This list is only about Disney villains who turned up in animated full-length feature. No Pixar, no package movies and no half-animated movies. I also only included villains, who definitly are villains, not those who turned good at the end of the movie (like Amos Slate) or those which are mostly just slightly jerky characters (like the characters of Dumbo or the Siamese cats).
It should be obvious why this motivation is at the bottom on the list. Lazy villains don’t really provide much action because they are…well, too lazy to do much. So it’s no wonder that the only Disney villains with this motivation are side villains: Drizella and Anastasia (I don’t care that the sequels more or less redeemed Anastasia, they don’t exist in my mind-canon). Certainly two fun characters, but can you imagine them as the main villains in Cinderella? It's not like they went out of their way to make Cinderella's life difficult (like Lady Tremaine did), as long as their step-sister did all their work for them, they were basically happy.They would have been still in bed when the Grand Duke turned up!
Another motivation which works much better for side than main villains. That’s because people set on food don’t really plan all that much. Just look at Kaa, just laying around in trees until Mowgli (or anyone
else) happens to turn up. Or Joanna, so set on food that she even doesn’t care that her master might kill her for taking what it his. And what happens if this kind of villains get what they want, well, that’s what we see in Lion King. Never allow Hyenas free reign. I think the only villain even more set on food is Monstro. But then, he is a whale. One could argue that in his case it is less a matter of Gluttony (all the other villains in this category could eat something smaller or less) and more a matter of needing all the food he can get to survive (though why he should feel better with a giant ship in his stomach is a mystery to me…I would think that his digestion would work better without it).
Certainly one of the most common motivator not just for Disney villains but for villains in general. And the most boring one. The most forgettable Disney villains are motivated by it, from Sykes over Clayton and Commander Rourke up to Alemeda Slim (and if you don’t know who those guys are, you just proved my point). It also seems to cause way too much idiocy. Edgar might be the worst with his believe that
cats have nine lives and therefore will outlive him for sure (never mind that cats can’t spend money, so he could be do whatever he want with it either way). But at least, he is somewhat funny, even though he certainly is the most pathetic main villain of them all. McLeach even manages to be both funny and threatening, especially when he tells Joanna that he is double as intelligent as her, and she isn’t intelligent at all (he didn’t really think that through, did he?). But Governor Ratcliffe, all set on finding gold which isn’t even there? Idiot! But on the other hand, the four most successful Disney villains are all motivated by great: Honest John and Gideon, Stromboli and the Coachman. They are not the most popular villains (not by far), but they are the only ones who actually get away with it! Though when it comes to greedy villains, the Coachman might be the most terrifying, but Prince John, Sir Hiss and the Sheriff of Nottingham definitely are my favorites. Just the way they play with their gold, and the ways they came up to get more and more or it. Most of the time they act like spoiled children, but that doesn’t make them less threatening.
Madame Medusa is also very enjoyable. Ever noticed that greedy villains are at their best when they are paired up with equally greedy minions? The interaction between her and Snoops is pure gold (pun intended). Plus, greed is a motivation which works best in minions, see Jasper and Horace. It is in any case a way better explanation than none at all. Ever noticed how many evil minions are simply that, evil minions, motivated either by fear or some sort of not really explained loyalty?
I originally thought this is as a pretty week motivation which would end up at the very bottom, but considering the villains driven by it, it’s not that bad at all. Vanity is obviously a very powerful motivator, just look at the Evil Queen and Cruella de Vil. The length these women are ready to go to get what they want is frankly scary. In any case, it is way more interesting than greed, simply because it is a little bit more unusual. And it seems to be something which really speaks to the animators. Just look at the design of those two characters, the way the Evil Queen constantly stares at the audience (*shudder* - I’m somewhat glad I never saw this on the big screen) or how the frail frame of Cruella de Vil seems to vanish under her giant fur coat. And unlike other villains, those two aren’t funny at all. They take themselves way too serious to be, thus providing a very scary performance.
And another one which is fairly popular. This motivation is actually very close to greed; most of the villains interested in power are very greedy on top of it, and a lot of greedy villains seek power in order to satisfy their urges.
Just take a look at Rattigan. Yes, he wants to be king of England, but is it because he wants the power or because he wants to get the tax money? Either way, what is really notable about power hungry villains is that most of them are funny and threatening at the same time, I guess because they relish so much in the power they want. Just look at Yzma, Jafar and above all, Ursula. Even Scar, as threatening as he is, displays quite an amusing sarcasm (Though, he totally loses this threatening aura when he starts playing puppeteer with bones towards the end). The Horned King is the only villain with this motivation who is simply threatening.
