Relatives: Lady Watham (Sister), Tarzan (Cousin)
Premiered in: Tarzan (1999)
Voiced By: Brian Blessed
Finishing off the Disney Renaissance era of villains is John Clayton, the last of what I would call true-blue Disney Villains for several films to come both in overall villainy and their effectiveness in execution. While not strictly based upon the character of the book, John Clayton is indeed Tarzan’s cousin likely on his father’s side given that he has that same distinctive chin shape and unlike his wild child relative, John Clayton is every bit the proper English gentleman when things are going his way.
We see brief instances of his temper throughout the majority of the film but it isn’t until the climax that we see the blindly raging bull. Overall, I feel that Clayton is a more respectable version of McLeach insomuch that while they’re both poachers, Clayton is able to not only work as a leader of a very organized group of like-minded individuals but is intelligent and crafty enough to fool his financers, Professor Porter and his daughter Jane, into believing him to be an honorable man. He was even able to trick Tarzan into leading them to the gorillas so that he can capture them and sell them off on the black market.
Like McLeach, Clayton’s primary goal is to earn money by way of the animal poaching business with his sights set on the gorillas of Africa on his latest venture for gold and glory. He is assured in his own prowess as a man against nature, something that eventually comes back to bite him in the form of Tarzan whom, though a man himself, is a man of the wild and as such able to utilize it and its denizens against Clayton in a way he could never have predicted. Like Shan Yu before him, Clayton doesn’t have any particular minion but a crew of poachers whom are easily dealt with by the animals of the jungle answering Tarzan’s call.
Ironically and disturbing though it may sound, Clayton is also the last of the Disney Villains to be dealt with in a severely graphic fashion. After Tarzan destroyed his gun, with a proud exclamation that he is not the kind of man Clayton is, Clayton flies into a rage the likes of which has him attempting to hack away at Tarzan with his machete. While Tarzan managed to get Clayton tangled up with a large number of vines, that didn’t stop the poacher from trying to cut himself free, never taking notice that one particular vine had slipped around his neck until it was too late and he and Tarzan both fell to the jungle floor, one injured but alive and the other dangling lifelessly from a noose of his own making.
I love Disney, I really do, and there are times where the villain just needs to be dealt with quickly, and sometimes even severely, but come on. That’s just freaking disturbing.
Overall… it’s rather hard to rate Clayton as a villain whence compared to his predecessors and those that came after him. Being a poacher, there’s no argument that he is a bad person and one that ought to rightly have been tossed behind bars but he never purposefully set out to kill people until Tarzan and even that was because Tarzan did what any hero was ought to do in such a situation. Like a few other villains, namely Frollo and Ratcliffe, Clayton is simply too human to be included amongst them as a group. Not in the literal sense but in the sense that he and his motivations are, sadly, no different than what can be found in the real world outside of fiction.
With that, we now finish our journey through the Disney Renaissance era of animated films and begin our journey down the Post-Era. Let me warn you now my dear readers, things are about to weird around here. Best to arm yourselves.