything she’s done yet that totally blew me away, but i have weird and high standards. also i feel like this country was socialized to hate her because the media was so on the jen/ben bandwagon, and painted her as this evil whore when brangelina started, so…there’s that.

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      I feel the exact same! I’ve never been super into her? I don’t hate her, but I don’t feel anything about her as an actress or as a person. I just, you know, think she’s there. It’s not enough to make me refuse to see a movie if she’s in it, but I would never think of her to play roles because I generally don’t think there’s a role that she can play that other actresses can’t play better.

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    Oh god, I’m glad I’m not the only one who was subconsciously attracted to Helga. Someone tried to engage me in the feminist Disney princess discussion recently. It’s just so boring. No matter how much you talk about it, it doesn’t change the fact that all of the characters are lacking. These ladies, on the other hand, are some BAMFs. I’d love to see more discussions like this.

  11. Thumb up 2

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    I love this! I’m constantly frustrated by Disney movies and Disney princesses and how my friends — who are college students — CONTINUE TO PUT THEM ON PEDESTALS and color pictures of them, etc., etc. I’ve also been interested in feminist parenting since I read Cinderella Ate My Daughter (which I enjoyed immensely, by the way — it’s by a feminist journalist!).

    It’s really neat to see this flip side of it. I’ve never given the VILLAINS so much critical thoughtt, and it’s fascinating. I’m so thrilled to find another aspect of such an interesting subject to explore!

  12. Thumb up 0

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    I think Maleficent reminds me a little bit of Papi on the L Word, maybe just because she takes what she wants and doesn’t give a shit…
    that was a far-fetched comparison…

    Also thank you for including that Ursula’s design is based on Divine, that is one of my favorite pieces of Disney trivia ever.

  13. Thumb up 2

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    i like helga, she’s angelina-like type.. super cool, kick-ass hottie..
    i looove yzma.. she’s really funny.. she’s one of my fave cartoon characters..
    another hot, kick-ass disney villainess i know is shego from the series kim possible.. totally crushing on her..

  14. Thumb up 0

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    Is Maleficent the king (or should I say queen?) shit? Is the pope Catholic? Maleficent is my all time, favorite Disney villain. I have one of the those prints you can get from Walt Disney World, of her, hanging on my bedroom wall. Even though I’m not an Angelina Jolie fan, I’ll have to see that movie just to see how they bring Maleficent to live action.

  15. Thumb up 1

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    Have you ever read “Women Who Run with the Wolves”? It is about how myths of the past were rewritten by men like The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson to take power away from women and healers. Boy, did it work.

  16. Thumb up 1

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    The fact the Divine inspired Ursula just made so many things click for me. Ursula may be queer, but now I’ll never be able to see her as anything but drag queen. Plus now I can honor Divine by watching Disney movies.

  17. Thumb up 1

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    Can we have a quick moment for the Queen of Hearts? She can be so bratty, but you gotta admire a girl who will just behead anyone who gets in her way. I’m actually kinda jealous. I could think of a few people who could use a good beheading. Just sayin.

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    One thing I always tell myself is that if I had a daughter, I would refuse to let her idolize any Disney Princesses. Like, look at Ariel, she literally gives up her voice, for a guy she sees ONCE and doesn’t even talk to!!! Like WTF Disney???

    Helga <333 also not the only one who had a weird and slighty unwelcome crush on her as a 4 year old.

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    I had so many feelings about Ursula as a pre-teen. Like, of course I’m scared of her, she’s the bad guy, but why am I also kind of… attracted to her in a ‘this is a deadly animal but it’s beautiful’ kind of way? And like the entirety of ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ is basically ‘fabulous and overpowering woman being sexually suggestive to vulnerable girl’, which is creepy as fuck but also kind of hot in a certain way. And she has a magnificent rack and SHIMMIES. And those two times when she says ‘voice’ and ‘sing’ and you only see her perfect lips ~enunciating~. Especially the ‘sing’ part at the very end. Shivers down my spine EVERY TIME.

    Then I grew up to be gay and Ursula went on to be a drag queen and it all made sense.

