My love for Disney has grown over the past years as I have gotten older. As a child, I wasn't able to view the films from different angles - which is same for all children. Now watching them is more rewarding since I can understand the song lyrics and hidden meanings behind the dialogue and designs. I've come to realise how magical Disney truly is, and unfortunately, how wrong the films are at the same time. I want to analyse in this Disney's way of portraying villains and evil because it's in black-and-white. In reality, we rarely know for sure who is the bad guy, and when someone proves to be similar to a villain, they often don't fall into the extreme side of evil. And even a bad guy might own good traits that a princess or a prince possess, making the world seem greyer than what Disney taught us.
There are two types of villain categories in Disney films: elite and outsider. A villain belongs in the elite when they either have power and influence over the protagonist's surroundings or they are admired by the majority. The outsider is on the other hand disgraded and have often zero power over others. The elitist villains are for example Jafar from Aladdin, Judge Frollo from The Huncback of Notre Dame and Gaston from The Beauty and the Beast. Jafar is portrayed as a thin and ugly older man but he is sultan's advisor, granting him a powerful position. Judge Frollo is, as the name tells, a judge and feared one as well and his influence in Paris is evident. Gaston differs from these two by not being a political figure in the town and not considered to be ugly. He is a handsome and masculine hunter which is why he is admired by everyone except for heroine Belle. Gaston breaks the typical villain stereotype with his looks and reputation but the viewer can easily tell he's the bad guy from his body language and speech from the beginning.
The outsider villains are for example Scar from Lion King, Hades from Hercules and Ursula from The Little Mermaid. Scar, despite his title as the king's brother, is living in the shadows and scheming a plan to get the crown. Hades, despite being a god, is not welcomed on Mount Olympus and is constantly bitter about this. Ursula is a sea witch who was banished by King Triton.
Although not everyone's main goal is power (Gaston and Frollo), their motives are driven by greed and jealousy/revenge. Either they want something the protagonist or other people have or they are not satisfied with their current success. Meanwhile, the protagonist is motivated by moral values like love, family, justice and peace, the exact polar opposite to villains'. Sometimes Disney films make the hero sacrifice their original goal for the greater good which is impossible for the antagonist: Hercules giving up godhood for Meg and Simba taking responsibility as a king. This teaches children two things about villains: you can see them from the first glance and their unfortunate fate is justified because they are evil. Let's take a deeper look at the argument.
So Disney doesn't only teach us what are right values to fight for but what type of people shouldn't be trusted and look up to. It is without a doubt undisputed to say the message is good - if only it would be that simple. Villains, in the end, are the other side of humanity. There is no good without evil and this is true among individuals' personality and motives. The problem is Disney portrays its protagonist morally perfect: they either are born innocent or they make one mistake, learn from it and never do anything stupid ever again. The purpose of this is to give the viewer an absolute flawless role model, not a relatable character because Disney is meant to teach children through stories. The villains are either born evil and enjoy harming others or they never learn from their mistakes and cannot let go of their selfish dreams. They create the reason why the protagonist is the role model when the viewer compares the outcomes of both sides' actions. It's obvious who is the real winner in the end. But is that how things work in reality too?
The films heavily focus on exposing evilness to the viewer that it outshines villains' other admirable traits. For instance, they all work hard and have the willpower to achieve their goal. In today's society, these type of people are often the most successful and wanted in workplaces. Same goes to protagonists: their goodness outshines their weaknesses. Most Disney princesses are unable to defend themselves without a prince or, if we don't count a few exceptions, make decisions without letting others influence them (if we compare this to a real-life situation when it's about a person's future). We may want to act and be loved like heroes from Disney films but we end up understanding and relating to villains as we get older. We may even end up dreaming about similar things as them and some of us are ready to burn bridges to get there. Does that make us evil since we couldn't follow Disney's rightful values it sets for us? No one with a rational mind would say yes. But there's great news: Disney has realised its mistake and has switched the direction towards the grey area of life. I'm meaning one of the newest Pixar Disney film Coco (2017).
Coco is an amazing film for various reasons and one of them is the villain. Spoiler alert: it is supposed to be a plot-twist, at least it was to me when I watched it. Ernesto de la Cruz is ten times better at breaking the Disney villain stereotype (I know Hans from Frozen is perhaps the first to do that but honestly, his character build doesn't impress) than Gaston. Why? He is represented as a celebrity role model. Miguel, the protagonist, looks up to him and wishes to become like him. And it works: I believed Ernesto's public mask to be true until the lie came out. Ernesto's motto "seize your moment" sounds something a hero would tell and it is inspirational advice yet has a dark undertone behind it. I find Ernesto's character realistic because his villainousness is hidden well and his dream doesn't involve political power or revenge - he wants to be remembered as a musician. It's not evil to desire fame, it's understandable. Of course, killing your best friend and stealing his work for it is not acceptable but who would have figured out it was Ernesto? Imagine your idol getting exposed to not being the person their fans thought they were. Would you immediately believe the news and try to forget the person? I bet most of us would deny it at first. That's how Ernesto's fans probably felt too and I'm sure some of them chose to keep listening to his albums since the truth came out years after Ernesto's death. I think it proves that he's the first Disney villain who reached his goal in life.
There's a question that popped in my head while analysing this character: is Ernesto evil like a classic Disney villain? He did murder Hector and steal his songs but he didn't do this for the sake of evil. Look at Scar for instance: he killed his brother Mufasa like it was nothing. It brought him sadistic joy. Other classic villains behave in a similar sense. Ernesto, in turn, chooses to go for a kill out of desperation. When he meets Hector again in the Land of the Dead, he doesn't show anger or cockiness. He seems genuinely shocked and afterwards guilty. He also behaves strangely when he drops Miguel to his death: there's no evil laugh, no evil smirk, there's nothing. Ernesto is a sociopathic villain but his crimes do somewhat affect him which is new. It's not black-and-white: not every bad person wishes to rule others and not every bad person enjoys killing. They may live among us, they might look like us and they might dream like us. And that's why we need more Disney villains like Ernesto in the films.
The villains are the best characters and the films wouldn't be as good without them. I will keep loving the classic ones but I'm all about new ideas and creativity in films so it's about time to see Disney making complex characters to trick the audience. I'm sure the next generations would prefer it too.