Adaptational Villainy

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Kaa in the original Jungle Book vs Kaa in Disney's adaptation

"As many people have noted throughout the years though, Disney has been rather... lax when it comes to adapting books and fairy tales into movies. This is understandable in some cases. Still, it can be a bit galling when one knows that the fire-breathing, demonic witch on the screen was a kindly old lady in the source material."

The villain of an adaptation or retelling of a story is a familiar character who wasn't as bad in the source material. Sure, they may have been a bit of a jerk, or couldn't care less about the good guys, but they weren't evil. Maybe they were even an ally of the main characters who leaned a little too far on the evil side, or a villain with standards or who was known to show a softer side. Maybe the character rubbed the heroes the wrong way, but never caused any real harm and was otherwise a decent person. In any case, the character seriously Took a Level in Jerkass in the P.O.V. Sequel, The Movie, The Film of the Book, or any other reimagining of the original material. Where they were simply a pest before (and never treated as anything worse than that), or even friendly, they now kick dogs for fun.

This trope can take several forms, depending on the adaptation and the character. The True Neutral figure is actively villainous instead of simply not caring or choosing not to get involved. An imposing and potentially dangerous, but ultimately helpful, ally may become an enemy instead. The Anti-Villain and Tragic Villain will probably lose most or all of their sympathetic side and have fewer, if any, nicer moments. The Jerkass companion who is merely contemptible (but still entitled to the same protection as any other non-villain) in the source material will start committing acts in the adaptation that make them an actual enemy. The dangerous but tragic Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds will lose any sympathetic parts of their characterization or backstory, and the Noble Demon will lack most or all of their code of honor. Meanwhile, the Well-Intentioned Extremist's belief that they are doing the right thing is gone, and they do evil things just For the Evulz, even saying so. Sometimes it can be as simple as ignoring a reformed character's Heel–Face Turn or The Atoner's remorse over their past bad behavior. An Unintentionally Sympathetic character or a Designated Villain in the source material may also be given a Kick the Dog moment or two to make the character more obviously vicious and prevent the audience from feeling too sorry for them.

This occasionally happens to characters who were explicitly good guys in the source material, and if it does, it's sometimes a Take That! an unpopular one or to make the character Darker and Edgier. It may be a sign of Character Exaggeration. It can also be done to preserve a twist in the original story by surprising the audience with the identity of the villain, using an unexpected character as opposed to the original villain, who turns out to be innocent in the adaptation.

This isn't always a bad thing, however, and indeed some iconic villains have come about in this way, although it will probably lead to accusations of Adaptation Decay or Character Derailment from purists. Sometimes is the result of Composite Character — the composite mixes the harmless character and a more villainous one — or Adaptation Expansion, when there is no obvious villain in the original work, and a Ghost or another minor character gets the part. Sometimes it's to make the moral lines of an otherwise edgy story more clear or to simplify a complex character. A Perspective Flip often uses this deliberately along with Adaptational Heroism to subvert the audience's expectations of who the hero and villain are. If the adaptation does well, the darker incarnation of the character may become more popular and eventually overshadow the original, for a variety of reasons.

It's not Adaptational Villainy if an entirely new character is created to be the villain. This trope only applies if the villain in question is recognizable from the original work, but was a more sympathetic or tragic figure, had some form of standards or sympathetic motivations, had sympathetic moments or people that the villain genuinely cared about, was strictly neutral, was eventually redeemed, showed remorse, or wasn't evil at all. It is also not Adaptational Villainy if a character is Flanderized into being more outright evil than they originally were within a canon, their original, more understandable motives behind their actions are downplayed or completely ignored as the material goes on, or if constantly switching sides is an established character trait.

This trope is Older Than Dirt, since this sometimes happened to religious or mythological figures who, over time, became more malicious than they were in the older versions of their myths due to displacement or conquest, hence the Super Trope Demonization. Also a subtrope of Adaptation Personality Change. Compare Everybody Hates Hades, which is this trope applied to certain Dark Is Not Evil gods in mythology, and Historical Villain Upgrade, which is a variant for Real Life figures. Ron the Death Eater happens when a section of a fandom demonizes a character rather than one specific adaptation. Contrast Took a Level in Jerkass, in which the character becomes more unpleasant canonically, because of Character Development. Compare Adaptational Jerkass, where the character also becomes more unpleasant in the adaptation, but does not necessarily change alignment.

