Table of content    
  1. Syndrome (The Incredibles)
  2. Lotso (Toy Story 3)
  3. Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
  4. Anton Ego (Ratatouille)
  5. Maleficent (Maleficent)
  6. Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)
  7. Stinky Pete (Toy Story 2)
  8. General Zurg (Lightyear)
  9. Mor’Du (Brave)
  10. Cruella De Vil (Cruella, 101 Dalmatians)

10 Disney Villains With The Most Tear-Jerking Backstories Ever

A good villain is an evil villain, but a great villain has the right motive to become one. In its vast history of animation, Disney has produced countless iconic bad guys to go against the protagonists, and their malevolent features are one of the best aspects of the films. As time goes on, the House of Mouse’s villains are now more well-written and have much more depth than the classic ones. While some are straight-up evil right from the start, some others were driven into the route of villainy by their awful past.

From Pixar to Disney animation, there are a lot of extremely wicked villains with tragic backstory that sometimes almost makes us feel empathize with their bad deeds. Let’s take a trip down memory lane, and look at these 10 most iconic Disney characters who have such a dreadful upbringing that is enough to turn them into evil villains. 


#1. Syndrome (The Incredibles)

Every hero makes mistakes, and in Mr. Incredible’s case, he gave birth to a real menace. Widely considered one of Disney’s baddest villains ever, Syndrome doesn’t shy away from anything to gain what he wants: from killing countless superheroes just to test out his inventions, shooting missiles to a plane that has two children, and even dropping a gigantic metal monster into a city full of civilians…His wickedness has no bound.

The reason Syndrome turned this way is mostly due to Mr. Incredible’s flat-out rejection of his plead when he was a kid. Saddened and devastated by the hero he looked up to, Syndrome gave in to hatred and becomes one of the most detestable villains in Disney's history.


#2. Lotso (Toy Story 3)

Behind the adorable looks and the fragrant strawberry scent, Lotso turns out to be the evil mastermind behind the kindergarten’s regime. Cunning and ruthless, the villain injects fear into every toy under his control, and even betrays Woody’s group right after being saved by them. 

It’s easy to hate Lotso, but the real reason behind his tyranny is because he also used to be abandoned, and replaced by the owner who loved him the most. Feeling betrayed, the bear holds resentment and mistrust toward every human kid ever since, and doesn’t hesitate to get rid of anyone who disobeys his orders.


#3. Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)

Source: Disney

In the first Cinderella animated movie in 1950, Lady Tremaine is shown to be a wicked and sadistic woman, who picks on our protagonist for no reason at all. It was not until the series Cold Hearted in 2021 that her tragic past is finally revealed to the public. It turns out, Tremaine’s a widow who lost her first husband, and when she remarries to Cinderella’s father, the guy used up all her wealth to pay for his debt, leaving the family deprived and penniless.

It’s no wonder when her second husband passed away, her frustration and resentment are poured on his daughter, Cinderella instead. Of course, the reason isn’t just to pick on someone, but now we can feel a bit more sympathy for the poor Lady Tremaine.


#4. Anton Ego (Ratatouille)

Ego isn’t exactly a bad guy, he’s just a harsher food critic who’s just doing his job. However, the man was used as the last obstacle for Remy to clear for the world to acknowledge his exceptional cooking skill. The moment when Ego tastes the dish, we can see his memory flooding back, about his humble childhood in the small countryside, eating his favorite ratatouille home-cooked meal made by his mom after a hard day at school. It’s a touching scene that any of us can relate to, and that makes this one of the best sequences in the entire movie.


#5. Maleficent (Maleficent)

Source: Disney

Originally a malevolent supernatural being in Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent didn’t really have much depth to explore until her past revelation in the 2014 titular live-action movie. It turns out, the villain is a fairy, who acts as a guardian to the Moors, a place full of mythical creatures such as faunus or fairies. She then fell in love with King Stephan, a mortal ruler, who’s also Aurora’s father, only to be betrayed, and had her beautiful wings cut off by the man she loved so much. 

Hurt and devastated, the angered entity swore revenge on King Stefan and becomes the powerful being that everyone feared, and put a curse on Aurora afterward. 


#6. Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)

Source: Disney

While serving as the animated movie’s antagonist, many fans don’t hate Shere Khan. Sure, he may act like the jungle’s tyrant, but he only means harm to human beings like Mowgli, the species that blinded his eye and burnt him with fire during their encounter. The awful experience scars Khan for life, both literally and figuratively, and it explains why he hates Mowgli so much and stops at nothing to try killing him off.


#7. Stinky Pete (Toy Story 2)

We got to feel a bit for Stinky Pete here. Unlike Lotso, the old man didn’t even get to experience being loved once in his life. The sad past makes him unable to trust any child, thus explaining why he was so fixated on making Jessie and Woody a part of the collector’s items. 

While Stinky Pete’s way of doing things is a bit too extreme, it is due to his somewhat paternal love for Jessie, as he doesn’t want to see her heartbroken by a human ever again. If only Pete decides to follow Woody’s idea, he may have experienced a different fate.


#8. General Zurg (Lightyear)

Originally just a toy in the Toy Story franchise, Zurg is finally having the spotlight he deserved, as Disney makes him the main villain in Lightyear. The movie ends with a major plot twist, which reveals Zurg is actually Buzz Lightyear himself, who comes from the same timeline, but with a different outcome. In order to fix his mistake that leave the whole crew stranded on T’Kani Prime years ago, the older Buzz becomes too obsessed that he’d ready to sacrifice everything to travel back in time to right the wrong.

The big twist in the movie reminds us of a hilarious scene in Toy Story 2, where a different version of Buzz Lightyear fights Zurg in a toy store, only for the latter to reveal that he’s actually Buzz’s father. A brilliant Star Wars reference, but the scene makes much more sense two decades later thanks to Lightyear.


#9. Mor’Du (Brave)

Careful of what you wish for. Because of his greed, the mythical prince in Queen Elinor’s story was turned into the beast Mor’Du, who lost his sanity and wanders around in the animal’s form for eternity. While he just reaps back what he sow, being turned from a Celtic royalties into a bloodthirsty demonic bear for centuries is certainly a cruel fate for the former prince. In the end, the bear dies, and we can see how relieved the prince looks when his soul is finally set free.


#10. Cruella De Vil (Cruella, 101 Dalmatians)

Source: Disney

Initially portrayed as a crazed fashionista who’s obsessed over beautiful furs, Cruella finally gets her deserved justice in the 2021 titular movie. It turns out the villainess’s lunacy is there for a reason. When Cruella was young, her own mother attempted to kill her to keep the late husband’s inheritance. Cruella was adopted afterward, but when her foster mother dies due to the Dalmatians, she gives her life to criminal acts and becomes a fashion designer afterward, only for her to encounter her biological mother, the Baroness once again.

The fashionista’s dark past reveals how she’s obsessed with the Dalmatians, and serves as a prequel to her evil antics in the 1961 animated movie.

Can you think of any other Disney villain with a tragic backstory? Let us know in the comment.

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