(A version of this post was shared with Laughing Place on February 10, 2023.)
They’re either utterly detestable or confusingly lovable. No, I’m not talking about boy bands, reality TV shows, man-buns, or Funko Pops. I’m talking about those runner-up, bad guy toadies – villainous henchmen and goons. They love to be bad, but they also want to be loved (well, maybe some of them do).
My recent two-part series on favorite Disney and Pixar sidekicks and favorite Star Wars and Marvel sidekicks honored some of the most popular pals of the good guys. Come join me now to reprehend those nefarious number-twos from Disney and Pixar stories (and also from the Star Wars Galaxy and the Marvel Cinematic Universe).
Let’s have a brief chat about henchmen and goons. Aren’t they the same thing? I mean, they’re both secondary bad guys, right? Well, there is actually a defined difference between the two villain types.
A henchman is defined as “an unscrupulous and ruthless subordinate, especially a criminal.” This character is usually fiercely loyal to their master. They strive to do their bidding, and crave the praise and recognition that rarely comes back their way.
A goon on the other hand is little more than a hired hoodlum or thug. They are usually stupid, foolish, or awkward. They blindly carry out the dirty work of their master, with rarely an original idea or plan of their own. In short, they are the grunt labor force of their villainous overseers.
Okay, not that we’ve sorted that out, let’s look at some of the most memorable henchmen and goons.
Disney Henchmen and Goons
Classic Disney bad guys are plentiful, as are their underlings. Here are some of the best.
Mr. Smee – Peter Pan
Captain Hook’s right hand man (pardon the pun) is short on brains, but full of loyalty. And he would have to be, considering how poorly he is treated by his hook-handed master. This short, stout seaman is fairly universally loved by fans (as is his pirate employer). If you have any doubts, just look around the crowd when you attend Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party in Magic Kingdom. You’ll see many blue and white striped shirts in the crowd.
Lucifer – Cinderella
Ok, it’s kinda hard to have any compassionate feelings for a feline who’s named after the devil. Lucifer does his namesake proud, causing as many hardships for Cinderella and her furry friends as his plump pelt will allow. We may not hear Lady Tremaine specifically issuing him orders, but Lucifer seems to know exactly what to do just the same.
Diablo – Sleeping Beauty
Speaking of pets named after the devil, Maleficent’s raven-in-chief does quite an effective job of scouting out Briar Rose and those three adorable fairies in 1959’s Sleeping Beauty. Disney took Diablo a step further in 2014’s Maleficent, when he was named Diaval by the horned anti-hero and bestowed with the ability to shapeshift (most commonly in the form of a raven or a human).
Jasper and Horace – 101 Dalmatians
So far we’ve been admiring some humble henchmen. Jasper and Horace are classic goons. The two lowlife crooks perform Cruella de Vil’s bidding in 1961’s 101 Dalmatians (and also in 1996’s live action reboot and 2021’s reimagining Cruella). If you’re looking for stolen cars, stolen puppies, residential robberies, and unshaven faces, these guys are typical goon examples.
Flotsam and Jetsam – The Little Mermaid
Residing somewhere between henchmen and goons are this pair of optically-amplified eels. While they don’t really exude that henchmen vibe, the two are clearly more clever than goons, managing to talk Ariel into a visit with Ursula the sea witch in 1989’s The Little Mermaid. Ursula also seems to have some admiration for her pets, and she treats them with a bit of respect – something goons rarely receive.
Iago – Aladdin
The sinister smile. The evil quips. Jafar’s menacing red macaw is the animated definition of the word “henchman.” He gladly does his master’s bidding and relishes any chance he gets to stick it to Aladdin. He’d be quite a hatable fellow if he weren’t so snarky and funny (especially since he temporarily ruined Walt’s Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room in the 1990s). But let’s call it what it is – Iago’s cheese grater voice, provided by comedy legend Gilbert Gottfried – can be divisive among viewers and their ears. Iago, along with his voice, is either loved or hated. There’s no in-between.
LeFou – Beauty and the Beast
Now here is a little fellow. LeFou – whose name is both French for “madman” and a phonetic pun on “fool” – serves “everyone’s favorite guy” Gaston. LeFou doesn’t have a whole lot of smarts, but he is unfailingly loyal to Gaston. To his credit, Gaston treats LeFou fairly well, other than the occasional brawny outburst. LeFou’s one fatal flaw? He actually thinks Gaston’s a great guy (but then again, so do many others in the quiet French village).
Kronk – The Emperor’s New Groove
Every now and then there comes a bad guy who everyone loves. Yzma, the evil sorceress in 2000’s The Emperor’s New Groove, is not that bad guy. But Kronk, her right-hand-man, most certainly is. What this dim-witted henchman lacks in brains, he makes up for with brawn, charm, and a genuine sweet side. Of course, the smoothly subtle voice of Patrick Warburton makes Kronk easy to digest.
The Weasels – The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
Contrary to Kronk, there is virtually nothing to like about the weasels. This gang of lowlifes-for-hire first appeared in 1949’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, as hired thieves for the conniving Mr. Winky. The henchmen have gone on to appear in many other Disney moments – most notably as Judge Doom’s goon squad in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Two of them even helped dig a grave for Ebenezer Scrooge in Mickey’s Christmas Carol. This group drifts between henchmen, goons, and simple lowlifes, but one thing’s for sure – they always ooze that slimy, shudder-inducing vibe.
