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9 Disney Villains With The Saddest Backstories

Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, set to be released in 2023 has fans excited to see the beloved tale brought to a new life. One possible outcome is to see Ursula, the movie’s villain, portrayed in a more tragic light in a similar treatment to Maleficent and Cruella de Vil

With live-action retellings, there are distinct choices in these storytellings that tell the sad past lives of these harsh villains. From abandonment to a lover scorned, these Disney villains are actually more sympathetic than first impressions lead to believe.


Te Fiti

Moana centers around the journey the eponymous heroine must take to restore the benevolent goddess Te Fiti’s stolen heart. Te Fiti created islands teeming with flora and fauna, but when it is stolen by a misguided Maui, she spends an unknown number of years desperately looking for it as the frightening Te Kā, a destructive lava demon.

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Te Fiti’s alter ego Te Kā, represents someone who has lost themselves in a dark place. Betrayed by those who she so willingly shared her gift of the bounty with, she fell into heartlessness and despair and believed that mankind is undeserving of her gifts. It isn’t until her heart is returned to her that Te Kā ceases to exist, reverting to her true form as Te Fiti.


The most ruthless villain in the Toy Story saga, Lotso is unsympathetic and cruel. Audiences already know the happiness toys experience when they are loved and cared for by their owners. When replaced by his owner, an angry Lotso makes his way to Sunnyside Daycare and quickly takes over, manipulating the toys into following his leadership.  After abandonment, he sees the world through different eyes and a colder disposition.

As one of Pixar’s most intelligent villains, Lotso takes control of the daycare by exercising absolute power. Allowing a select few toys to reside in the Butterfly Room, where they enjoy the perks of luxury and are treated with respect, he sends the rest off to the Caterpillar Room, where he knows full well they will suffer. He sustains his loss through surveillance and a faithful group of allies to make sure that he never again is betrayed in such a painful way.


Syndrome is the main antagonist in Pixar’s The Incredibles. His dismissal at the hands of Mr. Incredible when he was a child created Syndrome’s disillusionment with heroes. He becomes a supervillain and devoted his life to destroying all supers.

Born without superpowers, ten-year-old Buddy Pine wanted to be IncrediBoy, a sidekick to his idol Mr. Incredible. After being categorically refused by him, Buddy’s harsh rejection forms his sadistic and vengeful personality. Buddy gives up his obsession with superheroes and descends into megalomania. Fueled by his goal to make all superheroes obsolete through selling technologically advanced weapons to the highest bidder, he finds comfort in the idea that “when everyone’s super… no one will be.”


Maleficent is the self-proclaimed mistress of evil, who is known for cursing the baby Princess Aurora. There have been various retellings of this infamous character’s back story, but the most well-known one is depicted in the live-action film starring Angelina Jolie as the evil fairy.

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Maleficent was born into the realm of the moors, a place filled to the brim with mythical and magical creatures. Once having wings, it made her most happy soaring through the skies. Until, her thought-to-be- true love King Stephan, father of Princess Aurora, betrayed her and cut off her wings in pursuit of the crown. This enraged the fairy and she dove so deep into her powers that she became the most feared entity in both her world and that of the King.

Shere Khan

An elegant and suave Bengal tiger, Shere Khan’s name translates directly to Lord of the Jungle. In the animated and live-action films, The Jungle Book, he is the main antagonist whose hatred for humans drives him to rid the jungle of Mowgli and maintain power over the other animals.

Shere Khan’s fear of fire and mankind are big driving forces into why he acts as a jungle tyrant. As explored more in the live-action remake, Shere Khan is such a vengeful character due to his violent encounter with humans, leaving him blind in one eye and very much afraid of the power that they wield. This fear leads him to associate mankind with unforgiving and reckless creatures.


As told in “Poor Unfortunate Souls”, an installment of the Disney villain series novels by Serena Valentino, Ursula is actually the misunderstood daughter of Poseidon and sister to King Triton. As a goddess, Ursula had the power to take the form of her choice, and when her chosen form of tentacles was considered repulsive, she was turned away by her brother and everyone else.

When it came time for Triton to take the throne alongside his siblings, he couldn’t bare the thought of sharing power, let alone with Ursula. He cast her out into uncharted waters with the constant reminder that no one could love her in her ugly, evil form. She was left alone in exile and Ursula began to plot out her revenge on poor unfortunate souls, as expressed in one of Disney’s best songs.

Cruella De Vil

Cruella de Vil went through a lot leading up to her known status as a lover of furs. It wasn’t until Cruella starring Emma Stone was released in 2021 that fans saw the softer side the villain once had. Born into wealth, Cruella’s mother plotted to have her killed so as to focus on her career and keep her late husband’s inheritance.

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Snuck into safe keeping, Cruella was loved and cared for as a young girl. Having lost her adopted mother at a young age, Cruella spent her later life in crime, until finally landing a job in fashion. When the identity of her biological mother is revealed, Cruella snaps, only to focus her sights on sabotaging the fashion house that gave her work and become a titular designer in her own right.

Lady Tremaine

A past explored by Serena Valentino in her Disney villain series, “Cold Hearted” explores Lady Tremaine, a victim of loss and desperation to stay afloat in a world set against her. She lost her first beloved husband, a wealthy aristocrat and the father of her two daughters Anastasia and Drizella.  Realizing she doesn’t have to spend the rest of her life a sad widow, she married Cinderella’s father.

Unbeknownst to her, the wealth he had bragged to have was borrowed from the crown. He used all of Lady Tremaine’s money to pay back his enormous debt, leaving them with almost nothing to live on. Suddenly, her life of comfort was gone. When her second husband died, it’s no wonder that Lady Tremaine’s resentment for him was passed on to his only daughter Cinderella.

The Evil Queen (Snow White)

The story of the Evil Queen from Snow White has been retold countless times through the years, with Lana Parrilla portraying The Evil Queen as Regina in the popular series Once Upon A Time, and in “Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen”, written by Serena Valentino.

In the novel, she is happily married to the King and loved his daughter Snow. But when the King dies, the Queen falls into a depression, and over the years becomes tormented by an enchanted mirror cursed with the ghost of her evil father. In the series, it is her cruel mother that pushes her into marriage after her true love is murdered. No matter the version, she was a victim not only of her inner turmoil but driven mad by the cruelty around her.

NEXT: 10 Memes that Sum Up Fan Favorite Animated Disney Villains

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