There’s nothing like a good bad guy, which Disney films know very well. Sinister and evil (and often wreathed in green), the villains often leave as much of a lasting impression as any “good” character.
But I’m not convinced every villain in the Disney catalogue is all that evil. In fact, there are quite a few that might just be the heroes of their own universes, with a bit of a critical eye. Here’s a list of my top 5 Not-So-Bad-After-All Villains
5. Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
All right, let me start this off by saying that just because someone isn’t the villain, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are good. Case in point with our first example. Gaston is arrogant, rude, ignorant, and vain… but quite frankly, so are most Disney heroes.
If you look at the story of Beauty and the Beast from his perspective, he actually makes most of his decisions in the way a hero would. An ostensibly deranged inventor goes missing, only to return without his young daughter, raving about a ridiculous creature that no one’s ever heard of (and Gaston was a renowned hunter, so he would know about the local fauna). Upon Belle’s return, and learning the truth of the monster (remember, he only had Belle’s word to go on, and she could’ve easily been suffering from Stockholm Syndrome), he rallies a militia to protect his town.
Heck, even his crush on Belle is semi-admirable (though he went about it in the worst possible way). Think about it- almost everyone in this tight-knit community thinks that Belle is pretty, but super weird. Not to mention, they shun/fear her father, only adding to the outcast status. Gaston, a local legend of sorts, passes up on the many beautiful women interested in him, and goes after Belle alone, despite the social stigma. Redress Gaston as the High School quarterback, and Belle as the geeky social outcast, and you have yourself a rom-com.
4. Scar (Lion King)
The brother to the king in African-Hamlet certainly has all the boxes checked for viewer villain casting. But set aside your aesthetic prejudices and look at him a bit more critically.
Scar lives in a veritable caste system; one that he does not actually have a place in. As the “weaker” brother to Mufasa (and that’s debatable. He has a surprising amount of strength, and is clearly more intelligent), he shouldn’t even be alive. According to the Circle of Life propaganda, he should’ve been taken out by his brother to establish his dominance over the pride. So why is he still around?
I’d argue that the reasoning is twofold: For one, Mufasa doesn’t want to incite rebellion. Scar has become a hero to the outcasts of their society, and Mufasa knows how truly powerful the hyenas are. If we were to compare this to another Disney film, the hyenas are like the ants in A Bug’s Life. They were able to easily overpower the grasshoppers (lions), but didn’t out of fear… until a leader showed them their true strength.
The other big reason? I don’t think Mufasa could take Scar. Remember, Scar goes blow-for-blow with Simba at the climax of the film, and is only barely beaten. During that fight, Simba was at his youthful prime, and Scar was old, tired, and starving.
So Scar isn’t a villain so much as the hero of the lowest tier of their society, rising above the oppressive ruling power to lead a revolution for the people. Sure, it didn’t work out too well, but his motives weren’t necessarily evil. It was a coup.
And it’s not like Scar lied to the hyenas to fight for him, either. The only thing he offered them was a fair share of the food, which they were not receiving. “Be Prepared” is more like “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Miserables.
3. Syndrome (The Incredibles)
Put on your tinfoil hats, friends, cuz this one takes a decent bit of Pixar-paranoia!
As broken down in this Super Carlin Brothers video, there may be a bigger hand moving behind the heroes and “villains” of this film. Namely, the video posits that the government fully funded the creation of supers, and subsequently Syndrome’s research (really, go watch it, it’s great).
If this is the case, Syndrome is technically filling the role of villain, but really isn’t any different than the heroes of the film. He’s clearly brilliant, a tech wizard, and has major abandonment issues, but his work might just be of a greater benefit to humanity at large. His endgame is to get the tech in to the hands of the public, effectively nullifying the playing field by granting everyone superpowers. I know that sounds a bit Orwellian circa 1984, but if he really was funded by the government to be a newer breed of super, and rebelled against that to give the benefit of powers to the masses, it sounds more vigilante than villain to me. So, we’re left with a wealthy genius, willing to get his hands dirty with fantastical gadgets, so the people may rise. Syndrome is a kooky-haired Batman.
Or, at the very least, a Marxist.
2. Sid Phillips (Toy Story)
It’s tough to pity the psychotic torturer of innocent toys, right? He rips them apart, horrifyingly mutates them back together, and blows them up for his own sick, twisted pleasure.
There’s one big problem, though…
…Sid (and everyone else) doesn’t know that toys are sentient beings.
Step back from the toy-narrative for a minute, and Sid becomes a completely different character. Here is this brilliant, creative, innovative young man, using what little he has to keep himself entertained.
It’s never said right out, but our young antagonist does not appear to have the best home life. So, though adversity, he chooses to be his own source of inspiration, creating new art from old toys. His re-assemblages are actually impressive feats of engineering, especially for his age.
We’re also viewing the happenings in Sid’s room through the lens of Buzz and Woody, two toys fairly unfamiliar with life anywhere but Andy’s room. In a sense, the toys become reflections of their owner’s mentality and actions (think Jesse from the sequel). Did any of Sid’s toys seem “evil” like him? They are kind, helpful, and willing to assist strangers (like the doll-pterodactyl hybrid Sid creates). Sure, they scatter when Sid returns, but so do the toys in Andy’s room. They’re just returning to where he left them.
With all of this in mind, the most villainous thing Sid actually does is mess with his younger sister, and what big brother doesn’t?
1. Oogie Boogie (The Nightmare Before Christmas)
Well, well, well, a villain that tortures and kills. Hole-in-one for villainy, right? Well, it would be, if Oogie lived in the real world.
Oogie Boogie resides in Halloween Town, the mythical land where the holiday lives. As evidenced by Jack travels, the denizens of the town are wholly unaware of life outside of their community, “life” being the operative word.
From mummies to ghosts, vampires to the Pumpkin King himself, death isn’t really a big thing. You really wouldn’t need to fear for your life in a town where actually being alive isn’t that big of a deal. It’s reasonable to assume that Oogie hasn’t ever encountered a being capable of actually dying, which makes his threats against Santa not terribly threatening, at least from his perspective. Again, I’m not saying this makes him good (he clearly has a severe gambling problem), just that he may not be the “bad guy,” per se.
And that’s another problem- Oogie isn’t a bad guy, singular, so much as he is a collective. He is made up of thousands of sentient bugs and snakes, which retains sentience after his burlap sack is removed by Jack (you can even hear his voice break in to many after he begins to fall apart, meaning that the sentience was not contained in a single bug). The Pumpkin King, now having travelled beyond the town, would be the only person with real perspective on death. So, in essence, Jack Skellington commits genocide, by tearing the seam on Oogie. Who’s the real bad guy now?
Did I miss any villains in need of redemption? Think I’m off-base on any of those listed? Be sure to let us know by commenting below! And remember, be good everyone.