  20. Thumb up 0

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    While I think this article makes some AMAZING points that never crossed my mind, I don’t think we can ignore the glaring omission here:
    Disney demonizes powerful, assertive, gender-bending women and celebrates passive, femme,love-seeking women.

    You can’t ignore how harmful that can probably be to a child who doesn’t have the consciousness to deconstruct what he or she is watching. These messages that women should be seen and not heard are very powerful. As a child, these villains TERRIFIED me. They didn’t inspire me or make me question the socialization of my gender. They made me want to wear a giant yellow dress and walk down a gorgeous spiral staircase or have awesome red hair but certainly not to be loud, strong, and aggressive like Ursula, Cruella, or Maleficent. The Disney villains are diametrically opposed to everything children are being taught at that time in their lives. It’s easy to make the association that that kind of woman is not what the child should aspire to be. Associative memory is a powerful thing.

  21. Thumb up 0

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    This article is good and you should feel good.

    That said, sort of OT but speaking of queer revolutionaries can we take a moment to appreciate Scar?

    Can we take a moment to appreciate that wonderful effeminate guy who GIVES NOT A SINGLE FUCK what other people think about him, realizes men (and people in general) don’t have to have physical strength to be badass, doesn’t just lie around and accept a lifetime of being the family scapegoat (unlike Cinderella, who only gets out do to life handing her a prince and fairy godmother because she’s pretty and nice or something IDK), who fucking sticks up for himself and is all around fucking badass? Not to mention he OVERTHROWS A GODDAMN MONARCH AND GRANTS EQUALITY TO A SPECIES PREVIOUSLY FORCED TO STARVE IN THE GHETT, ER, ELEPHANT GRAVEYARD.

    Screw Simba, I look up to goddamn Scar and have ever since I was like five.

  22. Thumb up 0

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    the little mermaid was written by a (historically regarded) gay author, hans christian andersen in the 19th century! there is a lot of gay/transgender subtext in the little mermaid because it /was/ a written as a love letter from andersen to another man, so i am not surprised if ursula is considered a queer character who helps with transitioning although evil. made me view these characters differently.

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    But no! Happily, it’s much more interesting than this. I’ve just revisted Sleeping Beauty, my absolute childhood favourite, for the first time in over 20 years, and I was quite surprised by what I found. Maleficent still gave me chills, and she’s obviously still the best, but here’s what I hadn’t realised before: the fairies are the protagonists!
    While Aurora and Phillip remain underdeveloped and marginal, it’s the three fairies who drive the action. While King Stefan reacts to Maleficent’s curse by burning all the spinning wheels (thus presumably decimating women’s economic agency throughout the kingdom), the three fairies simply whisk the baby away with them. The film becomes centred around the terrors and joys of parenthood, as experienced by a trio of plump older women who, even after 16 years of drudgery, retain a defiantly punk attitude towards household matters like cooking and sewing. Flora, Fauna and Merriweather: definitely an alternative family!
    Following Aurora’s enchantment and Phillips imprisonment, the fairies again leap into action, venturing into Maleficent’s tower, where they free Phillip. Even once they’ve armed the silent prince with magical weapons, they still have to take charge of combat during their escape, saving Phillip by turning boulders into bubbles, arrows into feathers and boiling oil into a rainbow (omg). They stick right by Phillip throughout his attempted rescue, freeing his snazzy cape from the thorns. Phillip is completely outmatched by Maleficent the dragon; his sword never makes contact. Just before Maleficent drives him off a cliff, Flora bewitches his sword so that it kills Maleficent: Phillip doesn’t kill her, Flora does. The sword is the creation and the weapon not of a man but of a fat, bossy old poly queer woman. I think in this case, we’re better not reading the sword as primarily a phallic symbol at all-maybe instead we can take a clue from its name, “the sword of truth,” and see it as a weapon in the struggle between two very different modes of powerful queer femininity.

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      “It is truly awful that Maleficent is killed because Prince Phillip impales her on his phallic symbol.”–That’s the quote I was meaning to respond to. Instead I just managed to put everything else in blockquote format. Looks like I need to read that article on HTML…

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