Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Top Five Villains Disney Couldn’t Deal With

Okay, kids. Here there are, the fabulously wicked five:


5. The father from “Donkeyskin”

The heroine from "Donkeyskin," since I couldn't find a good pic of the father. art by stuntkid

The heroine from “Donkeyskin,” since I couldn’t find a good pic of the father. art by stuntkid

Who he is:

There is a recurring character type in Grimm’s and a number of other fairy tale canons: the incestuous father. He’s usually a king who has one daughter and whose wife has died. He comes to the bizarro-world-logical conclusion that he must remarry someone as beautiful as his dead wife. Of course, no one in the kingdom is so beautiful, except his teenage daughter, because genetics. He tries to marry his daughter, who actually-logically freaks right out and runs away. She often goes and hides somewhere in the skin or fur of an animal. I’m sure the Jungians and/or Freudians will tell you why.

About the tale(s):

The incestuous father theme shows up in Charles Perrault’s “Donkeyskin” (which Robin McKinley retold in her fantastic YA novel Deerskin), the Grimm’s “All Fur” (winner in the 1889 Fairy Tale That Sounds Like A Porno Competition), and the Italian tale, “Wooden Maria.” More directly, in Scotland the tale is called “The King Who Wished to Marry His Daughter”; in India, it’s called “The Princess Whose Father Wanted to Marry Her.” Like I say, it’s a theme.

Why Disney wouldn’t want him:

Somehow, even though kids deal with abuse and incest, it’s such a taboo in our society that We Dare Not Speak Its Name. Also, cute songs about running away from your incestuous father would be a little weird. Disney dads are always the good guys; in the latter-day Disney films dads are usually the ones their daughters are trying to protect. There are never truly evil biological parents in Disney.


4. The stepmother from “The Juniper Tree”

juniper-treeWho she is:

Widow. Remarried. Child murderess who cooked her dead stepson. Met with horrible end. Standard Grimm fare.

About the tale:

A widower, who has a son, remarries a widow with a daughter of her own. His new wife becomes insanely angry about/jealous of the son, and so beheads him with the heavy lid of an apple chest, like you do. Then she hides the body by cooking it. Her daughter finds the bones and buries them under the juniper tree in the yard. Meanwhile, a little adorable bird is flying around town singing “My mother she killed me, my father he ate me, my sister Marlene, she made sure to see my cones were all gathered together, bound nicely in silk, as neat as can be, and laid beneath the juniper tree. Tweet, tweet! What a lovely bird I am!” (Zipes translation) Apparently, no one in the village is weirded out, nor investigates the alleged crimes. Instead, they give the bird gifts: a pair of shoes for Marlene, a gold chain for Dad, and a millstone for Stepma. In the end, Stepma is crushed to death and the son mysteriously regenerates. The final line, which I find to be the most chilling part of the tale, is: “They went into the house, sat down at the table, and ate.” COME ON, Grimms. After a cannibalism tale, happy family dinner?

Why Disney wouldn’t want her:

Disney’s perfectly fine with murderous step-parents from Snow White onwards. This tale even has the requisite adorable singing bird. However, the cannibalism kicks this tale right out of the running.  Apparently incestuous cannibalism is an issue Disney doesn’t want to touch. Who knew?


3. Bluebeard

Bluebeard, bein' a wall-eyed creeper. Art by Gustav Dore.

Bluebeard, bein’ a wall-eyed creeper. Art by Gustav Dore.

Who he is:

Just a guy with a blue beard who marries girls, plays mind games with them, and then kills them and stores their corpses in his murder closet. NBD.

About the tale:

A girl ends up marrying Bluebeard, usually with pressure from her family because he’s loaded. When she goes to his house, he is indeed loaded, and shows off all his wealth. Then he tells her he’s leaving on a trip and gives her the keys to the house. He tells her she can use any one except the little golden one on the end. She is, of course, tempted, and after checking out all his bling, uses the forbidden key. She finds, of course, a closet with the bodies of all his former wives. When Bluebeard comes home, he finds out that she used the key (usually through supernatural bloodstain or other marks) and tries to kill her. She begs to go “pray” upstairs (read: shout of the window for help from her family), and her brothers rush in and kill Bluebeard. And then she joins a nunnery and/or becomes a hermit. Okay, maybe not that last bit, but seriously. I wouldn’t take my family’s advice on marriage ever again after that. Other tales of this type include the English tale “Mr. Fox,” and the Grimm tale “Fitcher’s Bird,” and to an extent the Scottish ballad “Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight.”

Why Disney wouldn’t want him:

Disney’s all right with lying and/or evil potential love interests. Gaston is a buffoon who turns evil/murderous, Frolo sort of has a Catholic guilt yen for Esmerelda, and Kocoum seems ordinarily jealous of John Smith.  But all of these men are sort of normal people who have a bad time of it; none of them are outright evil and duplicitous from the start. (Well, maybe Frolo. But I like to imagine that he could have had a nice retirement illuminating manuscripts or something.) More than anything, though, the murder closet is the issue. It’s just a little too gorey for Disney.


