Scar. Ursula. Gaston. These villains and more invoke countless memories simply from hearing their names. Their wicked plans, unique design and extraordinarily catchy songs have defined our childhoods, and I, for one, occasionally preferred the villain’s arc to the protagonist’s.
Instead of continuing down the villainous path, however, Disney changed its direction. In the 2010s, audiences were bombarded with “twist” villains, or villains that don’t initially appear evil, after Hans’s successful foray as one in “Frozen” resulted in an entire era of that (“Big Hero Six,” “Zootopia” and “Moana”). It got to the point that supposedly “twist” villains became all but expected, and the trope grew stale.
So, as we approached the 2020s, villains just stopped appearing. “Encanto”’s villain could’ve been Abuela Alma, and it seems they almost did that, but instead the true villain was generational trauma. Frozen II, meanwhile, didn’t really have a villain at all, with an already dead king who only appeared in brief flashbacks and posed no threat the closest thing to a “villain.”
What happened to the real, unapologetically evil, unredeemable pests that defined so much of our early childhoods? Collider magazine reports that “Disney has stepped away from cartoon-type villains that are exaggeratedly evil and have honed in on more human conflicts,” overall attempting to portray more realistic problems.
While it’s true that in real life, people would not act so cartoonishly evil, that’s the point of movies: they’re unrealistic. The story of good triumphing over evil is a tale as old as time. It’s a popular trope for a reason, and it’s entertaining to see the villain plan out their schemes only to be thwarted by the protagonist. Dreamworks’s 2022 movie Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, which included several “OG” villains, demonstrates audiences’ continued love for the character trope by garnering immense praise for it. A breath of fresh air, the movie went back to animation story roots, creating genuinely interesting, intimidating and iconic villains that audiences enjoyed.
I’m not saying to completely erase the “non-villain villain” idea from movies. “Encanto,” praised by critics, did the trope well in my opinion; “Frozen II”, on the other hand, faltered without a good villain to push the story forward, as some critics pointed out. Just like the twist villain era, too much of the non-villain will get stale, so Disney and other animation studios should vary their villainous portrayals.