Thursday, December 8, 2016

My Favorite Disney Villain

            I have not been posting nearly enough this year and I want to steer back from that.  To that end I have found a 30-day blog challenge and fluffed it out to 31 entries (since December has 31 days).  I have done a 30-day challenge before for movies, though that one was poorly executed (I started it in the middle of a month, at one point I posted 2 entries on one day, it is a mess).  I did another one just this year in August on Video Games, that one was better, go read it after this one, all of it.  Or don’t, no pressure.

            Today is day 8 and the topic is “Favorite Villain”.  I think I might have gone a little far in some places.

I should get a costume.
            I was thinking about which bad guy immediately jumped out at me and I will say this for Disney, they got great bad guys.  Mostly.  4 immediately jumped to mind with a couple more creeping in around the edges and before I knew it I had a bit of list.  Having to figure out which was to be the top of the pile was going to be difficult, because I analyze everything to death!
So to help me decide I did the nerdiest thing possible and made myself a grading rubric based on 4 criteria and I threw in a secret tie breaker just in case that proved insufficient.  What makes a good villain to me?

1)     Motivation: they are driven by something that makes sense.  They don’t have to be Walter White or Javert but I need to know that the reason they are doing what they are doing is justifiable to them at the very least.
2)     Methodology: what the hell are they going to do to get what they want?  Is it an elaborate scheme, use of force, a quirk of the rules?  Again I am not looking for Iago (The Shakespeare one), just so long as they do something interesting.
3)     Final Confrontation: when the hero makes their last push to stop the bad guy what is it that they are over coming?  What is the villain’s ultimate downfall?  Much like the Emperor spending far too long indulging in cruelty and torture led to him getting throw down into the exploding core of his super weapon, what was the ultimate battle for this Disney icon?
4)     Personality: sometimes the bad guy is just more interesting and fun to be around than the hero.  This can be caused by them having a powerfully charismatic voice actor or just a truly creative design—I would just point to their songs, but that is a topic for later in the month—but I do feel that just being likable is a big part of what makes a bad guy work.

(It does now occur to me that I could have made a solid two-week blog series just on grading villains by this metric.  This version will be super shallow by comparison—something to think about down the line though.)

The Contenders
            I picked the 11 I consider to be both the most iconic and the one’s that leapt most quickly to mind.  This selection process gave a bit of an advantage to those who have voice actors I like, “Hi Shadow Man, voiced by Keith David!”  But, I tried to grab all the ones people would say were the best.  There are too many characters!
I am sure someone out there is bemoaning the lack of Cruella De Ville on this list, but for whatever reason, even though she is the evilest, I couldn’t bring myself to putting someone in the running for “best” or “favorite” anything when they would murder puppies for the sake of a coat.  Sorry.  No.  Too evil.  Go fuck yourself.

In order of appearance:

She is hot.  But in a very stern and put together way.
  • The Queen from “Snow White”
  • Maleficent from “Sleeping Beauty”
  • Ursula from “The Little Mermaid”
  • Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast”
  • Jafar from “Aladdin”
  • Scar from “The Lion King”
  • Judge Frollo from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”
  • Hades from “Hercules”
  • Syndrome from “The Incredibles”
  • Dr. Facilier AKA Shadow Man from “The Princess and the Frog”
  • Mother Gothel from “Tangled”

In comparison to the Evil Queen, any thug with a heavy rock can kill a child.
Real evil is stealing and raising that child as your own deluded medicine cabinet.

Section 1: Motivation
            There is a reason I start this off with something simple, “What do you want?” should be a pretty easy thing to answer and important in judging how they go about it.  I will try and do this as the characters explaining their own motivations.  There is a lot of, “I should be in charge” nonsense.

From weakest to strongest they are:

The Queen from “Snow White”- “I am the fairest.”

Scar from “The Lion King”- “Why shouldn’t I be King?”

My teeth and ambitions are bared.  Be prepared.
Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” – “I want revenge on Triton for exiling me, and to take control of Atlantis for my own amusement.”

Hades from “Hercules”- “C’mon, does my brother seem the type of guy who should be running the cosmos?  I run a professional organization drawing together those who have the talent to rise up based on their abilities.  I want to make Olympus great again, even if I have to tear it down to do it.”

Jafar from “Aladdin” – “Have you seen that idiot and his brat?  I should be in charge!”
(Jafar is higher than the others because he kind of should replace the Sultan.  Mufasa is ostensibly a good king, so is Zeus and Triton in some measures.)

Mother Gothel from “Tangled”- “Oh sure, I’m the bad guy?  My carefully cultivated magical flower which I have used to treat my own illness and age is stolen and destroyed to save a woman who has lived her entire life in a palace and I’m the bad guy?  I did my best to take back my medicine and have done everything I could to keep the girl who has it safe and happy so that I can STAY ALIVE.  But, sure, I’m the bad guy.”