For the inverse where a villain or Anti-Hero is softened in the adaptation, see Adaptational Heroism.


Example subpages (the medium is the adaptation's):


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    Comic Strips 
  • The 1978-1988 Winnie-the-Pooh comic strip, syndicated by King Features and based on the Disney movies based on the book, has gained some memetic steam on the Internet for its portrayal of the usually kind-hearted and sugary-sweet Pooh as a complete jerkass, usually for the sake of a punchline. It's all the more funny (or disturbing) because his face is still fixed in that innocent Disney-merch smile.
    Pooh: You take yourself too seriously, Eeyore.
    Eeyore: You mean I should laugh at myself, Pooh?
    Pooh: Why not? Everyone else does.

    Pooh: How are you, Piglet?
    Piglet: Well, actually, Pooh... I didn't sleep too well last night and...
    Pooh: Please, Piglet! I was just being nice! I don't have time for all that today!

    Literature 
  • The Doctor Who Expanded Universe novel The Resurrection Casket is Treasure Island IN SPACE! Drel McCavity (the Squire Trelawney character) turns out to be a villain, but not quite as much of one as Salvo (the John Silver character) who's been "upgraded" to Faux Affably Evil.
  • In the original story of "Saint George and the Dragon" and most reworkings of it, Saint George is the hero, or at worst a Well-Intentioned Extremist (usually in versions where the dragon is misunderstood and George assumes it's dangerous). For example, in The Reluctant Dragon, he becomes the title character's friend. Even in retellings where the dragon is Spared by the Adaptation, George usually convinces it to make a Heel–Face Turn. In the Dragon Keepers series by Kate Kilmo, Saint George is a Villain with Good Publicity who enslaves magical creatures and kills harmless and intelligent dragons for purely selfish reasons (to drink their magical blood) while the princess he saved is an evil witch. The dragon from the original tale tells his own side of the story, in which he was a benevolent sorcerer betrayed and killed by George.
  • Myth-O-Mania has some in-universe examples: When Zeus rewrote the stories of Classical Mythology, he exaggerated monsters' scariness to glorify the heroes. (eg, The Minotaur went from being a vegetarian to eating humans.) Plus, Zeus claimed that Hades kidnapped Persephone, when actually she hitched a ride on his chariot while running away from her overprotective mother.
  • The mice from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy — in the radio play, they are fairly amiable, and upon discovering that Arthur is in the ideal position to find the ultimate question, offer to make him "a reasonably rich man" if he does. In the book and subsequent adaptations, however, they are much more sinister, plotting to steal his brain in order to read the question from it.
  • Frankenstein's Monster gets this a lot. Literally dozens of interpretations of the character portray him as an evil fiend, rather than the misunderstood and rejected outcast he was in the original novel. (Mostly due to Artistic License as a plot demands.)
  • Land of Oz:
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:
    • The Queen of Hearts is clearly a mean woman and a blustering Jerkass type, but calling her evil might be stretching the definition a little; though she often calls for people to be beheaded, her husband secretly pardons most of the people she condemns, and the Griffon tells Alice that, "It's all in [the Queen's] fancy, you know. They don't actually execute anyone." Nonetheless, you can be sure in almost any modern story where Alice is portrayed as the protagonist, the Queen of Hearts (often conflated with the Red Queen) will be the villain, and portrayed as far more evil than Carroll could have ever imagined. Whereas Alice's trial in the book ends with her realizing that the Queen of Hearts' threat against her is empty and dismissing the Queen's court as a pack of playing cards, in the 1951 Disney version, the Queen of Hearts is portrayed as a genuine threat, and the trial ends with Alice running for her life from the Queen and her soldiers before waking up.
