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Literature / The Disney Villain

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The Disney Villain is a 1993 non-fiction book, written by animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.

The book is a companion piece to Frank and Ollie's previous books The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation, Too Funny For Words: Disney's Greatest Sight Gags and Bambi: The Story and the Film, and was made at the request of over 50 of the Disney animators in the early 1990's. The book covers the personalities and creation of the Disney villains, from the early bullies like Peg Leg Pete up to more charismatic villains like Jafar.



  • Adaptational Ugliness: Discussed concerning Cruella De Vil; the book supplies an illustration from the original 101 Dalmatians book comparing how Cruella appears in the book to how she looks in the Disney film, and shows that they intentionally made her uglier looking to fit the movies more flamboyant take on the character.
  • Anti-Villain:
    • Man is described as being this in Bambi, simply because he had no comprehension of the pain and terror he was inflicting on what he simply thought were mindless animals.
    "The biggest threat, of course, is from the predator, man, and his gun. As victims, the deer have no way of combating this foe and must suffer the consequences. Man, for his part, has no thought or understanding of the pain he is inflicted on the wild animals bu pursing his own personal desires. There is no villainy in his heart when he kills Bambi's mother, yet to the audience, this is an event that stays with them for the rest of their lives."
    • Professor Terri Tatti from "The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met" is seen as this, since he has a somewhat justifiable reason for attacking Willie— whales normally don't sing opera, so he assumes the whale swallowed three whole opera singers to get his talent (it actually comes from the fact that Willie has three uvulas), so he kills Willie with a harpoon to free them. His act is described not as a villainous one, but a misguided one springing from his lack of understanding.
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    • Sir Ector of The Sword in the Stone is described in passing as this. While there's no question he's a total jerk to Wart, Frank and Ollie make it clear he's not acting out of maliciousness, but because his no-nonsense, autocratic personality won't allow any way other than his tough, disciplinarian worldview to pass in his domain. They do point out that Kay, Ector's real son, is what Wart would have ended up like if Merlin hadn't entered his life, Wart hadn't pulled out the sword and just stayed under Ector's thumb—a dull witted, surly oaf and bully.
    • Amos Slade is also pointed out to be a more shaded antagonist than a typical Disney villain. He may be a curmudgeon who wants to kill Tod, but his true nature comes out when Copper convinces him not to kill Tod.
    • The Beast is also described as this. He may act malicious for the first part of the film, but it's not because he's evil, but angry and tormented at being trapped in the body of a beast while his chance to regain his humanity is slowly ticking away. The scene where he saves Belle from the wolves is the part that makes it clear to the audience that he's not a villain. Glen Keane, the lead animator of Beast, is quoted on this in the book;
    "He probably wouldn't have minded killing Maurice. That was the extent where someone like the Beast, who had the potential to be good, could become a villain. The Beast was pitying himself, frustrated, so he felt justified in treating the father that way, and when he comes back, Belle is crying—his actions do cause people pain—and he starts to get a glimmer that he's not entirely comfortable with the role of a villain....He had incredible limitations—it's kind of like taking the villain and the hero and wrapping them up into one body."
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Defied; the section on Jafar points out how he's a villain with a rich personality, but was made not to evoke fear or hatred because they felt at the time the film was made, the public wanted more light, comical villains instead of deep, brooding ones, not helped by their average audience of the 90's being young kids, and that at the time, Disney could not have afforded to have anything above a G-rating for their films as a result.
  • The Bully:
    • Peg Leg Pete is described as the classic “stupid and mean” bully archetype early on.
    • Kay, Sir Ector's son, is also described as a surly, cynical bully to Wart. They point out that he is what Wart would have ended up becoming if he had continued living under Sir Ector.
    • Frank and Ollie, when talking about how The Black Cauldron was a failure, describes the Horned King as this, and cite this as why he's a flawed villain. They felt the film presented him in a way that robbed him of mystery and presented him with so much action and close ups, that it made him come off as a villain who was approachable and unpleasant rather than all powerful.
    "Typical of the failings, the Horned King, who should have been mysterious, was as ordinary as the leader of a street gang. As Roy Disney said later, their approach was "too literal-minded. He was just a guy." The use of close-ups and too much activity gave the impression that here was a man one could argue with. He should have been as unreachable and intimidating as Chernobog. No one should speak in his presence. The words should wither in one's throat. We should not even know if this evil creature was man, animal or demon. Here was unlimited power on the verge of taking over the world that somehow had to be stopped, and that was the special challenge to the tiny band of characters who carried the hopes of the future on their uncertain shoulders. It seemed an impossible burden for the heroic cast as well as the inexperienced staff of the studio."
    • With Beauty and the Beast, Gaston is highlighted as starting out as a mere bully towards Belle, but that being humiliated and rejected in his desires was what eventually drove him over the edge, leading him to committing outright evil actions (i.e. Gaston pulling strings to get Maurice thrown in the nuthouse so he can blackmail Belle into marrying him) that ultimately make him the film's real villain.
  • Cats Are Mean: A brief section of the book discusses the use of this kind of villain in some of the Disney shorts. It also points out that Walt Disney hated cats (not helped by a nasty experience he had when his pet poodle was accidentally attacked by Ham Luske's tomcat) but he lightened up when his daughter Sharon convinced him to create cat characters that had more sympathetic personalities, such as Figaro.
  • The Fool: Mr. Smee's character is summed up as “a caricature of a blundering, stupid pirate who tries to follow Captain Hook's orders, whether he understands them or not.”
  • Large Ham: In the section discussing Jafar, Jeffrey Katzenburg is quoted saying that Jafar was the most theatrical of the Disney villains to date.
  • Lean and Mean: Andreas Deja is quoted on describing Jafar as this, designing him an almost Erte Fashion like appearance, very skinny with wide padded shoulders and an evil elegance to him.
  • No Antagonist: The book points out how Dumbo had no clear cut villains, and that the conflict came about mainly because Dumbo's ears made him a target for mockery—Dumbo lived in a selfish, rather than hostile, world that causes his problems. The other elephants simply looked down on him and his mother, the ringmaster had no idea what to do with Dumbo once he's forced to lock up his mother, the clowns had their own problems to deal with, and the kids that got Dumbo into the whole mess were just insensitive, not outright malicious.
  • Savage Wolves:
    • Downplayed with The Big Bad Wolf in The Three Little Pigs. The book describes him as a new type of villain, one who is clever enough to outsmart the pigs on occasion, rather than relying on brute force alone.
    • The wolf from Peter and the Wolf is described as the epitome of a stock fairy tale wolf, cruel and slavering, with no personality of his own, being a villain purely by being a stereotypical bloodthirsty killer by nature.
    • The scene in Beauty and the Beast where Beast saves Belle from a pack of wolves is discussed as being the point in the film where the audience realizes that Beast isn't the villain.
  • Show, Don't Tell: In the brief section about The Sword in the Stone, the books shows how you can tell the heroes and villains apart just from their body attitudes alone, using a drawing of Madam Mim and Merlin marching off to begin the Wizard Duel as an example.
  • Sore Loser: Madam Mim has this listed as a personality trait, and went hand in hand with her being a liar and a cheater, with her cheating at solitaire being the most honorable thing she's said to have done.