With Halloween just around the corner, now seems like a good time to shine a spotlight on some of Walt Disney’s darkest and most villainous songs from the company’s films, stage musicals, and more. Many of these songs make great audition selections, and this blog post will highlight those. Seven songs have been chosen for men and six songs for women. So, heat up some popcorn, dim the lights, and let’s dive into some of these nefarious songs…
P.S. If you need assistance choosing appropriate repertoire for yourself or for your students, please check out my new repertoire consulting business, The Repertoire Guru.
1. “Be Prepared” from The Lion King (1994)
Scar, the manipulative and power-hungry brother of King Mufasa, plots to murder his brother and nephew in order to steal the royal thrown (where have we heard this story before?). To accomplish this task, he raises an army of hyenas and promises they will never go hungry if they support his regime. It’s pretty dark stuff for Disney, and the studio doesn’t shy away from the content matter, either. In fact, the song evokes some truly disturbing historical images. “Be Prepared” is featured in the Broadway stage musical adaptation of the film as well.
2. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid (1989)
Ursula the wicked sea witch agrees to transform a young mermaid named Ariel into a human for three days. There’s just one, eensy-weensy catch: in those three days, Ariel must give up her voice and retrieve the kiss of her true love. Otherwise, the girl’s soul will be damned for eternity and added to Ursula’s collection. So, no pressure, right? Similar to Scar (see above), Ursula intends to usurp King Triton and rule the kingdom herself (in the stage musical adaptation, she is portrayed as Triton’s sister/Ariel’s aunt as well). Fun fact: the iconic drag performer, Divine, apparently served as the inspiration for Ursula.
3. “Cruella de Vil” from 101 Dalmations (1961)
Here is a rare example of a Disney villain song that isn’t actually sung by the villain (the character, Roger Radcliffe, sings it). One evening, Roger and his wife Anita are visited by Cruella de Vil, a wealthy former schoolmate of Anita’s. Cruella offers to buy the couple’s litter of damation puppies (without revealing she actually wants to skin them to make a dog-fur coat). Fortunately, the couple refuses. Roger apparently finds inspiration in Cruella’s wickedness and writes this catchy, jazz-y tune. Dr. John also did a great cover of the song for Disney’s live action film adaption (starring Glenn Close as Cruella).
4. “Mother Knows Best” from Tangled (2010)
Broadway veteran Donna Murphy provides the singing voice for the malevolent but darkly humorous Mother Gothel in this song from Disney’s Tangled. Having kidnapped Rapunzel as a baby and raised the child as her own, Gothel spurns her ‘daughter’s’ request to leave their home on her 18th birthday. She manages to convince Rapunzel to stay by playing on the girl’s fears and insecurities about herself and the outside world (the mother of the year award goes to…). Oh, and the song’s reprise is even more sinister.
5. “Friends on the Other Side” from The Princess and the Frog (2009)
This has to be one of the downright creepiest songs from any Disney animated film (written by the same guy who scored Toy Story, by the way). Dr. Facilier, a New Orleans voodoo witch doctor, convinces Prince Naveen and his valet, Lawrence, to make a blood pact in exchange for Facilier’s help achieving their personal goals. However, in typical Monkey’s Paw fashion, neither Naveen or Lawrence actually get what they really want. Facilier’s spooky, singing demonic cohorts also add to the song’s ominous ambience.
6. “I Put a Spell on You” from Hocus Pocus (1993)
OK, this one is cheating a bit since the version of “I Put a Spell on You” featured in Disney’s Hocus Pocus is actually a cover of Jay Hawkins’ 50’s rock/blues hit. However, the legendary Bette Midler and the song’s producer/arranger, Marc Shaiman (Hairspray, SMASH), certainly put a thrilling spin on an old tune. Winifred Sanderson and her sisters use the song to bewitch the citizens of Salem, Massachussetts into literally dancing until they die (the curse gets broken). Hocus Pocus has become a Halloween favorite for many, and a new stage show featuring The Sanderson Sisters opened at Disney World this year.
7. “Hellfire” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
For Disney, it doesn’t get much darker than this song from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Upon developing lustful feelings for a gypsy named Esmerelda, the vicious and holier-than-thou Judge Frollo prays to the Virgin Mary to free him from Esmerelda’s ‘spell’ in order to avoid eternal damnation. The religious zealot takes no responsibility for his own feelings and demands that Esmerelda either be enslaved to him or burn in the flames of hell. If you thought Hunchback was a kids film, you might want to think again…
8. “Snuff Out the Light” [deleted] from The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
Here’s one you may not know. The Emperor’s New Groove doesn’t get a lot of love from Disney fans these days period (which is a shame because it’s hilarious). The film had a long, troubled production history, and this song written for the scheming sorceress, Yzma, was cut from an early draft. However, the late and great Eartha Kitt did record it, and we should be thankful for that because the song is very fun (and Kitt totally plays it up).
9. “Oogie Boogie’s Song” from The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Well, well, well- what have we here? The Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t nearly as controversial today as it was back in the 90’s (Tim Burton also didn’t direct it– despite what most people think). Many parents wouldn’t even let their kids watch the film at the time, but today it is a popular Halloween/Christmas gem. In this song, the film’s gambling-addict antagonist, Oogie Boogie, holds Santa Claus captive and plans to play a game of chance with jolly old St. Nick’s life on the line. Who will save Christmas?
10. “Wasting Away” from The Little Mermaid (stage musical, 2008)
Alan Menken and Glenn Slater have struggled like crazy to write the perfect “I Want” song for Ursula to sing in the stage musical adaptation of The Little Mermaid. In fact, the show has featured THREE different songs to date: “Wasting Away”, “I Want the Good Times Back”, and “Daddy’s Little Angel”. In my opinion, “Wasting Away” remains the best of the bunch. Although it was cut early on in the show’s development, the song captures the character of Ursula perfectly. Don’t take my word for it though- listen to all three songs.
10. “Me” from Beauty and the Beast (stage musical, 1994)
Oh, Gaston- you narcissistic dope. “Me” was written for the Broadway stage musical adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, and it fits Gaston to a T. The song tracks his misguided and misogynistic attempts to woo Belle. She of course refuses, but Gaston continues to describe the life he has planned for the two of them (including hunting, foot massages, and six or seven strapping boys). If you’re looking for something a little more nefarious, check out “The Mob Song” (featuring Gaston and torch-wielding townspeople).
12. “My Lullaby” from The Liong King II: Simba’s Pride (1998)
Disclaimer: most Disney villain songs are written for male characters, so this last female selection essentially came down to “My Lullaby” or “Mad Madam Mim” from The Sword in the Stone. Clearly, I went with the former. The song starts out innocently enough as a lullaby sung by the character Zira to her cub, Kovu. It then evolves into a “Bre Prepared”-esque number where Zira outlines her plan to have her son kill Simba and usurp the throne. Another notable fact about “My Lullaby” is that it features lyrics by Joss Whedon.
13. “Why Me?” [deleted] from Aladdin (1992)
Most folks probably don’t realize there is a whole trunk full of Menken & Ashman songs out there that were deleted from Disney’s Aladdin. One of them is this solo for Jafar in which the character laments his past failures in life. The song actually did make it into the pre-Broadway run of Aladdin: The Musical (sung by Jonathan Freeman, the original voice of Jafar), but it was eventually cut and replaced with the lesser “Diamond in the Rough”. The Jafar songs don’t stop there! At least FOUR scrapped songs were written for the character in the film (plus another selection was included in the film’s sequel).