    • Then there's Tim Burton's movie and the popular video game. Then Queen of Hearts is a mad tyrant in the first, and an Eldritch Abomination in the second.
    • The Jabberwock is often both this and an Ascended Extra in such works, seeing as the evil beast wasn't even an antagonist for Alice in Through the Looking-Glass, only appearing in the now-famous poem that she read. The poem became so popular that most modern adaptations include the creature as an adversary for Alice and the heroes in general.
  • By the end of Magic Duel, it seemed like Trixie made a full Heel–Face Turn (Which the comic follows through on), which makes her return to an antagonistic role in Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell rather jarring.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog, Knuckles was misled by Dr. Robotnik into fighting Sonic in Sonic the Hedgehog 3, but quickly made a Heel–Face Turn after realizing his mistake and has generally been a firm ally ever since. In The Sonic the Hedgehog Joke Book, he seems to be one of Robotnik's full-time minions.
  • In Noob, the novel version of Donteuil in regards to the webseries one. When that fact that Fantöm's avatar was illegally enhanced get revealed in the webseries, Judge Dead is the one who decides to blame the whole thing on its Locked Out of the Loop victim. A couple of webseries scenes give the impression that Donteuil has a My God, What Have I Done? feeling towards the victim in question and it's via Donteuil that the audience eventually finds out that the victim's situation isn't as bad as it first looked. In the novels, Donteuil seems to be the one who decided to pull the "blame the victim" move, while the "situation not as bad as it first looked" reveal comes from a Fictional Document provided by another character that gets no mention in the webseries.
  • In The Land Before Time, even though Sharptooth managed to terrify an entire generation of children, it's not clear if he can truly be called evil, and there's a distinct possibility that he's just hungry. The novelization, however, portrays him as a narcissistic serial killer who's after the hatchlings out of petty revenge and is implied to kill For the Evulz.
  • The swan knight in German legends (usually named Lohengrin) is a hero who rescues the girl and marries her. In Robert Southey's ballad Rudiger, he's the villain who sold his soul to the devil and nearly threw his infant son right into hell as part of the deal.
  • In the Secret Agent Mummy series, Sobek is a vicious God of Evil who demanded to be worshipped above the other members of the Egyptian pantheon, was temporarily destroyed by the other gods when he threatened to destroy Egypt in revenge, and later attempts to forcibly turn the world's animals into crocodiles. While Sobek was a complex and ambiguous figure in mythology, he wasn't outright evil, had several prominent positive aspects, and didn't cause trouble for the other gods.
  • In a deviation from The Odyssey, the Odysseus portrayed in The Divine Comedy testifies that his voyages ended when he arrogantly tricked his men into going on a suicide mission. For that crime not found in his poem of origin, Odysseus is burned forever in a tongue of fire.

