Disney Villains: 2D = Evil vs 3D = Misunderstood

Ok, the title sucks. I admit it but I’m still a little jetlagged and my grand plan of writing this on the plane, or in my down-time in New York really didn’t happen so this post for Disney Villain Blog Tour isn’t going to be quite as epic as I hoped.

I’ll litter it with gif’s – so hopefully you’ll forGIF me.

When Andy @PewterWolf13 asked for contributors for The Disney Villain Blog Tour I was all “me! me! me! me!” but when it came to picking a topic I ended up getting stuck.

I’m not sure I’m quite going to be able to articulate my point the way I want in this post but one of the things that is clear (in a broad-scale) is that when you look at the Classic Disney Animated Films the villains are just evil.

Yet, now that life-action remakes are all the rage Disney has embraced that fact that ‘evil’ is rarely that one-dimensional. Maleficent, Queen of Hearts, Cinderella’s Stepmother, Shere Khan and yes even Cruella De Vil suddenly have so much more going for them. It’s not just Villain Royalty, I watched Pete’s Dragon a while ago and the “bad” guys were just people taking a different route, one that I might oppose but that can be understood.

The easiest answer to this is that these life-action remakes are new(er). As an audience Disney has recognised that we are more demanding, we want complexity. Our Princesses no longer wait around to be rescued; they go out and do the rescuing. So the why wouldn’t the ‘evil’ be more complex. Take Frozen; who saw Prince Hans coming?

But with life-action it goes further (I feel). In Beauty and the Beast you saw LeFou become more than Gaston’s side-kick. The audience knows why LeFou doesn’t betray Gaston until the end, because LeFou’s alone and loves his friend – yet you see him questioning what’s happening. That depth wasn’t anywhere to be seen in the original. If we’re harsh, LeFou isn’t a main character. Disney could have left him alone and still made in a fortune on the film.

Watch The Jungle Book and Shere Khan is not just the tiger wanting to eat the little boy but the one who makes a valid point about the dangers of humans. Mowgli then burns down most of the jungle so it kind of proves that point. (Yes I know there is a lot more and it’s not like Shere Khan is a cuddly creature but he’s got a valid argument.)

And the Queen of Hearts and Maleficent had a whole character re-writes! They are now the heroes of their stories. The victims of other’s people lies that made them the ones cast out as bad.

As you compare animated (including digital films such as Tangled, Toy Story, etc) against the life-action versions there is a noticeable difference between them. Even as Disney grows I don’t think the animated films will ever reach the character depth of their life-action versions.


Personally I think it’s because we’re more inclined to accept “evil” at face-value from animated characters than real ones. When we see real people, reflections of us, doing unspeakable things there is a need for us to understand what would bring them to that point.


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