With their dastardly, if complicated, schemes and endless resources, animated villains really should be running the world by now. Instead they occupy a hall of shame built from bricks made of crushed hopes and broken dreams. From Captain Hook to the lion-shaped fail that is Scar, they get an A for effort and a big fat F for execution. This week, though, Will Ferrell’s space-fiend Megamind shows us that, if you do your prep and work really hard, you really can destroy all goodness and kindness in the world. Sadly, as Megamind discovers, you need an end game too. But with the help of our easy guide to the do’s-and-don’ts of on-screen villainy (and a team of highly-paid Hollywood animators), you too can become an ultimate animated badass. Mwahahahahaha!
Lesson one is illustrated by that Dalmatian-coveting diva Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians, and Gru in Despicable Me. Yes, sometimes when you’re planning a hideous hate crime, like turning adorable puppies into haute couture, you’ll need help. Someone to corral the canines or boil the kettle when you’re busy manicuring your sinisterly bony hands, that kind of thing. But for Pete’s sake, don’t just hire the first goobahs who wander past. Have an HR team. Keep an eye on the staff.
Pay heed to the lesson Ms de Vil learns when she hires massive slackers Jasper and Horace. Too busy watching the telly to spot the spotty pups making their escape, the pair turn out to be pretty hapless drivers too, and end up crashing into their boss and condemning them all to jail. By contrast, Despicable Me’s Gru takes the safety-in-numbers approach and creates an army of boggle-eyed minions, but even they don’t add much to his moon-thieving quest apart from looking cute and taking a pay-cut when times get tough. In Gru’s favour, they are at least non-unionised. Basically, if in doubt, take a leaf out of Emperor Zurg’s book and work alone.
So you’ve hired the right staff – say a whip-smart assistant called Mirage – and an array of weaponry that would make Hans Blix’s eyes water. A zero-point energy ray and a fearsome, superhero-smashing Omnibot, for instance. You’ve also got a plan to bring your nemesis to his knees – let’s call it ‘Operation Kronos’ – and one of those supervillain staples, a monorail. What could go wrong?
Well, you could explain the entire scheme to the one person who can stop you, padding it out some extra biographic detail for good measure. We know The Incredibles' Syndrome wants to show off his smarts but, as a Bond-inspired baddie, he should know better. Exposition is kryptonite to the evil genius. Instead, he blithely tells Mr Incredible his plans and motivation – in fact, everything apart from his embittered backstory. Then he tells him that too. Not smart.
While Syndrome at least catches himself giving too much away ("You sly dog, you got me monologuing!"), by then the damage is done. At the very least Mr Incredible is going to encouraged to find out he’s up against a man who used to be obsessional, latex-clad weirdo. As it turns out, Mr Incredible goes a step further and condemns the young pretender to crushing defeat with some help from his super-son. The lesson here? If you’ve got an evil plan, don't tweet it.
Like Napoleon, the animated supervillain doesn’t have to be giant in stature to be epic in reach. We don't recommend invading Russia, but if you want to usurp your way to the throne of some (far) faraway land (again, not Russia), then do what Lord Farquaad does in Shrek and hatch a canny scheme to snatch power. A canny scheme involving a beautiful princess, a fire-breathing dragon and a helpful swamp-dwelling stooge, for instance.
But here’s the rub: once you’re en route to winning out, start making nice. Instead of pulling the legs off gingerbread men, sentencing donkeys to death and imprisoning your new bride, now’s the time to start building hospitals and kissing babies. Hey, have a party. Invent a Bank Holiday. Unfortunately for Farquaad, he has what the Mirror On The Wall or even Freud might call a bad case of “little man complex”. He’s too angry to realise that, sometimes, charm is the best way to avoid ending up as dragon canape.
So you’re not wasting too much of your time monologuing, you’re charming when the situation demands and you’ve got a magic staff that would impress Gandalf. You can even turn into a loom, should your complex spell/scheme require it. So far, so good. Here again, however, Sleeping Beauty’s evil Maleficent (Lit: "Evil doer") makes some basic mistakes.
The fairy’s vicious plan to kill Aurora on the occasion of her sixteenth birthday makes her arguably the ultimate animated villain, but it’s driven by some pretty thin motives (c’mon lady, christenings are boring; who cares if you get an invite?).Her minion recruitment is equally poor, hiring goblins so dim they spend 16 years looking for a baby. And then there’s the shapeshifting… If you can change into anything, why make it something that can be killed by your dashing opponent’s only weapon? Why not turn into a tank? A sword-proof dinosaur? Jeez, even a poisonous kebab after a big night out would probably do the trick. Do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Over in Arabia, Aladdin’s Jafar has the right idea. He learned from Maleficent that birds are much more reliable than minions and has his own early warning parrot, but while Mal would probably have turned into something that's allergic to street scamps, he picks the much more fearsome Cobra Freakin' Giganticus. Only his hubris – and a strange craving to become a genie – thwarts his evil plan to marry Princess Jasmine. Which brings us to…
The Little Mermaid’s purple squid witch Ursula and Snow White’s Wicked Queen have something in common with many animated villains. Both struggle with inferiority complexes which drive them to all kinds of nastiness. Ursula’s originates with her banishment from King Triton’s palace. She finds herself stuck in a fishy exile where, unloved, she sings and harvests souls to pass the time. The Wicked Queen, meanwhile, is just as vengeful. As her mirror unhelpfully reminds her, she’s no longer the most beautiful woman in the land and she's determined to do something about it, which in this case amounts to killing the current title holder, Snow White.
Both should be thankful for what they’ve got – Ursula that she doesn’t have to disguise herself as a hag to hawk apples to her nemesis, and the (pretty smoking) Wicked Queen that she doesn’t look like an explosion at a fishmongers. In the end it works out badly for both them. The lesson here? Sometimes it’s better just to let everyone live happily ever before you get lynched by dwarves.