Disney loves evil queens and here’s every one in the Animated Classics series. The animated canon has given us some iconic villainesses over the years, but who are the evil queens of the entertainment giant’s animated output? The Disney animated canon has recently started to move away from using evil queens as their go-to villains, with the likes of Frozen‘s Elsa and Maleficent‘s title character being transformed into empathetic, misunderstood anti-heroines rather than sneering regal villainesses.

But the studio has a long history of utilizing the evil queen archetype for many of their most iconic baddies. Fairy tales are full of evil queens (and stepmothers, and witches, and all manner of untrustworthy female characters) and as Disney usually turns to these myths for inspiration, their animated movies have inevitably offered up a veritable bevy of evil queens. From their very first cinematic outing, 1937’s classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, all the way through to the first draft of 2013’s megahit Frozen, the evil queen has been a recurring figure in the Disney animated canon, and one who has donned many guises (and disguises) over the decades.

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Of course, the term does need clarifying, as Maleficent is technically the “Mistress of Evil” and The Little Mermaid‘s Ursula never actually reaches the throne. So any self-proclaimed queen or villainess vying for a throne is included here, meaning there are a few iconic Disney villainesses who didn’t make it. The Sword In The Stone‘s underrated Madam Mim is out, as she’s not a royal and doesn’t have any apparent interest in scheming to become one, the late great Eartha Kitt’s Yzma of The Emperor’s New Groove fame is also out as (as the title implies) her ambition is to become emperor, not queen, and Moana‘s angry island goddess Te Ka is out on the technicality that while she may rule a large stretch of land, she predates the concept of monarchy. Meanwhile 101 Dalmations‘ iconic antagonist Cruella Deville may be a fashion queen, but her sights are set on a lavish coat instead of any political power so she is also out of the running. With that said, let’s get into the evil queens of Disney’s animated movies.

Queen Grimhilde, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

The original and the greatest evil queen in Disney history, this one is so wicked that few viewers even know she has a real name. Usually referred to as just “the evil queen”, Grimhilde is the vain stepmother of the eponymous Snow White who has her adopted offspring killed for the crime of being too beautiful. Of course, the woodsman can’t bring himself to go through with it, although audiences were mercifully spared the scene of him bringing the Queen an animal’s lungs as ‘proof’ that the girl is dead and then watching her promptly chow down on them, a shocking moment featured in the original Snow White fairy tale. The huntsman’s mercy prompts the evil queen’s more desperate and personally involved gambit as she poisons Snow White (although she doesn’t kill her, in a moment of uncharacteristic charity).

But 1937 was too early for Disney to start subverting fairy tale traditions, so the studio’s first animated hit ends with Snow White saved by true love’s kiss and Grimhilde vanquished. Of course, you can’t keep a good (or in this case, bad) queen down, and this defeat hasn’t stopped the iconic character from cropping up in plenty of Disney-affiliated media since her debut. Her most well-known non-animated outing is as Regina Mills, the recurring antagonist (and occasional anti-heroine) of TV’s Once Upon A Time, a series that gives her a Maleficent-style perspective flip and renders her story a bit more complex than the original’s “jealous older woman” trope.

The Queen of Hearts, Alice In Wonderland

Alice In Wonderland was originally intended to be Disney’s first full feature and, although Snow White beat it to completion, the Lewis Carroll adaptation does feature the only other actual full-blown queen in the Disney villain canon. Alice In Wonderland‘s Queen of Hearts is a demented tyrant who has a bad habit of decapitating anyone who crosses her for little or no reason. One of the more genuinely unsettling additions to the studio’s animated canon, the Queen of Hearts almost succeeds in offing our titular heroine when Alice makes the mistake of (accurately) accusing her of cheating at croquet. Fortunately, Alice escapes the Queen’s kangaroo court thanks to her growth-enhancing mushrooms and flees. It’s just as well too as, even in her more light-hearted live-action remake incarnation played by Helena Bonham Carter, the Queen of Hearts is a particularly vile villain.

Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty ( & Maleficent & Maleficent: Mistress of Evil)

Sleeping Beauty‘s Maleficent is the only evil queen to be given an entire spin-off series wherein she plays the anti-heroic protagonist role, and the honor couldn’t have gone to a more memorable villainess. The self-proclaimed Mistress of Evil and not a woman to ever leave off an invite list, the original Sleeping Beauty‘s Maleficent takes it badly when she’s left out of Princess Aurora’s christening celebrations, gatecrashing the proceedings and gifting the girl with a curse that dooms her to die at sixteen. Sure, Aurora of course survives, but only after her love does battle with Maleficent’s army of dim-witted minions and the queen herself when she transforms into a memorably ferocious, snake-like dragon.

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A perennially popular villainess thanks to her sharp character design and icy demeanor, Maleficent proved popular enough to have her good name cleared by 2014’s Angelina Jolie vehicle Maleficent and its 2019 sequel Mistress of Evil, both of which (despite the sequel’s misleading title) cast her as a wronged woman and misunderstood monarch who is the unambiguous heroine of her story. The Maleficent series received mixed reviews but Jolie’s turn in the title role was consistently praised, even if the terrifying animated original remains tough to beat.

Ursula, The Little Mermaid

The primary antagonist of The Little Mermaid, the smooth-talking Ursula made her way onto this list despite not being an actual queen as her plot does see her attempt to dethrone the current monarch, King Triton. Played to perfection by ER‘s Pat Carroll, Ursula’s memorably delivery was based on Shakespearean thespians and car salespeople to give her the requisite combination of slick sleaze and fairy tale grandiosity. Her scheme to steal Ariel’s voice by offering her a chance to walk on land is smarter and more psychologically complex than the likes of Maleficent and Grimhilde, and Ursula’s ability to seduce Ariel with promises of love makes her almost as unsettling a villain as (spoilers) Frozen‘s heartless fake-out love interest Hans.

With a character design based on camp counterculture legend and John Waters muse Divine and an absolute belter of a villain song, Ursula may be the only female villain from Disney Renaissance but she’s also one of the studio’s most memorable creations from the nineties era. It’ll be exciting to see what Gilmore Girls alum Melissa McCarthy does with the role in Disney‘s upcoming live-action The Little Mermaid‘s remake, but as with Maleficent, the animated original is an iconic figure who will be difficult to dethrone.

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