    Music 
  • In the picture book The Butterfly Ball, Sir Maximus Mouse, the cheese tycoon, is simply a workaholic who's too busy to go to the Ball. In Roger Glover's concept album adaptation, he's a borderline-demonic Corrupt Corporate Executive.
  • Played for Laughs in Within Temptation's song "Gothic Christmas" where Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer becomes an Evil Overlord.
    Rudolph, he will change his name.
    'Cause Rudolph just sounds pretty lame.
    From now on I'll call him Ragnagord
    The evil reindeeer overlord
    His nose shall be red no more
    It will be blacked to the core
    His eyes will glow an evil glow
    To guide the chariot through the snow

    Myths & Religion 
  • Arthurian Legends:
    • Mordred went from playing a small but important role as the killer of Arthur (and something of a Worthy Opponent) to becoming Arthur's evil illegitimate son and in earlier versions Evil Nephew who was connected to Morgan le Fay. In his earliest appearances, it isn't clear whether Mordred and Arthur were enemies at all - it is only said that Mordred fought in the battle in which Arthur was killed, without making it clear whether they fought on the same side or opposing ones.
    • Morgan le Fay herself was, in her earliest incarnations, a healer who helped Arthur by preserving his immortality, not the evil witch seen in later versions of the story.
    • A story that Arthur killed his own son in battle is actually one of the earliest recorded; presumably Mordred's villainy was developed to make this okay.
  • Odysseus, while respected by many of his enemies for his cunning and tactical skills in Greek Mythology, was viewed as a liar and a cheat by the Romans (such as Virgil), who treated him as a pure villain and placed far less emphasis on his good characteristics. In The Divine Comedy, Dante placed Ulysses in the hell of evil counselors.
    • The Greeks from the Trojan War got this in general from the Romans and their later followers. The Romans were supposedly descended from the Trojans (specifically Aeneas), so naturally they weren't happy by the way their ancestors had been treated.
  • Set in Egyptian Mythology, although he feuded with Horus after killing Osiris, was originally the protector of Re from the evil serpent Apep, who he fought every night, and worshiped in his own right. After Egypt was split between the Upper and Lower Kingdoms, he became an evil god in Lower Egypt and his positive aspects were handed over to other deities. His worship as the god of foreigners almost entirely stopped after the Hyksos invaded Egypt.
    • He fell into decline as the trio of Osiris, Isis, and Horus rose in prominence. Different cult centers always had different opinions on everyone, of course. He was also associated with the desert, which seems to have gotten less awe and more resentment over time.
  • Loki's daughter Hel, the Norse goddess of death. Older myths suggest that she was originally a serene guide to the underworld for people who died of natural causes, and early descriptions of her realm Helheim aren't particularly negative. Later, more Christian-influenced myths portray her as a hag preparing an army of the dead for her father, and Helheim itself is the origin of the word "hell".
  • The gods of several religions show up in those of rival civilizations as demons.
  • Doing this to Hades (and occasionally other gods of death) has become its own subtrope, see Everybody Hates Hades.

    Pinballs 

    Tabletop Games 

    Theater 
  • Wicked the musical is still an example, but is more sympathetic to The Wizard than the book version above, portraying him as a sort of a Well-Intentioned Extremist who is puppeteered by Madame Morrible and generally seems to want the best for Oz, as long as he remains its leader.
  • This happens to several characters in Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. The trope applies in two ways, both because characters from the first musical undergo villain transformations and because in The Phantom of Manhattan (the Frederick Forsyth novel that was the result of early work on what became this show) contains no such transformation, instead having the villain be a completely new character who didn't make it to the stage. Madame Giry is more-or-less the main antagonist, and only helps the Phantom for the reward it earns her. Meg gradually loses her sanity while trying to start a relationship with the Phantom, culminating in her kidnapping and attempting to drown Gustave, then ultimately shooting Christine. Meanwhile, more adaptational Jerkass than villainy, but Raoul is now a cranky alcoholic whose gambling has put the family in a load of debt, and no longer feels the love for Christine that he once did.
  • In Wonderland: Alice's New Musical Adventure, the Mad Hatter becomes female and the play's main antagonist, with the March Hare as her Dragon. In the book, he's scatterbrained, but not particularly malicious about it.
  • Brecht's The Three Penny Opera makes Macheath considerably more unpleasant than he was in The Beggar's Opera. In the original play, Macheath is a gallant highwayman who doesn't kill except in self-defense, and while utterly incapable of remaining faithful to one woman, is an overall nice guy. In contrast, Macheath in Brecht's play is a mass murderer and rapist and only rarely pleasant. An additional change is that lines from the original play given to Peachum involving plans to sell out criminal associates to the authorities with full knowledge they will be hanged is given to Macheath in The Three Penny Opera, changing Macheath from an example of Honor Among Thieves to one of No Honor Among Thieves.
  • In The Golden Ticket, an opera adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Spoiled Brat Veruca Salt agrees to a deal with a TV reporter to secretly film and photograph the titular, top-secret factory during the Golden Ticket tour — which makes her and her dad, who goes along with the plan, spies. As well, she's much nastier in her selfishness than in other versions, and specifically contrasted with poor-but-good Charlie Bucket throughout. With this in mind, while the novel and all other adaptations have them the third group to be eliminated from the tour, here they're the fourth and last to go.
  • In The Ring of the Nibelung, Hagen goes through this. He is largely a Composite Character of Hagen from The Saga of the Volsungs and Nibelungenlied. However in the Volsung Saga he is Gunther's heroic brother and though a more villainous figure in the Nibelungenlied, murdering Siegfried, there he is acting out of loyalty to Gunther. In the Ring Cycle Hagen is the son of the main villain Alberich and murders Siegfried and Gunther for the Ring of Power.
  • The Boyg was originally a troll/monstrous abomination from the stories of Asbjřrnsen and Moe. The original Per Gynt managed to finish it by shooting it point blank between the eyes. In the play Peer Gynt, written by Henrik Ibsen, the Boyg is an almost invincible Eldritch Abomination that does a Mind Rape on the titular character, and who is the driving force for Peer´s demise throughout the play, actually the real Big Bad (set up against the true Big Good: Solveig).