2. Lilith

Art by John Collier.

Art by John Collier.

Who she is:

Lilith has two sides to her story. On the one hand, she’s a Jewish demoness whose main gig is temptation and corruption. On the other hand, Lilith is a powerful feminine figure and Adam’s first wife, who was made from clay instead of rib, and was thus equal to Adam. Adam couldn’t handle her, so she was banished and God tried again, this time with patriarchy! Lilith went out beyond Eden and had lots and lots of demon babies. In popular culture, Lilith has been used as an icon of feminism, as in Lilith’s Fair. Talk to an Orthodox Jew, on the other hand, and likely they will not see her in the same light.

About the tale(s):

In Jewish folklore, Lilith either shows up as a surprise naked lady in the basement to seduce otherwise reasonable Jewish husbands, or else she lingers behind mirrors waiting to jump out into vain folks’ lives and mess with them. A great resource for Lilith tales is the book Lilith’s Cave collected by Howard Schwartz.

Why Disney wouldn’t want her:

I mean, realistically, it’s because a sexualized villainess with some fairly direct religious connotations. As a rule, Disney strays the hell away from anything religious. Noteable exceptions include The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where we get a religious zealot villain, and Hercules, which if the Greek Gods were still in power, would have resulted in some lightning bolts up in heeere. But a seductress/demon/mother is just too much for Disney.


1. Baba Yaga

Art by _iphigen

Art by _iphigen

Who she is:

Baba Yaga is a withered old witch who lives in the woods of many Russian tales. She lives in a house on chicken legs lit by flaming skull torches. Oh yes. She’s totally metal. She has a cat, a dog, and a stove, in which she cooks the flesh of curious children. She especially enjoys enslaving and then eating little girls. She spends her days flying around the country in a mortar, using a pestle as a rudder.

About the tale(s):

Baba Yaga appears in a lot of different tales, but perhaps her most famous tale (at least on this side of the Atlantic) is “Vasilisa the Wise.” In this story, a little girl, Vasilisa, is in a Cinderella-esque situation of no natural parents and some jerkish stepsisters. They’re a little more direct than Cinderella’s stepsisters, though, in that they send her into to forest on a mission to get light from Baba Yaga. Luckily for Vasilisa, she has a little doll that her late mother gave her. She takes care of it, and in return it tells her all the strategic tips she needs to know about surviving a stay with Baba Yaga. Vasilisa is just the right amount of polite and industrious (completing impossible tasks with the help of her doll), and returns with one of the flaming skulls. If I were one of her sisters, I’d pretty much leave her alone forever, ‘cause anyone who can talk Baba Yaga out of a flaming skull is not to be messed with.

Why Disney wouldn’t want her:

Other than the fact that she’s actually terrifying, I have no idea. I mean, perhaps the fact that she literally eats children might have to be toned down. But come on, eating children happens in a lot of fairy tales. Baba Yaga’s character design is so strong, I’m shocked that she hasn’t been animated more in the states. I think the closest we’ve seen comes from Japan, actually, in the form of Yubaba from Spirited Away. Come on, American animation. Let’s see a Baba Yaga cartoon with a metal soundtrack. Is that too much to ask?


So I went and quested for Baba Yaga animation. This cartoon comes the closest to my metal hopes and dreams, although it has none of the badass defeat-Baba-Yaga-by-her-own-rules business of the tale, and devolves into violence quickly…which *is* very American I suppose:

And this is just adorable:



  1. Bluebeard also turns up in Italian folklore, although he’s usually referred to as “the Devil” or some variation thereof. See: “How the Devil Married Three Sisters” (that page has a few other versions from various places, too; can you tell Bluebeard is my favorite fairytale?)

  2. I had heard a few of these, and others don’t stray too far off the mark. There’s actually a version of Bluebeard that comes up on a site called Speakaboos that our kinder kids loved last year. I have an old book that belonged to my parents called Wizards and Witches, or some such, that has the story of Vasilisa the wise and her magic doll, and now I’m going to have to read it again to remember the details. I never heard all the stories about Lilith, but I had heard vague references. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Mr Beaver refers to her when he’s talking about the White Witch’s parentage. Lilith is her mother, and on the other side she comes of the Jinn. I’ll have to do some more reading to follow up on some of these stories. I never connected Yubaba to Baba Yaga, and I even just watched Spirited Away the other night. Totally see some of it. As always, love your writing.

  3. Anne Bean

    September 30, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    For some fun Lilith mythos, check out Mike Carey’s series Lucifer. (comics) There’s not too much of Lilith, but a lot about her children.

  4. Interestingly, Baba Yaga makes an appearance in the new doll line/web series/book series by Mattel called Ever After High. She’s a faculty adviser for the students destined to become villains and her office does run about the campus on chicken legs, though that part has sadly not been shown in the animation yet.

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