Maleficent from “Sleeping Beauty” – “I am the most important person in the world and I don’t get an invitation?  I need to teach these people a lesson so that no one ever disrespects me again.”

Dr. Facilier AKA Shadow Man from “The Princess and the Frog”- “I have made many deals in this town, it was the only way to get by.  Maybe you haven’t seen enough of this country to know how rough it gets for guys like me?  Let me tell you, if you don’t have friends you don’t survive, and I want to be a friend to all those who were down with me, I want to make this whole city my friend, to pay me back for all the bad deals I’ve had to live with.”

Syndrome from “The Incredibles” – “Special?  Because you were born lucky?  Some of us had to make our own kind of special.  Who the hell are you to tell me I’m not special?”
 
"Do you think it is gay if you want to have sex with yourself?  You know what, I don't care if it is.  I love me."
Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast”- “What right does a woman have to say ‘no’ to me?  I deserve her.  I deserve any and all of them.  I.  Am.  Gaston.”

Judge Frollo from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”- “We are all so weak, so timid, so prone to corruption.  The lord made us so fragile and malleable.  It is the duty of all those who have the strength and constitution for gruesome tasks to make this world clean and bright.  Without sin.  Why too, am I so weak?”

Section 2: Methodology
            Many of these characters’ plans are stupid, or they have no plan and more or less fall into action.  So let’s just applaud the one’s whose plans either work or work well enough that you could call them a threat.

From weakest to strongest they are:

Gaston’s plan in “Beauty and the Beast” seems to be flirt with Belle until she gives into his manly magnetism.  He fails, and then gets a little rapey, followed by black mailing Bell by jailing her father.  Gaston, this is not a good plan.  Even if Belle does marry you, ultimately you are on the fast track her slicing your nuts off on the wedding night.  He doesn’t even know there is a Beast to kill until late in the 3rd act and decides to kill the Beast… for no reason.  Cause he is a dick.

I am so choked up right now.
Hades plan in “Hercules” is damn near fatally flawed from the word “go”.  I would go so far as to call it a plot hole bonanza.  Why would the Titans be useful in defeating all the gods when Zeus defeated them by his lonesome back in the day? Why would the chaotic and evil titans allow Hades to be in control of jack shit after managing to defeat the gods?  Why did you expend so-so many good resources trying to defeat Hercules?  WHY TRY TO FIGHT DESTINY AT ALL?  Your Greek, a god no less, you know how all of those stories work out.

            Ursula in “The Little Mermaid” has a plan that makes no sense and fails numerous times but for her cheating.  I understand that her wanting to... rule the sea?  Revenge on Triton?  Whatever requires her to leverage Ariel, but her spell should have been broken by her own cheating, how does a magically enforced bargain not break when good faith is violated?

Mother Gothel in “Tangled” seems to be under the false impression that she can manipulate and control a teenage girl forever.  The fact that she managed it as long as she did deserve props (and the fact that she tried to skip out on the child kidnapping altogether but couldn’t because the magic faded when not attached to a scalp, that was also smart).  But again, her entire ongoing strategy is child abuse of the most extreme variety that will inevitably break at the worst time.  Which it did.

Dr. Facilier AKA Shadow Man in “The Princess and the Frog” has a plan to take over New Orleans via the manipulation of one HIGHLY UNRELIABLE middle man.  I hate to be the one to criticize a man who has made deals with otherworldly forces, but the weakest link in your chain of schemes was the human you chose to work with.

Syndrome in “The Incredibles” seems to have all the bases covered.  He kills nearly all the heroes via a constantly evolving machine of death, he amasses huge resources via supporting third world dictators (stated not shown), and it set to announce his presence to the world thru a big coming out stunt.  Thing is, he also says he wants to sell super gadgets to make everyone into superheroes, to show the heroes of the world they are no longer special… Why not just do that?  People would buy force field projecting gloves and flight suits.  Why even with the plan?

"And all will see that I have the coolest shoulder pads in all the Caliphate!"
Jafar in “Aladdin” has been trying to run the show for years and has been doing so to one degree or another.  He uses hypnotism, he gathers resources, he plots midnight assassinations, and he tries to unlock the mysteries of the desert to take his place as the top.  Really, if he had just used his connections with the guards to kill the Sultan, marry Jasmin, rule the kingdom, and then search for the lamp with all his new free time he would have been better off.  I feel that the guards who were willing to murder a foreign dignitary at his behest would have been willing to murder a blundering Sultan for him too.  Call me crazy but he keeps trying to use too big a solution to the problem.  In the real world a lot of sultans got to be sultan because they killed the last sultan.