Lock, Shock, and Barrel – Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas
Oogie Boogie’s self-proclaimed “little henchmen” take their job with pride. Halloween’s finest trick-or-treaters fake a loyalty to Jack Skellington and his whimsical wishes, but – with fingers crossed, they ultimately serve only one master – the “Gamblin’ Boogeyman.” This trio stands tall for being totally creepy, even in a world full of creepy. They also sing the least endearing song (“Kidnap the Sandy Claws”) in Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed – The Lion King
Lions and hyenas – has there ever been a more awkward pairing in a Disney film? These three howling henchmen do all the bidding of their master Scar. But in the end they have “no stinkin’ entrees” to show for it, and they find out their fearless leader is nothing more than a loathsome liar. In 1994’s The Lion King, Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed are voiced by Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, and Jim Cummings. Two comedy legends and a Disney voice wizard – not bad for three cackling crackpots.
Major Arnold Ernst Toht – Raiders of the Lost Ark
Who? Maybe let’s introduce him this way – the German guy who burned his hand on the red-hot gold medallion in 1983’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. This agent of the Gestapo doesn’t report to a specific master in the film, but we all know who is pulling the Nazi strings. Toht has all the trademark characteristics of a ruthless henchman – menacing expression, ominous music when he appears on-screen, evil intentions, and an nagging persistence throughout the film. We were not too heartbroken when his face was melted off by the Ark’s ghostly contents.
Nathaniel – Enchanted
Poor Timothy Spall. The British actor has appeared in so many productions, but is best remembered in the U.S. for clawing his way to success as a lowly goon. In 2007’s Enchanted, Spall’s character Nathaniel is a lowly servant to Queen Narissa. And he pays the price dearly, enduring constant insults from the queen, resulting in a horrifyingly low self esteem. Thankfully for Nathaniel, he wised up to his senses, and was able to rebel against the queen and save his own self dignity. In a similar (non-Disney) role, Spall played the traitorous wizard Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter film series, blindly serving his thankless master Voldemort (I mean, “He who must not be named”).
Pixar Henchmen and Goons
Pixar’s film catalog isn’t as deep as Disney’s, but there are still a handful of second-tier baddies to make this list.
Randall Boggs – Monsters, Inc.
“Just get me another door!”
Randall, the monster chameleon with a (usually) purple complexion, is unscrupulous when it comes to winning the Scare Record in Monsters, Inc. He will stop at nothing to best Sully for the title, and for most of the film he appeared to be the main villain. But Sully and Mike find out that Randall wasn’t just in it for the glory – he was in cahoots with Mr. Waternoose in a plot to kidnap children. No matter – in a madcap chase through the giant door vault, Sully and Mike (with a little help from Boo) manage to trap Randall behind a door to the outside world, and then destroy it so he cannot re-enter Monstropolis. Trust me, it was a funny story!
Mirage – The Incredibles
Strikingly beautiful, yet mysterious and dangerous, Mirage offers Bob Parr the opportunity to relive his superhero glory days. But this perfect opportunity proves too good to be true, and the former Mr. Incredible finds himself in a world of hurt. Mirage was just the secret weapon Syndrome needed to lure Mr. Incredible to his superhero-killing island. For much of the film, Mirage seems to be truly valued by Syndrome – until push comes to shove and he dares Mr. Incredible to kill her during a stand-off. That was the moment Syndrome’s henchwoman needed to scare her straight, and give her the strength to help the Incredibles defeat Syndrome and his angry Omnidroids.
Molt – A Bug’s Life
Truth be told, we’re not exactly sure where on the scale Molt resides. As the younger brother of Hopper – leader of the grasshopper gang – in 1998’s A Bug’s Life, Molt is dim-witted and underqualified to hang with the posse. Being Hopper’s younger brother may technically disqualify Molt from being a henchman, as may the fact that he’s actually not a bad character. Nonetheless, he does try very hard to earn the respect of his brother (lest we forget, he’s the leader of the grasshopper gang). And for that reason, I have to give him his evildoer credit.
Ken – Toy Story 3
He’s just too perfect – so it’s time to take him down a peg. When Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang find a new home in a day care center in 2010’s Toy Story 3, They meet a whole new collection of toys. Perhaps the shiniest and prettiest of them all is Ken, who immediately falls for Barbie (now part of Andy’s toy gang by virtue of his younger sister Molly). But little did Barbie or anyone else know, Ken was in servitude to Lotso – the day care’s de facto prison toy keeper. After decades of gracing America with that pretty boy image, Ken’s ugly side finally shone through.
The Ventriloquist Dummies – Toy Story 4
The award for most creepy characters in a Pixar film goes to…these guys! Four old-time ventriloquist puppet toys, frozen in time, serve as the henchmen for Gabby Gabby – another toy lost to the progress of time. Together, Benson and the other unsettlingly silent dummies serve Gabby Gabby in her quest to find a pull-string voice box that will restore her vocal chords – giving her a chance to regain her former fame. It’s honestly hard to say for sure that they are bad – they simply have one-track missions on their ancient toy minds.
Let’s give a round of applause (or maybe a chorus of boos) for the top Disney and Pixar henchmen and goons.
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Check out our picks for the baddest Star Wars and Marvel MCU henchmen. Also, on the heroic side of the coin, check out this two-part series of favorite Disney and Pixar sidekicks and favorite Star Wars and Marvel sidekicks.