Childhood cartoons burn indelible brands in the collective memory which last well into adulthood. For generations of kids raised on afterschool and Saturday morning cartoons, and for millennials who grew up watching Cartoon Network and Toon Disney, the wacky antics of animated baddies provided hours of laughter, and a touchstone by which to measure all real life villains.
While the villains of animated films tend to menace more than amuse, villains on television skew just the opposite. Ineffectual, silly and at times outright idiotic, the big bads of the small screen offer big laughs for viewers. Of all of them, ten stand out as the most ridiculous, and the most fun.
Bane of He-Man’s existence, Skeletor constantly plots to steal his power sword and learn the magical secrets of Castle Greyskull. Unfortunately for Skeletor, his boneheadedness transcends his appearance. Along with his gallery of inept rogues, Skeletor always tries and fails to defeat He-Man, and though he has a decidedly malevolent side (well played by Frank Langella in the movie adaptation), his goofy nature usually wins out as he runs crying back to Snake Mountain. Moreover, considering he occasionally gets himself into trouble and needs He-Man to rescue him, Skeletor comes off more like a stooge than an evil mastermind.
9. Cobra Commander
Speaking of criminally inept criminals, Cobra Commander, the mirror-masked terrorist head of Cobra on G.I. Joe takes the next spot on this list. Granted, in the 1980s, the head of a terrorist organization bent on taking over the world didn’t quite have the same resonance as it does in today’s age of ISIS and Al-Qaeda. For that reason alone, Cobra Commander feels more like a buffoon.
As voiced by the incomparable Chris Latta, always seems smart…but not smart enough to pull off a grand scheme. He’s a Salieri of cartoon villains: one with grand ambition and taste, but someone who also botches his own chances and trips himself up at every possible opportunity. That he turns into a giant snake (!) at one point should further reinforce his idiocy.
8. Professor Coldheart
Who picks a fight with a bunch of magical teddy bears who behave like a cross between superheroes and motivational speakers? Professor Coldheart, nemesis of the Care Bears first comes to mind. Played by Les Lye, who would go on to greater fame as a writer and lone adult actor on You Can’t Do That on Television, playing noted characters like Barf and Ross Ewich.
His Professor Coldheart, though, is a piece of work: plotting to rid the world of all love, caring and other warm-fuzzy feelings, he slips drugged cocktails to children and uses a bizarre machine to literally freeze everyone in place. Despite his magical powers of ice and snow, the Care Bears always managed to get the best of him.
7. Murky & Lurky
Considering they are supposed to hate colors, Murky & Lurky of Rainbow Brite sure have an ironic sense of style. They also have a knack for stupidity!
Granted, the premise of Rainbow Brite, a show about a girl who manages all the color in the universe, makes for rather thin storytelling. That didn’t stop the writers from trying, however: Murky bears childhood trauma which makes him hate color, and his sidekick Lurky just wants to play. The two drive around in a pollution-spewing go-kart constantly trying to foil Rainbow Brite’s plans to bring color to the universe. Shacking up in a wasteland called “The Pits,” the two have every right to be in a bad mood.
6. Wile E. Coyote
Dear, hapless Wile! How many times has he run off a cliff, blown himself up or had an anvil fall on his head while chasing after the Roadrunner? Has there ever been a more unfortunate villain?
Wile just wants to eat–not an unreasonable request, but his engineering skills fall a bit short. His knack for designing Rube Goldberg-inspired contraptions to either capture the Roadrunner, or at least catch up to him, always have disastrous outcomes, usually resulting in the aforementioned mutilations. Wile E also has a knack for getting hit by cars he mistakes for his bird of prey, and tends to run into brick walls painted black to look like tunnels. Talk about unlucky!
5. Magica De Spell
She’s a vampy-duck sorceress, she lives in a mountain shaped like herself, and she has phenomenal cosmic powers…and still can’t manage to steal a dime from an old man. She’s Magica De Spell, chief villainess of Ducktales and perpetual pain in the feathered ass to Scrooge McDuck.
Despite her magical powers, Magica remains obsessed with Scrooge’s Number One Dime, which she believes can actually increase her powers. Her schemes never work out, of course, and she generally ends up victim of her own spells, getting stuck in the ancient world, transformed into a raven or attacked by her own shadow. After her tenure on Ducktales, Magica showed up on Darkwing Duck, still up to her mischievous–and hilariously inept–schemes.
4. Dick Dastardly
Dick Dastardly, along with his snickering dog sidekick, Muttley, hail from the animated world of Hanna-Barbera, which also produced shows like The Flintstones and Scooby Doo. A race aficionado, he appears in several classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons including Wacky Races, and Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines. Regardless of the appearance, Dastardly always has the same plan: cheat to win the race. Of course, his schemes never quite work out, either.
Dastardly has a knack for ending up in accidents, or in at least one case, actually winning a race only to find himself disqualified for cheating when he didn’t even need to. His sidekick Muttley, with his distinctive laugh, seems to enjoy losing alongside Dastardly since he gets to mock his boss. Nevertheless, Dick Dastardly and Muttley remain quite popular, and are two of the few villains to star in their own series.
3. Mojo Jojo
An ultra-smart chimpanzee with a sadistic attitude and a very stylish turban, Mojo Jojo emerged from the same accident that caused the creation of The Powerpuff Girls on the Cartoon Network series of the same title. The character is a parody of poorly-dubbed villains from Japanese animation. The Powerpuff girls have no problem exasperating Mojo Jojo, which, as it happens, makes foiling his schemes pretty easy. Over the course of the series, the Girls manage to humiliate him on a regular basis, including making him wet his pants, revert to his monkey-like nature and break into screaming fits. Given his talents, his villainous nature seems something of a waste: Mojo Jojo has great skills at making sushi!
The cranky old cat-dude who always gets bested by tiny blue sexless worker-elves, Gargamel’s ineptitude lands him a place here. The old wizard is something of a pariah, living alone in his castle with just his hissing cat Azrael for company. He has a lifelong ambition to use the Smurfs in a potion to create gold. Despite his ample magical skill, he always fails, sometimes even leaving the Smurfs better off than when he began, such as when he created the lone female Smurf, Smurfette. In fact, Gargamel’s plans so often backfire, he ends up begging Papa Smurf for help a good part of the time! Gargamel also apparently comes from a long line of hapless wizards, all of whom have their dastardly plans foiled by Smurfs throughout history.
1. Purple Pieman
More properly known as The Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak, (a rat a tat a tat tat, a tat tat CHA!), arch nemesis of Strawberry Shortcake and berry pie culinary specialist, the Purple Pieman might be the outright weirdest villain to ever hit Saturday morning cartoons. Along with his pet crow Captain Cackle, the Pieman’s lone purpose in life appears to be spoiling the fun of Strawberry Shortcake and her other food-themed kiddie friends. Known for his Vincent Price-like voice and signature tap dance, he and his feminine consort, Sour Grapes, plot to steal all the berries from Strawberryland thus permanently ruining Strawberry Shortcake’s happiness. Perhaps it goes without saying that he never succeeds, though that doesn’t ever diminish his relish of evil, or his enthusiastic tap routine (a rat a tat a tat tat, a tat tat CHA!).