Underrated Disney villains who deserve more love (or hate)

Disney Villains After Hours. Image courtesy of Disney Parks.
Disney Villains After Hours. Image courtesy of Disney Parks. /
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Denahi – Brother Bear

How appropriate that a list of overlooked Disney villains starts with an overlooked Disney film.

Denahi lives happily with his brothers, Sitka and Kenai, until the former dies in a bear attack. When the latter is turned into a bear after seeking revenge, Denahi believes both his brothers are dead. In a bloody rage, he pursues Kenai across the prehistoric land, thinking him the same bear who robbed him of everything.

His is easily one of the more tragic tales in the pantheon of Disney villains. His transformation arguably carries more pathos than our protagonist’s. We’re initially led to believe that he’ll be a comic relief character when we see him as a carefree goof.

In fulfilling what he thinks is his brother’s last wish, however, his humanity gradually fades. The journey takes a physical toll on him, but he only grows more desperate for revenge, losing his way in every sense. It’s sad to see.

It also makes him scarier whenever he catches up to the protagonists. Much in the same way as an animal backed into a corner, you never know what a desperate man is capable of. Denahi is clearly willing to risk everything in pursuit of his singular goal. He doesn’t even seem to care if he dies himself. He doesn’t have any master plan, evil or otherwise. He has nothing left except the drive to kill this bear.

Not only does this rob him of the standard (and exploitable) selfishness and arrogance of most Disney villains, but it makes him more potent and chilling as an enemy. Encountering someone without a sense of self-preservation raises the stakes exponentially. It means he’s willing to resort to the craziest actions and even sacrifice himself to take you with him.

This multiplies the number of potential hazards or angles of attack, thus amplifying the danger. There are no guarantees. Tactics that would be considered suicidal are now fair game, and he leaps into them without a second’s hesitation. His brother almost has no time to react, let alone try to communicate.

That kind of abandon and vengeful focus, especially on such a personal level, makes Denahi a uniquely foreboding threat, one whose unpredictable ferocity throws you off guard and makes each chase a heart-pounding affair. He may be hunting an animal twice his size, but his unrelenting aggression would trigger a fight-or-flight response in man and bear alike.