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It’s So Good To Be Bad: What Drives the Disney Villain Fascination?

Cruella De Vil, Maleficent, Ursula, Captain Hook, Hades, Jafar...

by
Chris Queen

Bio

July 6, 2012 - 9:00 am

For years, villains have meant big business for Disney. We’ve seen books, video games, and specials devoted to the bad guys. Naturally, the villains play central roles in the Disney Parks’ Halloween celebrations. Villains in Vogue brought in customers in droves at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, as did a companion store at Disneyland. The comic revue Villains Tonight brings down the house on the Disney Magic cruise ship. And now, this fall, comes the Disney Villains Designer Collection:

If bad girls have more fun, then life as a Disney villain must be a nonstop party. And here’s one reason for their fans to celebrate: this September, Disney Stores are releasing six limited-edition collectors’ dolls and coordinating beauty items featuring sultry antagonists from Cruella de Vil to Maleficent. It’s not the first time the baddies have taken on the beauty world; back in 2010, Disney paired with MAC to create the Venemous Villains collection. This forthcoming collection isn’t as wide-ranging, but you’ve never seen the villains like this.

The official Disney Store blog teases the doll collection (and more) this way:

Designed and carefully crafted to capture the essence of evil at its best dressed, the Villains Designer Collection re-imagines the stylish wickedness of classic Disney Villains.

Disney Store has beautifully crafted 13,000 of each of the six dolls, and every glamorous villain doll will come with a Certificate of Authenticity. Beginning in September, the dolls will be available in select stores in North America and Europe. These original “bad girls” of Disney will also be available online on http://disneystore.comhttp://disneystore.co.ukhttp://disneystore.fr and http://disneystore.de. Each doll will be available for $79.50 US/$87.50 CAN/£50/€65.

[...]

Can’t wait to get your hands on this fashionable villainy? An online-exclusive set including all six dolls will be available for pre-order on Monday, August 20th. This will be the only opportunity to guarantee a purchase of all six dolls. The entire set will be delivered on or shortly after Monday, October 15.

And keep watch for our complete Disney Villains Designer Collection coming soon, featuring delightfully chic beauty, apparel, and home products – everything you need to complete your “good girl gone glam” style.

The beauty items in the collection contain descriptions of the villains as: “Devilish Diva” (Cruella de Vil), “The Real Fairest Of Them All” (The Wicked Queen), “Original Goth” (Maleficent), “Forever Young” (Mother Gothel), “Fashion’s Wild Card” (The Queen of Hearts), and “Stylish Sea Witch” (Ursula). Ursula gets a svelte makeover, and each villain steps out in the finest fashions. Clearly, Disney has designed this extensive collection to appeal to adult women much in the same way that the Disney Princesses and Fairies appeal to young girls.

Now, as a guy, I can’t identify with nail polish, porcelain dolls, or writing journals with glamorous images of villainous divas on them, but I can understand the lure of the baddies. Something about the bad guys appeals to Disney fans, but what drives it?

From the very beginning, Walt Disney made it abundantly clear that good would always triumph over evil in his studio’s films. The classic Disney protagonists have always been easy to love. They embody goodness, heroism, and innocence, and viewers of all ages can root for them or emulate them without any compunction. But let’s face it: to many Disney fans, the villains are just…well…cooler.

The artists who played the villains understood this fact quite well. Lucille La Verne, the forgotten theater legend who voiced The Wicked Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, hammed it up to the max, taking her false teeth out to play the Queen as a witch. Eleanor Audley, who voiced Lady Tremaine in Cinderella and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty — as well as Madame Leota in The Haunted Mansion — embodied villainy so perfectly that she put on the air of an evil diva in personal appearances.

And it’s not just the ladies. The male villains come across as more suave and debonair. Captain Hook is far more dashing than Peter Pan any day, and he’s good for more comic relief. Jafar carries himself much more smoothly than Aladdin does — even with the Genie’s help. And Gaston has a way with the ladies that the smelly old Beast can only dream of.

I perused one Disney forum and came away with a plethora of reasons why the villains garner so much attention:

But one reason why villains are so popular, is because they are often the main reason a story even gets told: no heroes and no conflict without villains. Besides, villains can be more colorful and exaggerated than the heroes. Heroes always have to be good and wholesome, while villains can do as they please. That makes them popular.

And:

Heroes/Heroines are generally bland, blue-eyed characters with the same or similar back-story. (Orphaned or death of parent, lost and alone in the world, pathetically too cute to not feel sorry for…) You get the picture.

In contrast the Villains (usually) look very different from each other and their histories are rarely known. (We just assume they were always EVIL, right? NAW!) This makes them popular with fans because they/we like to know about how our favorite Villains came to be; whether it’s by researching the heck out of the original fairytale or by creating our own fantasies in art and fiction.

And finally:

I think it’s mostly the fact that villains are given the room to be more dramatic, outrageous, or (over)emotional than most other Disney characters. Scenes of the Evil Queen watching SW’s death or Cruella becoming completely maniacal come to mind. Of course, not all villains are that way (Shan-Yu and Tremaine, for example, are mostly cold, calculated characters), but regardless their villains delve into the depths of humanity far more than their heroes do (for the most part). They are able to terrify (as with something non-human like Monstro), or display a certain–very real–obsceneness [sic] that people meet, perhaps experience, in their own lives (extreme bitterness, jealousy, racism, greed, selfishness, murderous desires, etc.). And, to focus on the advantages specific to animation in evoking a mood of evil, you get incredible scenes like Ursula seizing Ariel’s voice (Ursula’s tentacles themselves are something done to a menacing/captivating effect that couldn’t be recreated as successfully in live-action) or Maleficent’s mesmerizing of Aurora. Some people have criticized them for being what you might call flat or cookie cutter (in other words, they are less “characters,” and more plot devices that drive the protagonist’s story). But the lack of background information often gives them a certain mystique, a power to command their audience. They are often very basic in their motivation, to the point that they become almost primal.

So, I guess, the simplest way to put it is: They put on one hell of a good show.

And that’s what it really boils down to, isn’t it? The villains put on the best show — and they make the fantasy world go round. Without great villains, Cinderella would have never tried on the glass slipper, Wendy and her brothers would never have learned heroism in Neverland, and Giselle would have never made it to New York City to meet her true love, Robert. Without the bad guys we don’t realize who the good guys really are and how we can aspire to be one ourselves.

All Chris Queen wanted to be growing up was a game show host, a weather man, or James Bond. But his writing talent won out. By day, Chris is a somewhat mild-mannered church communications director, but by night, he keeps his finger on the pulse of pop culture and writes about it. In addition to his Disney obsession (as evidenced by his posts on this website), Chris's interests include college sports -- especially his beloved Georgia Bulldogs -- and a wide variety of music. A native of Marietta, GA, Chris moved with his family as a child to nearby Covington, GA, where he still makes his home. He is an active charter member of Eastridge Community Church and enjoys spending time with family and friends. In addition to his work at PJ Media, Chris spent nearly a year as a contributor to NewsReal Blog. He has also written for Celebrations Magazine and two newspapers in Metro Atlanta. Check out his website, www.chrisqueen.net.
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