Like greed and power are two motivations very close connected to each other, so are vanity and envy. A prime example for that is the evil Queen, whose main motivation might be vanity, but she is also driven by her envy of Snow White.
Envy is based on the belief that someone else got something you yourself deserve, which makes the villain succumbing to it very intense. Even Doctor Facilier, whose evil plans are confusing at best, is totally convincing when it comes to his hate towards people. But the epitome of envy is certainly Lady Tremaine. Look how she takes delight into making Cinderella miserable, just because she happens to look better than her daughters. I guess the weakest villain with this motivation is King Louie, who envies human of being human, but then, he is barely a villain at all. Granted, he kidnaps Mowgli, but it is not like he intends to hurt him. But normally, envy is a very personal motivation, which creates a villain, who is out for personal hurt over everything else.
And now we come to the really good stuff. There isn’t much which beats pure anger. It can be revenge, like Captain Hook’s hate towards Peter Pan for cutting off his hand. Actually, the guy has a point there. Though he doesn’t seem that perturbed about that part, but how could Peter Pan
dare to throw it to the crocodile. Or Hades, already the king of the underworld, who wants put his frankly quite jerky relatives into place (though envy also plays a role in his motivations). They present the more funny side of wrath. As does the Queen of Hearts, who simply has a bad temper. But this is a motivation, which also works very well for the other side of the villain spectrum. There is Shan Yu. Certainly not a layered character, but damn, when he towers on the screen, you just know that there isn’t much which can stop him, not even an avalanche. He himself is like an avalanche, leaving nothing but destruction in his path. But there is one villain who certainly beats him (and perhaps all the villains I mentioned so far) regarding scariness: Shere Khan. He isn’t even there during most of the movie, but the way everyone talks about him, leaves no doubt who is the true king of the jungle. But the scariest part is that there is nothing personal in his hunt after Mowgli. He doesn’t even know this boy, but he wants to kill him simply because he is human. Becoming the target of a mass killer simply because you exist or happen to be in the way – not a good thought at all.
I think what makes this motivation so terrifying and interesting at the same time, is that the villains who are obsessed of someone don’t really see themselves as evil. They think that they are somehow entitled to what they want. Gaston certainly has no doubt that Belle is his, simply because she is the only one as beautiful as him. He is not even in love with her. He is not even fascinated by her looks, if you can believe it. But she is considered the most beautiful girl in town, so he must have her (yeah, there is a lot of vanity involved in his desires). And Judge Claude Frollo is even worse. Because he knows at some level that his feelings are not pure at all, but in a weird twist of logic he lays all the guilt down to Esmeralda’s feet.
But it’s still possible to top that. So, what’s worse (better?) than what’s considered the most deathly sins?
2. Just evil:
I would have loved to put this on place one, because villains who are simply evil and don’t need a reason for their actions tend to be outdo all the other villains, and they can be truly sadistic. Just look at Maleficient, one of the greatest (imho THE greatest) Disney villainess of all time, just turning up to ruin a truly happy moment (I don’t believe for a second it was about the invitation). The best part is when she plans to turn Merryweather’s gift for Aurora into a curse, by not letting the love of her life to her until his life is nearly over. Look and Chernabog and the Firebird from the Fantasia-Movies, one a true sadist who loves to play with his victims, and one pure destruction.
The downside of this motivation are villains like Madam Mim, who is the main reason this one ended up on place two. She is more a comic character than anything else. Being “just evil” makes for really terrifying villains, but not for layered characters.
This was a very tricky motivation, starting with how I should name it. It’s not really survival, it’s most of the time a matter of people doing what they have to do. The next question was, if this can be really considered a villain motivation. Doing what you have to do or you die makes someone more a victim of circumstances than anything else. Even “Man” from Bambi is less a villain and more some sort of natural enemy. There is one exception though: Mother Gothel.
Granted, there is a lot of vanity (she wants to stay young) and greed (she doesn’t want to share the gift of the sun) in her actions, but when it comes down to it, her main motivation is survival. There are even people out there who argue on her behalf, saying that she basically did what she had to do…I disagree, but that people are even discussion the motivation of a villain shows that this is a character worth thinking about. Granted, it is her vanity and greed which makes Mother Gothel evil. But for her survival, she goes to greater length than all the other villains. Hiding her true nature for years, manipulating the people around her, and when all this fails, murder and physical attacks. Most of the villains don’t even bother to hide their nature, and those who do tend to lack in the physical attack department. Mother Gothel isn’t even that strong to begin with, but for her survival, she uses what she has in order to defeat whoever comes for her. She might not be the best villain in the Disney line-up, but when it comes to motivation (and determination), she has them all beat.