The villain of a story isn’t always the obvious adversary. Sometimes they’re the hostile invader standing at the gates to ransack your kingdom, or they’re your most trusted aide who’s scheming to stab you in the back. Et tu, Brute?
So many servants in a ruler’s inner circle are so close to power yet so far—it’s not surprising that a leader’s closest confidant can become their biggest adversary.
Two excellent examples are Jafar and Yzma. Both trusted counselors of the sovereign leader of their respective lands, these scheming servants aim to usurp the throne from those whom they serve.
JAFAR VERSUS YZMA
Both characters inhabit worlds loosely based on historic settings filled with anachronisms. As the royal vizier, Jafar aspires to become the new sultan of Agrabah in Aladdin (1992).
Yzma desires to take the throne from Kuzco to become empress of the Incas in The Emperor’s New Groove (2000).
In this villain match-up, we’re going to pit these two foes against each other to determine who is more capable, who has a better chance of achieving their objectives, and who is, ultimately, the most evil.
1. POWERS OF DECEPTION
As scheming aides to their leaders, Jafar and Yzma rely heavily on deception to trick their bosses into listening to them.
Jafar—Just Trust Him
Jafar utilizes the hypnotic powers of his serpentine staff to compel people to do his bidding, but the extent of the rod’s capability isn’t clear. He only uses it on one person, that being the Sultan.
Jafar also makes deals with people by promising to reward them.
He convinces Gazeem to steal half of the golden scarab and venture into the Cave of Wonders—and Aladdin to do the latter later. He even creates convincing disguises to dupe people, donning the visage of a feeble old man.
Yzma—Here, Drink This.
Yzma doesn’t actually need magical powers to deceive Emperor Kuzco into trusting her. The gullible ruler naturally trusts her because he couldn’t imagine anyone betraying him. His massive ego and vanity create a huge blind spot that Yzma easily exploits.
Kuzco’s character flaws are why Yzma is able to deceive him—not because of her own ability.
Yzma’s deception may have worked on Kuzco, but it’s doubtful anyone else would be duped by her lies. The point goes to Jafar.
2. POWERS OF SORCERY
Both foes use magic to achieve their objectives. But which will reign supreme?
Jafar—Phenomenal Cosmic Powers?
In addition to the aforementioned hypnotic staff, Jafar uses rudimentary sorcery and a workshop of contraptions to create electrical storms and generate visions. His lair is littered with torture devices and alchemy tools that suggest he has a solid grasp on the mystical arts.
Once he gains control of the lamp, Jafar becomes the most powerful sorcerer in the world.
Yzma relies on potions, her secret lair being a chemistry lab full of beakers and test tubes. She has concocted a variety of dangerous liquids, most of which seem to either cause physical transformations or outright death.
Unfortunately, her poor labeling system is what leads to Kuzco’s accidental transformation into a llama, rather than his mortal demise as intended. She may have access to magical powers, but she’s not as skilled at utilizing them.
Yzma’s penchant for using the wrong vial in a given situation would lead to her undoing in battle. The point goes to Jafar.
3. HAND-TO-HAND COMBAT
Both Jafar and Yzma have similar body types: tall, lanky, and angular. They’re described by fellow characters as old and ugly. Both carry jagged daggers under their clothes but aren’t very skilled at wielding them. They’re easily disarmed and aren’t very skilled fighters.
Either person would lose in a hand-to-hand match against nearly anyone. And in combat with each other, the edge would probably go to Jafar.
Yzma seems to avoid physical exertion (relying on Kronk to carry her through the jungle), so Jafar likely is in better physical shape and wouldn’t tire as quickly. The point goes to Jafar.
4. ZEALOUS LACKEYS
Although they’re secondary to their own masters, both villains have dedicated henchmen that are subservient to them: Jafar has his sarcastic parrot Iago, and Yzma has the strong but dim-witted helper Kronk.
Jafar and Iago
Jafar only becomes a real threat when he gains control of the lamp thanks to Iago’s sneaky retrieval. Plus, Iago suggests the idea of arranging to marry Jasmine—a plan that’s nearly successful were it not for Aladdin’s intervention.
Although Iago does directly cause Jafar’s mortal demise in the sequel, The Return of Jafar, by kicking his black lamp into the lava, he’s generally helpful to the vizier throughout the first film.
Yzma and Kronk
Kronk only does Yzma’s bidding because he wants to make everyone happy—including Yzma, whom he considers his friend.
But when he’s faced with the order to kill Kuzco at the film’s onset, he’s already conflicted over his immoral behavior, thus undermining Yzma’s plans.
In the end, Kronk betrays Yzma and directly foils her plans by slamming a door in her face.
Iago does eventually assassinate Jafar, but he is a clever, capable flunky who’s more useful than the oafish, well-meaning Kronk. The point goes to Jafar.
5. BEASTLY TRANSFORMATION
As the conflict of each film reaches its peak, Jafar and Yzma use their powers to shed their human form and transform into a different creature.
Jafar the Giant Snake
Jafar grows into a massive, intimidating cobra, though it’s only due to his wish to become the most powerful sorcerer in the world that Jafar can make this serpentine transformation.
Becoming a giant snake allows him to block others’ escapes and squeeze Aladdin to near death, but it also makes him a large target that Aladdin can easily harm by stabbing with his sword.
Yzma the Feral Cat
At first, Yzma seems to transform into a similarly menacing creature—until the smoke clears and we see that she’s actually a small cat.
While Yzma’s final form is not intentional like Jafar’s, becoming a cat makes her quite swift, agile, and tough to catch—much like a real cat.
Still, Jafar is much stronger and could inflict more damage in a fight. The point goes to Jafar.
BONUS ROUND: VILLAIN SONG
I’m a sucker for a good villain song, and both of these characters’ are fascinating case studies.
Jafar Croons the Hits
In Aladdin, Jafar’s only song is a short parody reprising the earlier number, “Prince Ali.” What a clever idea to make the villain’s song a distortion of a tune that had celebrated the hero when he was at his highest point, kicking Aladdin to his lowest point (revealing his deception and banishing him).
It’s a musical mockery of Aladdin’s faults. Unfortunately, that song is too brief to be memorable.
It wasn’t until the direct-to-video sequel that Jafar got his own unique, full-length song, and it was… interesting. Jafar’s song “You’re Only Second Rate” is meant to intimidate the Genie, but is undermined by its upbeat style and peculiar lines like, “Granny’s gonna grab ya.”
Yzma Steals the Show
If you’ve only watched The Emperor’s New Groove, you might not realize that Yzma has her own villain song.
Originally written for Kingdom of the Sun (the unfinished original concept for Emporer’s New Groove) by Sting, her song “Snuff out the Light” does appear on the official The Emperor’s New Groove soundtrack album, so (in my book) that makes it canon.
And what a great song it is! The music’s gradual escalation, both in menace and orchestration, paired with its cleverly written lyrics reveal a side of Yzma we never got to see in the movie.
When you hear the lines, “Snuff out the light, claim your right to a world of darkness,” you get the chills.
It’s catchy and toe-tapping, yet simultaneously dark and menacing. It’s what “You’re Only Second Rate” should have been. The point goes to Yzma.
AND THE WINNER IS…
In many ways, Yzma is a farcical take on Jafar and his sinister qualities. Thus, she’s naturally inferior to the source she’s parodying.
It’s fun to wonder how Yzma would’ve been portrayed in Kingdom of the Sun. She may have been able to give Jafar a run for his money. But as she is, she’s a jokey caricature who couldn’t put up a fight against the original.
Final judgment: Jafar is a far more capable, nefarious villain.
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