This is part 2 of a 2 part blog post. In part 1 I looked at the definition of media stereotypes and examined media stereotypes in relation to Disney animated villains. In part 2 I want to have some fun and take a look at what it would be like if the Disney heroes we knew were actually villains.
** Disclaimer: When I mention Disney heroes and villains I’m referring to Disney animated movie heroes and villains only. This does not include Pixar movies. **
There’s a saying that everyone is the hero of their own story. All Disney animated movies are told from the perspective of a hero who overcomes a great (and sometimes magical) evil to live happily ever after. The villain’s story is often overlooked or completely ignored because the story is focused on a hero’s journey, not a villain’s journey. As someone who facilitates discussions on topics relating to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging I can’t not think about the Disney villain and the unfairness of not having their story told and being misunderstood. [** Side note: I just went to see the new rendition of Disney’s Aladdin in theaters yesterday, so good! And I’m so glad they gave Jafar a backstory**] So I wanted to have some fun with this blog post (fun meaning less definitions and academic resources and more just me writing what comes to mind) and talk about perspectives and how Disney heroes really could have been villains.
In my Disney themed diversity workshops I use the meme above as an introduction. You may see a hero fighting off a crowd of bad guys but the “bad guys” see the final boss of the dungeon crawl. This is the exact perspective I use to view Disney heroes and villains in opposite roles. Another example meme I use to view Disney villains as heroes is this meme from Game of Thrones that pinpoints all the strengths of the Night King. Generally audiences laugh because no one who watches Game of Thrones ever says the Night King is a pretty okay guy. If you don’t watch Game of Thrones and read all these statements and facts about the Night King in this meme he doesn’t seem like a terrible person. It’s all about the perspective.
Aladdin is my all time favorite movie. I’m sure I had a crush on Aladdin as a child but I was so in love with Princess Jasmine, I wanted to be her. I think she was the first ethnically diverse Disney princess in Disney animated movie history (and my life) and it was amazing to have that representation (although not enough). She was also the only Disney princess to wear pants and she had a friend/pet tiger. She was perfect to my 5 year old eyes.
That being said I’ve come to terms with the fact there are ways Aladdin can be twisted, specifically with the musical parody “Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier”. In the musical Aladdin is a homeless bum “who steals only what he can’t afford, which is everything”. He’s essentially a pimp who sleeps with every woman in town and squats in an abandoned building. He is physically able but doesn’t apply or try to get a job and decides stealing is way better than working (particularly working for “the man”). After watching the parody musical I had to go back and re-watch Aladdin and to be honest I had to agree. Aladdin is able to show he has a heart of gold and prove he’s more than his rags in the Disney movie however he could have continued his life without the Cave of Wonders and stayed a thief who never tried applying for a job to earn a living.
The parody musical “Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier” also has a song where all the Disney villains can tell their side of the Disney movie story. Gaston was trying to save the woman he loved from a beast and magical furniture, Scar was trying to improve the races with equality and peace, Ursula was trying to have her voice heard in a male dominated mer-people society. The only villain who was not able to claim redemption was Cruella de Vil. I told this to a class of students once and they agreed. After a brief discussion the class said Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians and Clayton from Tarzan are not redeemable characters because their goal is to kill animals for fun. They agreed all other Disney villains can be redeemed and given a second chance for various reasons except for Cruella and Clayton.
This meme about Mulan is pretty spot on. She became a mass murderer but for the sake of China so instead of being considered a villain she was seen as a hero for saving the country from the huns. If not for that fact she would have been a traitor of China for stealing her father’s armor, running away from home, impersonating a soldier, deceived her commanding officer, and destroying the Emperor’s palace.
Peter Pan has a unique twist that the TV show Once Upon a Time created. Without trying to give away any spoilers Peter Pan is greedy and wants to live forever young. He will do whatever it takes to obtain immortality and in the TV show he is the main villain of the first half of season 3.
In comparison to the Disney classic I can see Peter Pan as a sort of self righteous boy who never wants to grow up. He convinces other kids to believe he’s right and that his way is law in Neverland, almost like a politician or ruler of sorts.
To be opposite Peter Pan Captain Hook can be seen as the young and dashing hero and is seen exactly as such in the TV show Once Upon a Time. Captain Hook joins the series in season 2 and is a quick fan favorite. I think of him as the bad boy next door. He’s very perceptive and originally out for revenge against the crocodile who took his hand before he aligns himself with the main cast and feels a sense of inclusion and belonging he only felt a few times before.
Looking at the older Disney version of Captain Hook I could see him struggling to live in a world where everyone hates the pirates and everyone is young and pretty and excludes him and his crew. At least this is what I thought when watching the old classic Hook movie with the departed Robin Williams. All the pirates are older and literally everyone outside of their neck of Neverland is young and fun and purposely leave out the pirates. I guess you could also think of it like high school and the pirates are the kids no one ones to pick for gym class. No wonder they hate the Lost Boys and Peter Pan (aka the cool kids / jocks).
So to end I’m including the Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier song I mentioned earlier (start at 0:58). This musical, particularly this song, really got me thinking about creating this blog post and the idea that Disney villains are more relatable than their Disney hero counterparts. After watching the TV series Once Upon a Time I became convinced, I was no longer just thinking about it. Disney heroes and Disney villains are not just heroes and villains. Disney heroes can be villains and Disney villains can be heroes. If this blog post doesn’t convince you try Once Upon a Time (maybe skip season 1 if specifically looking for Disney villains as heroes) or Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier.