Villains’ Portrayal in Disney Films (Alicia Ferrández Cros)

In Disney films, and specially in animated ones, we find a tendency to depict villains in a grotesque manner. Their more repulsive facets are highlighted primarily, though not exclusively, through their appearance. For example, the pretentiousness and sadism of the queen of hearts in Alice in Wonderland (1951) is manifested by her unpleasant grin and disproportionate body –made to appear larger when next to the tiny king–, as well as by her grave and intimidating voice (even more so when she’s yelling the infamous ‘Off with her head!’). In Hercules (1997), it is Hades with his exaggerated features –pointy chin, sharp nose and teeth– and evil smirk, that embodies the ludicrous.

Imagen relacionadaOne reason for characterising them as such could be the fact that most of them seem to be in possession of some kind of power. They are in many cases rulers (childish Prince John in Robin Hood, Hades as the Lord of the Underworld) or an influential figure for a group of people (Captain Hook in Peter Pan). Contrary to what Michel Foucault suggests in one of his lectures, it appears to me that the creators did this in purpose, to show vulnerability and incompetence in these authoritative characters, with the objective of taking away part of their power.

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What is more interesting here is how the audience reacts to this depiction, given that they are mostly children. Foucault argues that the effect of mocking a sovereign is more empowering than detrimental for the person being ridiculed. In a similar way, does this portrayal lead children to conform to the idea that the world is doomed to be ruled by absurd people? In these films there is sure a hero/ine that ends up saving the day and making the world a ‘sensible’ place again. Does that aspect of Disney’s plots make children believe there is such a saviour in our world, ready to fight off injustices and corruption? Or will it encourage them to be their own heroes? I really hope it is the latter.

2 comments

  1. Considering that the films are made for children, the purpose of absurdist nature of villains might not be to highlight their vulnerabilities, even though they do, but rather to make a memorable impression. When every good-doer tends to have a similar build and make, the villains are always distinctive and stick with the viewer afterwards without being overly grotesque, such as Scar (The Lion King) or Jafar (Aladdin). They are the ones who are more easily remembered.

  2. This is a really interesting observation. I’m not sure that the ugly way these villains are depicted is intended to limit their power, though; rather, when defined against their narrative other – the beautiful hero/ine – they seem lacking. Their ugliness is a manifestation of their moral failings. That the villain is ultimately deprived of their power is revealing. The power dynamic becomes: beauty is morally right, while ugliness is not. The two cannot peacefully coexist, and power ultimately belongs to the beautiful.

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