Queen Grimhilde (1937)

Other Names: The Evil Queen, the Wicked Witch, the Old Peddler, Queen Grimhilda

From: Queen Grimhilde, as all of you probably know, was the main antagonist of the first-ever full-blown animated film produced by Disney in 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. After that, her Wicked-Old-Witch self was transferred to the comics, where she enjoyed a long, if not very memorable career as a very toned-down antagonist for the Seven Dwarfs or even to Donald Duck or Uncle Scrooge (during this period, her past as a Queen was hardly referenced at all); one of her most enjoyable performances in this role might be in The Washed-Up Witch, an intentionally silly but masterfully-drawn story where she antagonizes Scrooge and, believe it or not, actually reforms at the end. In the Italian branch of Disney comics, an incarnation of the character much closer to the 1937 film antagonized the Dwarfs and Snow White in long serials, most of them written by Guido Martina and drawn by Romano Scarpa, such as The Seven Keys of Danger, which you can actually read a professional-level translaiton of here. She was also the villain protagonist of Once Upon a Halloween, a shameful merchandising direct-to-DVD spin-off of the Disney Villains franchise.

Description: As keeps being the case for those early villains, Grimhilde went through several different incarnations. Her first is, of course, the character in the 1937 movie. In it, the Queen is an extremely beautiful but also vain queen ruling over a small fantasy country. She was the second wife of the good King, who had already had a daughter, Snow White. The King died a short while later (which was quite possibly Grimhilde's doing — it was explicitly so in early scripts), leaving Snow to grow up alone in the castle. Meanwhile, we also know that the Queen is in fact a terrible sorceress: she keeps a secret magic lab under her castle and owns a Magic Mirror, which she can use to summon an all-knowing (and pretty creepy) Spirit. Though her wicked ways are well-known throughout her kingdom, her witchcraft is the very thing that allows her to remain in her position of power. 

Interrogating the Mirror.

However, her vanity is also her undoing. When the Spirit in the Magic Mirror tells her that Snow White, now a charming young girl, has become the fairest in the land, Grimhilde resolves to have her killed by her huntsman, Humbert; the comics mention that Humbert is forced to obey her, lest she exectues his wife and children. However, the good man cannot bear to do it and tells her to flee into the forest while he arranges for it to look like as though he had completed his mission. Obviously, since the Queen has that all-seeing Mirror we told you about, this fails, and the Queen decides to go murder Snow White off herself. To have "the perfect disguise", the paranoid and increasingly insane Grimhilde uses her magic to turn herself into an old ugly peddler, as nobody would recognize the most beautiful and powerful woman in the land under such a guise, and goes off to the Dwarfs' cottage where Snow is hiding, intent on getting her to bite a poisoned bewitched apple. She succeeds, and, ironically, exclaims that she is now "the fairest woman of all times" whilst an ugly, wrinkled, skeletal old woman. The sort-of-sentient forest animals that Snow White befriended earlier, however, manage to rally the Dwarfs, who  chase the helpless old woman up a mountain. Realizing she is now trapped at the top in front of a gaping ravine, she pulls her trump card and tries to send a gigantic rock to crush down the dwarfs. She is struck by lightining before she can do so and falls off to her demise.

Moving on… in the Martina/Scarpa comics, we see that the Queen has managed to survive the fall, but comes back too late to her castle, only to see that Humbert has burnt it down, hoping to end her tyrannic rule. By the time she retrieves enough witchy ingredients to regain her magic powers and her true beautiful form, Snow White, the Prince and the rest have settled in as the new rulers of the country and exposed her tyranny. Now crazier and eviler than ever, the Queen remains bent on killing Snow White and the Dwarfs, out of pure revengefulness, which she tries to achieve through increasingly crazy and devilish curses. Something close to this version of the character also made a couple of insubstantial appearances in American Disney comics in the 40's.

Grimhilde in “The Washed-Up Witch”.

Finally, here is the 1950's American comics Wicked Witch. How she ended up living as your typical old witch in a cottage in the woods is never really explained ("Hey, what small kid is going to notice and complain?"), but she is now a recurring antagonist for… well, just about anybody, in fact. Her victims of choice are of course the Seven Dwarfs (though rarely Snow White herself, who hardly ever appears at all), but she also helps the Big Bad Wolf to catch the pigs, schemes with an assembly of Disney villains ranging from Captain Hook to the Beagle Boys, or hangs around Duckburg causing small-scale chaos for the sake of it. In most of her appearances, she is a very one-dimensional villain who is just about your typical fairy tale witch who's evil and has magic powers because, well… because, that's why, now go to bed. However, some of the writers assigned to work with this character sometimes made fun of her toned-down aspect, and nowhere is this so apparent as in The Washed-Up Witch, where she is just what the title says — old, tired, and simply all-around done with it all. She still believes herself to the prettiest in the land even though flowers wilt at her mere presence, and always appreciate someone treating her gentlemanly; when she is tricked into believing her magic powers have completely faded away, she is quick to adopt a job as Scrooge McDuck's secretary and stroll off into the sunset singing a merry song. No, really.

Review: The movie incarnation of Grimhilde was fascinating, beautifully animated and threatening. Her barely-hinted-at backstory (Magic powers? How? She seduced Snow's dad? How? She brought about a rule of tyranny? How?) is extremely intriguing, and she is extremely impressive and ominous in all the scenes she's in as the cold-hearted and disturbingly pretty Queen. As the Witch, her slow descent into madness is also very compelling to watch. She was the first really serious Disney antagonist, and she was a masterpiece as far as this kind of villain is concerned.

The Martina/Scarpa Queen Grimhilde was sort of a toned-down version of the movie Grimhilde; in her actual appearances, the writers were mostly relying on the readership's memories of her role in the movie to be interesting, with very little added to her character or psychology. However, she made up for it with a massive power upgrade turning her into a perfect shapeshifter able to conjure up entire magical mazes, dragons, and all sorts of similar awesome things. She was more of a plot device than a character, but she was a darn impressive plot device.

The straight-played 50's Wicked Witch is not all that interesting — just the old fairy tale Wicked Witch, and not a terribly interesting specimen at that. Disney comics have two other "typical fairy tale witches" as regulars, Witch Hazel (who is mostly good) and Madam Mim (who is mostly evil bordering on neutral), both of whom are much more entertaining. However, the "Washed-Up" version is charming and hilarious in its own unique way; maybe it wouldn't have held on for a long run, but her roles in Washed-Up Witch and the handful other stories that used this version was a delight.


The Mad Doctor (1933)

Other Names: Doctor XXX, the Mad Doc, Doc, Dr. Valentino

From: The Mad Doctor debuted in 1933 in the eponymous black-and-white Mickey Mouse short. Even though he was only conceived as a one-shot, the cartoon he starred in was so memorable that he kept popping up for unclear reasons in later media. The earliest was a 1962 Mickey comic, The X, Y and Z Case, where he works as a hypnotizer for Foreign Spies. After that, he appeared in the video game Mickey Mania as a boss, and then in Epic Mickey, both the game and the graphic novel; this was undoubtedly his big break-through, earning him a place of choice in the short-lived spin-off comic Tales of Wasteland and as a major character in the sequel, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two

Description: Like the Big Bad Wolf, with whom he actually shares a voice actor (Bill Bletcher), the Doctor was a completely different character in his debut compared to his more well-known role in later media. 

The original Mad Doctor in his debut cartoon.

In The Mad Doctor, he is a sadistic psychopath who lives in a foreboding castle on top of a mountain, and goes by the moniker of "Doctor XXX". The Doctor is completely nuts, but not power-hungry like your common mad scientist, no no no no no. He does his horrible crimes in the name of Science and Discovery. A good exemple of his usual research topic is what he is trying to achieve in the cartoon. He intends to saw both Pluto's and a chicken's heads off, and then switch them around, with the purpose being to get the chicken to lay an egg; you see, the Doc wants to see whether the chick born of the egg will bark or crow. Yes, we do mean the "mad" in "Mad Doctor". But wait, there's more! The Doc has a goddamn skeleton army at his command, who hide throughout the castle in the most unlikely places. Not only that, but as soon as he catches a trespasser (Mickey Mouse), his reaction is to tie him up to an operation table and saw him in half, for no apparent reason. The worst thing is, he is never actually defeated: the cartoon ends by a classic "It was all a dream" just as Mickey is about to be cut in half.

The Mad Doctor in Epic Mickey.

Now, skipping the 1962 comic where he is more of a funny cameo than anything else, to his personality in Epic Mickey. He is now totally different (although he still has the same accent and the same habit of singing instead of speaking): he is cartoonishly villainous and proud of it, but never does he do anything quite as mind-bogglingly lunatic as the 1933 short's experiment. More importantly, he has lost the skeleton minions, the castle, and now works on an entirely different scientific topic entirely: instead of wacky biology, now it's scary robotics. In the first game/comic, the Doctor isn't so much a character as he is a plot device: he is responsible for the evil robots swarming Wasteland. Towards the end, he is defeated in Lonesome Manor by Mickey Mouse and Gremlin Gus, and we find out that, what a twist, he is a robot himself. Then his rocket explodes and the Doc is sent flying into the cloudy sky like Bill out of the chimney in Alice in Wonderland.

The Mad Doctor in Epic Mickey 2 - The Power of Two.

In the sequel, The Power of Two, the Doc is now the main antagonist. More than ever, he is used as a comedy relief: his constant and unexplained singing, his overcomplicated, over-the-top evil plan (whose end goal, just so you know, is not even "world domination" or anything like that — he just wants to be the greatest villain of all times) and his endless and confusing switching sides (quick sum up: in 1933 he was evil, then he moved to Wasteland and became good, then the Shadow Blot arrived and he betrayed everyone and became evil again, but then he was defeated by Mickey, only to come back pretending to have reformed, but it was a decoy, but then he truly reformed — our sanity hopes it's for good). The reasons for his turning himself into a cyborg are also finally explained (he claims he turned himself robotic to be able to resist the Shadow Blot's attacks and therefore safely ally with him without having to worry about backstabbing).