    Visual Novels 
  • In Astoria: Fate's Kiss, Hercules - who certainly has problems but is generally considered a hero in Classical Mythology - is the main antagonist of Hydra's route, taking advantage of his status as the son of Zeus to use H.E.R.A. resources while acting outside of their chain of command. He turns out to have assaulted several people, including his own ex-wife, in order to steal the Auras that are the sources of their power for his own use.

    Web Animation 
  • Prostitute Mickey does this to a few Disney characters, mainly to establish exactly how crappy Mickey's life is in the series.
    • Mickey's best friends Goofy and Donald have become a drug addict prone to committing robberies and a legless cripple prone to giving Mickey violent threats respectively.
    • The Christmas Episode features a character named Ebenezer, who is essentially the series' version of Scrooge McDuck. While most incarnations of Scrooge have been greedy and cheap at worst, Ebenezer was a pedophile who paid children to let him urinate on them, and one of the children he did this to was a younger Mickey.
  • Teletubbies in Supermarioglitchy4s Super Mario 64 Bloopers.
  • The various "Grounded" videos made through Go Animate tends to make "baby show" characters, such as Caillou and Dora the Explorer from well-adjusted and lovable characters to spoiled brats who enjoy causing all sorts of destruction and mayhem. It doesn't help that, at times, their parents are just as bad.

    Web Comics 
  • After minus ended, the author created some gag strips that parody scenes from the original webcomic, and whhich are not in continuity. If they are interpreted as a Compressed Adaptation of the original work, then minus gets hit with this trope, big time. Whereas in the original she is merely a Trickster Archetype who only does bad things because she doesn't understand the consequences of her actions and frequently softens her antics to make them not as bad, in the extras she is a cruel and vindictive psychopath who takes out horrifying revenge on people for excruciatingly minor slights, behavior which the minus from the main webcomic would never do. In the strip that has been linked, she actually turns one of her classmates into a chalk drawing and smudges her, even after the classmate apologized.
    • When it comes to other characters, the extras actually contain a spectacular Inversion. One strip features a man who stuffs minus in a briefcase after luring her in with promise of sidewalk chalk, and who would certainly have tried to abduct her if he wasn't stopped. His counterpart in the extras, on the other hand, is an innocent bystander who doesn't do anything to deserve being antagonized by the villainized minus.
  • Sonic the Comic – Online! does this with many games characters. Shadow, Rouge, the Babylon Rogues, Bean, Silver... even Cream the Rabbit! Blaze is immune to this, being almost identical to her game counterpart.
  • Knights of Buena Vista does this to the bishop in Frozen. In the movie, he just officiates Elsa's coronation. In this comic, he's using magic to hypnotize Elsa. This is then subverted when it's revealed to be a magic doppelganger impersonating the real bishop.
  • Darths & Droids does this to Han Solo, who shortly before being frozen in carbo... er, alcohol, admits he's been feeding information the the Empire for months. Jim was really impressed with how Annie roleplayed Anakin's Start of Darkness and wanted to do the same. Similarly, this also applies to Padme Amidala, due to the fact that she's Darth Vader in this version.
  • In Roomies!, Mary started out being intended as a Voice of Reason, and gradually became portrayed as more hypocritical as the author found himself questioning his fundamentalist upbringing and, therefore, Mary's opinions on things. In Dumbing of Age, she's straight-up one of the least sympathetic characters from the get-go, representing everything Willis dislikes about his background. Similarly Joyce's mom in the Walkyverse went from "background mother character" to "background mother character who has lots of sex with her husband" to "deeply obsessed with having grandkids", while her Dumbiverse counterpart is mostly characterised by religious intolerance.

    Web Original 

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