Judge Frollo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” wants to rid the world of sin by killing lots of gypsies.  Primarily because one of them makes him horny and we can’t have that.  Honestly, compared to the others his goal of, “have sex with attractive gypsy woman” contrasted with his legal/social power of “destroy a massive number of minorities” and the fact that he would willingly destroy the object of his affections rather than lose her… I can’t really see a flaw in his methods.  Maybe it is just overkill.  Really, what his goals are the problem, they are in conflict, he can’t be both free of sin and yet enjoy the sinning, so his methods are monstrous because he’s losing his god damned mind.

Scar in “The Lion King” manages the successful coup d'etat that Jafar should have just pulled.  Kill the king, frame the son, then kill the son.  Unfortunately, he has that same issue as many others: his minions suck at their jobs.  He ruled as a king for years and was only overthrown because his minions suddenly stopped sucking at murder and murdered him rather than fight Simba.  He was surrounded by idiots.

The Queen in “Snow White” has two plans.  Plan A: hire a murderer.  Plan B: when the initial murderer fails to have the stones to go thru with murdering a child put on a disguise and go to commit the murder yourself.  The only thing she didn’t plan was an effective escape from the scene.  But she has blunt and precise plans that would have worked if the first guy hadn’t fucked up or if she had foreseen the tiny angry mob.
 
"You want to know something funny?  They did invite me, I just hadn't checked behind the counter in the lobby where they leave the mail.  It had fallen back there.  Hahahahha.  For want of a nail, am I right?"
Maleficent in “Sleeping Beauty” aspires to being a dick in the most creative of fashions.  Destroy the nations textile industry by getting the king to get rid of all the spinning wheels, make them suffer when they can’t even keep the girl away from the curse, then make the prince suffer by having him in imprisonment so long that even if he does rescue sleeping beauty he will be an old man.  She is such a dick in such an elaborate fashion.  What is more, she is powerful to the point that people fear her from day one, her plan is exercising her own considerable power and abilities.  This is certainly why she is so well regarded by the Disney fandom.

Section 3: Final Confrontation
            There are more than a few people getting thrown off buildings or just off of high things in general.  Common Theme.  There are two that survive and they get bonus points for that.  I also give a bit of a bonus for there being some kind of thematic parallel or something clever.  Lower scores are for endings that might be summed up with, “and then the hero killed them”.

From weakest to strongest they are:

If I had to do it again, I would have planned it out a bit better.
 Ursula at the end of “The Little Mermaid” is 200 meters tall, and generating a storm from being absolutely crazy with power.  She is then justly murdered via stabbing while laughing like an idiot.

The Queen at the end of “Snow White” is being hunted by dwarves until ultimately being killed because she did not plan a proper escape route.

Jafar at the end of “Aladdin” HAS COMPLETELY WON, but rather than kill the hero and the sidekicks and then go off to rape Jasmin and make the Genie watch (AND THERE IS TOO MUCH OF THAT ON THE INTERNET) instead the world’s most powerful sorcerer allows himself to be goaded into wishing himself into being a genie, which made him a slave to his own lamp and unable to kill anyone.  So he is imprisoned for all eternity.  STUPID.  However: he lived.

Hades at the end of “Hercules” allows Hercules to perform the most obvious heroic sacrifice in history and thus leaves the door open for Hercules to become a god and win completely.  A final punctuation to the chain of horrible decisions that has defined Hades’ entire part in the movie.  He too, being a god, lives.

Scar at the end of “The Lion King” is eaten by his own duplicitous minions who are too hungry to rally behind him to win back the Pride Lands, which is no longer a prize worth having.

Maleficent at the end of “Sleeping Beauty” is stabbed in the chest by the hero and dies.  If not for the fact that she died giving it her all trying to be as evil and violent as possible right to the end she would have been much lower on this list.  She was trying to murder the hero right up to the end which leaves her ahead of the others.

Mother Gothel at the end of “Tangled” has Rapunzel’s lover at knife point at begs for the healing magic to keep her going.  Threats of more abuse and violence tinged with mad desperation at the fear of death that fills her.  She allows all the false platitudes to melt away and would be willing to keep Rapunzel in a cage for all eternity if necessary.  But, she is too late to help herself and fails to account for the willingness of one of the heroes to sacrifice their own life to secure the freedom of the other.  She fails because the heroes had each grown to defy her limited expectations of them.  Failing because the heroes beat you on a moral level is the best kind of loss for a villain.
 
I am in your house, stealing your baby, and I took an upper decker, good luck cleaning that.
Syndrome at the end of “The Incredibles” is about to steal a baby and raise it as his own.  You steal a baby that is about as evil as it gets.  And since the whole film is about family, the idea that the villain’s ultimate confrontation should take place in the family’s home, threatening the family’s (ostensibly) weakest member, and result in the destruction of that home leaving the family protecting each other as the only thing left—That is pretty epic.  It is only a fluke that Syndrome’s costume, intended to emulate and mock superheroes proves to be his downfall.

