So coincidentally (?) both Doug Walker (the Nostalgia Critic) and Lindsay Ellis (the former Nostalgia Chick) both released a video discussing Disney Villains within the same week. Both asked pretty much the same question: what happened to the traditional Disney Villain that we all love (and love to hate)?
I feel now is the time to actually EXPLAIN (rather than theorize) why the new Disney Villains are so radically different from the dastardly evildoers from the past: it’s because of John Lasseter.
See, the main reason why Disney Animation is taken seriously again is because John Lasseter was placed in charge of the studio and is the executive producer of every film. You know how people say that Pixar and Disney Animation are getting harder to tell apart? That is exactly why. And as a result, we no longer have Disney Villains TM. We have Pixar Villains.
You can probably name all sorts of great Disney Villains TM, but you’ll have trouble naming great Pixar Villains off the top of your head. The only villain who really sticks out in people’s minds, both in sheer evilness and in relevance to the story, is Lotso from Toy Story 3 and maybe Syndrome from The Incredibles. Beyond that? Not much.
See, the fine folks at Pixar don’t particularly care for villains. Pete Docter himself stated that he hates traditional baddies because he doesn’t find them realistic, noting that everyone thinks they’re doing the right thing. This is why Inside Out has no real villain and the antagonist of Up‘s role is more symbolic (he embodies what Carl could’ve become without love).
That’s another thing about Pixar villains: almost all of them are symbolic antagonists, representing what the hero COULD’VE become if they went on the wrong path. Stinky Pete and Lotso both represent what the heroes could’ve been like if they allowed the bitterness of being separated from their owners get to them. Chick Hicks is what would happen if Lightning McQueen let his ego get to him. Syndrome is a dark parallel of the Supers. Chef Skinner is an example of a chef more interested in the money than in the passion for it. AUTO is what happens when a robot is bound by their programming. Mor’du is an example of a desire to change fate gone horribly wrong. And in some cases, the villain reveals turn out to be a surprise.
So yes, there’s definitely a trend here.
By contrast, most classic Disney Villains are there to actively influence the plot and be the ultimate evil the hero has to defeat. Until recently that is. And you notice something? The recent villains are ALSO dark parallels to the heroes that aren’t revealed right away.
Turbo is also like Wreck-It Ralph in that he leaves his game to better his life, only he refuses to care for others and puts his livelihood over others; Ralph at first was almost like that, willing to get a medal above anything else even if it meant endangering his game, until he met Vanellope. Hans, like Anna, is also in the shadow of his older siblings, but instead of making amends with them, he seeks to make himself feel important by taking over another kingdom. Yokai is mostly meant to be similar to Marvel Villains, but he also shows what would happen if Hiro did not let friends into his life and became a bitter man seeking revenge. Bellwether and Judy are both affected by Zootopia’s prejudiced system, but whereas Judy seeks to change it, Bellwether manipulates it to suit HER desires. And Tamatoa even admits that he was inspired by Maui’s tattoos to become beautiful before beating the shit out of him.
It’s easy to see a Pixar influence here. This way, instead of being a battle between good versus evil, it’s more about the story of a hero’s internal conflict and flaws and how they grow with the power of friendship. The (sometimes more realistic) villain is meant to put them to the test. And sometimes, if the hero proves to be a fundamentally better person than the antagonist, they’ll spare them or even help redeem them. That said, they should probably avoid putting red herrings and twists in their films from now on.
So does this mean we’ll no longer have great Disney Villains TM? I don’t know. Tamatoa definitely made me nostalgic for the great baddies of Disney yore, but he was only in the film for about five minutes. It’s hard to say. I don’t mind the current trend of villains, but I also wouldn’t mind having another traditional baddie again. The important thing is that, no matter what, we’ll ALWAYS have Ursula, Jafar, Maleficent, Hades, Captain Hook, Cruella De Vil, and the like. Nothing can take them away from us. No, not even live action remakes.