Almost as important as the heroes (sometimes even more), a good villain can decidedly make or break a story. Experienced readers know that the only way their beloved heroes can shine is by having a well-crafted bad guy enhancing all the good qualities about them. To be successful, a villain needs to be as complex psychologically as the hero. He has to have his own human motives for acting, as well as both good and bad qualities to his character.
Today we are going to analyze the characteristics of this generation’s most famous bad guys: Disney villains.
Although the children entertainment giant is certainly not famous for their overly clever plot lines, there is no doubt that Disney movies have had an impact in the creative mindset of young artists around the world. And even though the hero characterization (Save me! Save me! I’m a poor damsel in distress!) and overall plot development (pretty girl meets handsome guy, kiss, kiss, HEA) leave a lot to be desired, Disney has actually had some quite successful attempts at villain crafting. And some others not quite so successful.
Let’s take a look:
“Top 10 villains hits and misses from Disney movies”
# 10: Beauty and the Beast – Gaston.
Those of you who remember this “charming” character (insert sarcasm here) would probably agree with me that he definitely belongs at the bottom of the list of all the significant Disney villains. Illogical reasoning behind his actions, lack of intelligence, overall rotten-for-the-sake-of-rotten demeanor, and seriously have you seen that chest hair? Gross! Almost parodic in his portrayal, Gaston is a terrible example of what a villain should be. He’s more like a spoiled little boy, used to always have his way, who gets mad when his toy of choice is snatched by somebody else. The fact that he turns out to be nothing more than a whiny coward at the end of it all, only make things so much worse. Definitely a miss for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
# 9: Hercules – Hades.
Who doesn’t remember the rather offensive Disney version of the God of Tartarus? Of all of Disney’s villains, Hades is probably the only one you can’t really take seriously. With his temper tantrums, cheesy jokes, and inefficient minions, Hades is a hair short of laughable on his part as the bad guy in Hercules. Backfiring plots, lack of planning, a deep-seated ineptitude and a tendency to complain and whine make this bad guy all the more unlikable. The fact that his only moving force is an overcompensated sibling rivalry also gives his actions a rather pathetic outlook overall. Sad end for a character with great exploitable potential.
# 8: Aladdin – Jafar.
In number 8 we have young Aladdin’s wicked counterpart, Agrabah’s Grand Vizier Jafar.
Stepping slightly up his game from his predecessors in this list, Jafar concocts an evil plot that actually works (for a while). He seems to be more of the intelligent sort, and definitely far more skilled than either Gaston or Hades at the being-a-villain business. However, the sheer clichédness of his actions and motives is far more offensive than the crass ineptitude shown by the other two. The “loyal” servant eager to take his master’s place as king (and get the pretty girl, since we are at it), it’s such an overused excuse for villains that the whole thing crumbles remarkably fast. Jafar doesn’t have a personal motive. He can’t pull off a convincible personal reason, and as such, he looks more like a bad caricature than an actual complex character. The greed he supposedly displays is shallow, because it has no objective whatsoever. He doesn’t want to be king or powerful, he only wants “more.” This empty concept does not cut it as a good driving force. While Gaston and Hades are just plain stupid, Jafar is a victim of the laziness of his creators, who thought that they could get away with murder (of the literary genre!) with the excuse that they were writing for children.
# 7: Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – Maleficent and The Evil Queen.
For number 7 we have a tie: Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent and Snow White’s The Evil Queen. These two ladies share a spot because the are basically two versions of the same character. They are both powerful witches, they both shape-shift towards the end of their movies, and they both act against the heroes without any kind of explanation. In Snow White’s case, we have the Queen’s vanity that makes her want Snow White dead (because she is prettier), but the basic definition of a villain is: the person that stands between the hero and what the hero wants. Following this line what would Snow White want? Nothing at all. The poor stupid child is happy cleaning the floor of her own palace, for God’s sakes! This basically means that the Queen’s motives for killing her are not those of a villain. If she were the hero of it all instead (now there’s a thought!), the whole thing would make more sense: What does she want? To be the fairest of them all. Who stands in her way? BANG! Now that’s a story.
The exact same thing happens with Maleficent. There is not real direct confrontation happening between hero and villain, which means there should be no conflict whatsoever.
The fact that they are not nice people (everyone is entitled to their opinions!) doesn’t automatically means they have to carry the part of the bad guy, my fellow writers. The only reason why these two are in this list at all it’s because they do a good part being scary and mysterious, but they should definitely be out of commission here!
# 6: Cinderella – The Stepmother, Lady Tremaine.
Now we are getting somewhere!
Manipulation skills, good poker face, sharp intelligence and a clear objective make Cinderella’s Stepmother a worthy #6 on our list. Probably the most successful of Disney villains motive wise, Lady Tremaine is a very good example of simple yet effective bad-guy-crafting. She is a cold person, greedy and arrogant, she has an objective and she seeks to achieve it. Once the hero gets in her way, she becomes the villain. The Stepmother is also the first villain we see of Disney that it’s not one-dimensional. She might be cruel or cold to Cinderella, but she is not an overall evil or hateful person. She is a doting mother to her daughters and would go to great lengths to ensure their future. She has a particular character and she carries it through, but she is basically just trying to make the best of her situation by manipulating Cinderella into doing whatever she wants. She is not excessively cruel or spiteful of Cinderella at the beginning, she just basically doesn’t care about her, and sees her simply as a servant. While this very much puts her in an unflattering light, it’s not necessarily a villainous light until the conflict actually arises: Cinderella, prettier and kinder than her daughters, trying to take the place Lady Tremaine feels her daughters deserve. As I say, basic conflict development, but it works. In a Disney universe plagued with far too many black and white characters, the Stepmother is our first shade of gray, and thank God for that.
—— Click here for PART 2