Review: What to say? I like him, in either version. However, it's no guarantee that you will. The 1933 version is laughably crazy when you stop and think about it, but the dark tone of the whole short is so uncomfortable to some that it made it into the Top 8 Most Horrifying Moments from Kids' Cartoons on www.cracked.com. Besides, let's admit it, the whole character's concept is just so weird and so little is explained about him. Why does he live in a castle? Why is there a medieval castle near Mouseton? What's a Russian mad scientist doing in Mouseton anyway? Why does a mad scientist have a skeleton army at his disposal? Why hasn't he taken over the world using it by now, for that matter?

As for the Epic Mickey version… I think he's just hilarious. However, some people might find him a betrayal of the 1933 original. There are also those who think he is a major mood-breaker, and one of the major reasons Epic Mickey 2 didn't have as much of a dark atmosphere as the first game.  Which is a valid observation, mind you; it's just that I don't think it's a bad thing for EM2 to have been lighter than the first game. Relatedly, some people find the Doctor's singing annoying, which is purely a matter of taste.

Overall, I think he's a great cartoon villain, but he undoubtedly has his flaws in either incarnation. Take your pick.


Zeke Wolf (1933)

Other Names: The Big Bad Wolf.

From: He debuted in 1933 in The Three Little Pigs, the famous Disney adaptation of the fairy tale. He remained the main antagonist of the Three Little Pigs series, appearing in all their subsequent cartoons and later in the derived comic series centered on his son Li'l Bad Wolf. He has also been featured on House of Mouse in relatively small roles.

Description: He's not as bad as Pete, but he is still pretty much two different characters. His cartoon incarnation, though with a strong temper, is a crafty and threatening villain who constantly disguises himself, and only fails thanks to the efforts of the Practical Pig. Meanwhile, in the comics, Zeke Wolf was depicted as a bumbling and comedic villain, who is often undone by his own bundles. 

In both cases, his main goal is to eat the Three Little Pigs; in the cartoons, it appears to be because that's just how nature works in this universe (sentient or not, wolves eat pigs). In the comics, it's much more complicated, because the series was retconned to take place in the same universe as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comics, where sentient animals are much more civilized than that. The area of the woods where Zeke and the Pigs live is shown to be a still relatively cut-off settlement, where while Li'l Bad Wolf and most other species are beginning to become less savage, the Wolf clan still sees eating other species as a proud tradition. Zeke tries to eat the pigs, not because he needs them, but because he thinks it's his place in society and he will be dishonored as a wolf if he does not attempt to eat them. Indeed, he was once or twice visited by his father, the Old Bad Wolf, who'd always be appalled by his son's inability to catch those pigs after all these years.

Review: As far as his original cartoon incarnation is concerned, he's barely more defined and interesting than Pete. However, the comics' Zeke Wolf is an interesting villain, and his bumbling personality makes for good stories.

Peg-Leg Pete (1925)

Other Names: Pete, Bootleg Pete, Putrid Pete, Black Pete, Big Bad Pete, Percival P. Pete.

From: He debuted in Alice Solves the Puzzle, released in February of 1925. He reappeared in several cartoons of the Alice's Comedies series. He was then transferred to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in September of 1927, debuting in The Ocean Hop, where he competes with Oswald in a competition to cross the Atlantic in an aircraft. While continuing to appear (in his original 1925 design) in the Oswald shorts, a redesigned version of the character was introduced in 1927 in the second Mickey Mouse short, The Galloping Gaucho; the Disney crew originally called this version Terrible Tom, but by 1930 it had become clear that he was so similar to the old villain that a new name wasn't really warranted. Pete appeared in countless media ever since, notably in the Donald Duck cartoons, in Disney comics, in House of Mouse and in the feature him Mickey, Donald and Goofy: The Three Musketeers as Captain Pete.

Description: Pete is rather tricky, because his role is seldom the same (though in the comics, he has eventually settled as a thief). Thief, pirate, smuggler, spy, abusive boss or even policeman, Pete has the part of any and all antagonist in the Donald and Mickey shorts.

In 1925, he was introduced as a notorious bootleg (this was the Prohibition era) and "collector of rare crossword puzzles". He was a large bear with a peg-leg. At the end of the short, he was captured by the authorities. Throughout the later Alice and Oswald shorts, Pete, free once again, holds a slightly different part, albeit one that is consistent with his earlier portrayal, as the local cheating tough guy, who never openly does anything illegal enough to attract attention from the police but will antagonize the hero at every turn as well as he can.

Review: Pete is more of an archetype than he is a character (much like Scapin or Figaro, for instance), and thus is not necessarily a very good villain. His central characteristic is that he is a "tough guy", relying on brute strength to get what he wants, with limited intelligence. This makes for a good antagonist figure, but not for an interesting character, I'm afraid; Pete's value is not intrinsic, but depends either on how the writers or animators will exploit his stupidity for gags, or on the threat he poses to the heroes (be it Alice and Julius, Donald, Mickey or anyone else). On the other hand, he's such a simple archetype that every work he's in and every time period will find a good use for him, making him a surprisingly enduring creation. (Note: Captain Pete from The Three Musketeers has a rather different characterization and background, and will be reviewed on his own later).