With Angelina Jolie expected to chew the scenery in upcoming “Maleficent”, the debate has to be put forth whether it’s a good idea to tell a story from the point of view of the villain. It’s not that it hasn’t been done before in movies, especially television where some of the most complex anti-heroes in history have been created just in the last few years. Disney villains, though, are a bit of a different story. In their cases, the mystery of their background helped make them more interesting and iconic. Seeing the complete story of Maleficent just seems like an apology tour from Disney for subjecting evil characters on their innocent characters.
Based on the plot of “Maleficent”, it’s clear that Disney wants audiences to show perhaps more understanding of why certain villainesses were the way they were. And in that regard, it possibly means more sympathy for what makes a person truly “evil” based on life experiences no one would wish on their worst enemies.
If this truly does become a new genre at Disney or other places, how will audiences relate to evil characters we’ve seen before? Is there a way to find sympathy in every evil person, or will Disney get brave and show evil as something inherent rather than formed through life circumstance?
The Possibilities in Other Disney Villainesses
Some media have already speculated on which past Disney villainesses will inevitably get their own movies. With choices from the Queen of Hearts in “Alice in Wonderland” to Mother Gothel in “Tangled”, you have various degrees of evil there that may be due to unavoidable life events or possibly just being born the way they are. The Queen of Hearts would be one of the most interesting of all considering she rules the roost of what’s deemed Wonderland. Regardless, it’s the closest to reality that any Disney villain might come to next to Cruella de Vil.
With a possible female President around the corner, we’d get a taste of what it’s like to run a kingdom when everyone around you is mad. While it may give a stereotype of the female leader constantly blowing her top over the ineptness of others, it at least can help explain the Queen of Hearts and show that madness around you can shape your perceptions of everyone else you meet being the same way.
It might be more difficult to have anything to relate to with the Disney villains that aren’t necessarily human. Ursula from “The Little Mermaid”, for instance, has a human head, yet clearly comes from the world of octopi where real-life metaphors play out. Her character has always straddled the line between being a sympathetic character and brazen evil. In other movies about anthropomorphic sea life, though, we always find out everyone is shaped by traumatic events they all experience in the sea.
This leaves Cruella de Vil who may finally get a movie of her own before any of the other villainesses do. Glenn Close was the first actress to bring the Disney villainesses from animation into live action in the “101 Dalmations” live-action remake. Yet, as hammy as her performance was, we still didn’t really learn all that much about de Vil and what made her cold, cold heart tick. This one might get a little tricky, because it has to delve into the minds of a dog abuser. This isn’t to say it wouldn’t be insightful, because we constantly see horrific stories of both male and female animal abusers in the news every day.
The best Disney could do here is to make it as serious as possible without being so tongue in cheek. Behind the scenes, Cruella may have a secret soft spot for animals that seems to counteract in complex mirror-image form when interacting out in the world.
While all of the above may be slightly risky territory for Disney, will the villain point of view manifest more in the movie as much as it has on TV?
The “Breaking Bad” Influence
As a society, it seems we want to understand evil and where it comes from more than ever. “Breaking Bad” blurred those lines and showed that an initial good person can easily devolve into something heinously evil in order to help their own family. However, it might be an ethics head trip trying to figure it out further when Walter White said to his wife at the end that he enjoyed all the underworld dealings he went through.
Movies have seldom gone to those places yet in covering the perspective of evil from the point where it becomes even more perplexing on where it all originates. “Stoker” is one of the few insightful horror movies recently that argued the case of evil coming either through blood relation or the environment surrounding you.
Telling a villain’s perspective from their own mind is a challenging endeavor that’s been attempted in movies, yet not done truly successfully there. Treading on lighter ground at Disney may be a better starting point for delving a little farther into the psychological chasm of darkness. It would gear us up for the next round that may be the equivalent of heading into a literal Jungian jungle.