Gaston at the end of “Beauty and the Beast” this wins points for reasons that relate to the history of “Beauty and the Beast” as a story/movie (You can learn a bit more about it here, but it is a really long video on the subject).  In the live action version of “B&B” that in many parts inspired the Disney movie, the Gaston equivalent was played by the same actor that played Beast.  And the idea was on the conflict between masculine ideals and image.  That (for me) carries over to this movie quite well.  The idea that Gaston is the toxic masculine ideal being thrown away by Beast as he sheds his own rough outer monstrousness to become Prince Charming is rather resonant.

Judge Frollo at the end of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” while trying to murder the heroes with a piece of the church they are clashing on, he falls into metaphorical hell as the city burns around them because of the siege on Notre Dame taking place.  It is the ultimate judgement from the Eyes of Notre Dame that have haunted Frollo thru the movie.  It has a lot going on.

Shadow Man at the end of “The Princess and the Frog” has a scene that is not loved enough.  Shadow Man knows the kind of racist bullshit that Tiana has to put up with, how hard she has to work, how much she has been put thru to get what she dreams of only to be told, “no” for the most thinly veiled of reasons.  So rather than try to kill her outright (something he could do, he is a big guy and she is a frog) he does the opposite, he offers her everything she deserves.  He offers her the rewards for all of her hard work that she has been denied.  I love it when the heroes are tempted to join the bad guys, and this is probably the best example of it in a family movie.  Only by rejecting all Tiana has wanted for higher ideals does Shadow Man fail to achieve victory at the last and is dragged to hell.

Section 4: Personality
            This is the most subjective section in an entirely subjective exercise.  And really.  They’re all good.  It is splitting numerous hairs here.  I would go into detail but it all would sound like, “They are cool in (some way) but not (other way)”.

From weakest to strongest they are:

The Queen from “Snow White”
Syndrome from “The Incredibles”
Jafar from “Aladdin”
Mother Gothel from “Tangled”
Dr. Facilier AKA Shadow Man from “The Princess and the Frog”

Just a little trick we do here in New Orleans.
Maleficent from “Sleeping Beauty”
Ursula from “The Little Mermaid”
Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast”
Scar from “The Lion King”
Judge Frollo from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”
Hades from “Hercules”

Final Ranking:
The Queen from “Snow White” - 10
Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” - 10
Jafar from “Aladdin” - 14
Mother Gothel from “Tangled” -17
Hades from “Hercules” - 19
Syndrome from “The Incredibles” - 21
Scar from “The Lion King” - 21
Dr. Facilier AKA Shadow Man from “The Princess and the Frog” - 21
Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast” - 24
Maleficent from “Sleeping Beauty” - 26
Judge Frollo from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” – 35
 
Claude Frollo.  As abusive to children as Mother Gothel.  As Egotistical as Scar.
As sexually threatening as Gaston.  And as organizationally skilled as Syndrome or Jafar.
            Let me just say, I did not expect Gaston or Maleficent to pace so high.  They are not characters that spring immediately to mind with me.  But I figured Frollo would be really high, in my opinion he is the strongest element of his whole movie.  But then, who knows, I could do this again in a year or two and my world view would change all around and suddenly I would think that Hades should be on top.  It should be noted I ranked all the categories equally, if I had weighted them (AKA put in even MORE work on this blog) things would have been different.

            Share your own thoughts on this in the comments.  I know I am not the only person out there who is nostalgic for Disney products, and I am sure many people disagree with my selection for today’s entry.  Who is your favorite villain?  Why are they your favorite villain?  Are there some criteria I missed?  Is there a bad guy you think I scored unfairly?
Do you thinking ranking complex opinions numerically is stupid, and that complex opinions are too apt to be ranked in modern society instead of allowing them to be spelled out in a complex weave of emotions and preconceptions making us all too reliant on the veneer of legitimacy afforded by arbitrary quantitative scales to justify our feelings to the uncaring and disapproving masses???  If so you have a might pretty mind on you.  I respect that.

Main issue with group shots: Clashing animation styles.
I picked Disney stuff just because I knew there was so much of it to talk about and it lends itself to discussion in the comments.  So please, tell me how my opinion about cartoon movies is biased and how your opinion on cartoon movies is objectively right.

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1 comment:

  1. Gaston and Maleficent both make sense to score highly (so does Frollo, of course). Gaston is someone who could easily exist in our world, so narcissistic and over-confident that he'll run over anyone to get his way. The fact that people like him really exist makes him scarier. And Maleficent? When she's fighting the prince, SHE CALLS ON THE POWERS OF HELL.

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