Angelina Jolie in all her devilish glory as Maleficent.
With the dawn of villains becoming the new heroes in movies (see the planned "Sinister Six"), it is no surprise that Disney would be mining their own library to see if they can breathe in new life to some of their beloved classics.
"Maleficent" presents an interesting spin - instead of relying on the hero franchise formula, they let us revisit these classics from the perspective of their most reviled and despised characters. While most were met with tragic demises for that happily ever after, some of these Disney villains can be sometimes misunderstood and not always evil for evil's sake. Upon closer inspection, there are some hints and openings that these characters may actually have empathetic backgrounds or origin stories that shaped who they were, or caused them to fall off the path of the righteous. As much as we abhor these antagonists, there is plenty of ways that we can also adore them too.
If you think it's a bad idea of having Disney movies being centered on their most sinister characters, we've come up with a list to convince you that there are more to these Disney villains, other than their devious plots and intentions, that are worth exploring in an entire feature. Perhaps, you might even emphatise with where some of them are coming from.
With the release of "Maleficent", we look through the rogue gallery of Disney's movies, from the classics to the recent to see where they could take this idea of villainous origin stories to something that we would like to see.
The Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
If Maleficent had not been Disney's first pick for their revisitation of villains, we could easily see Angelina Jolie as the Evil Queen from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" on the posters right now (as much as we loved Charlize Theron in "Snow White and the Huntsman"). While jealously is the common explanation for the queen's obsession of being the fairest in the land, there is potential room to expand on that based on the extent that she is willing to let Snow White have her sleeping death. Her actions could have been motivated by a survival instinct to ensure that her position of power is not outmatched by a natural born beauty, even if it's innocent.
Disney could go with a backstory explaining how the Evil Queen (sometimes known as Grimhilde) came to be the stepmother of Snow White, and whether she did use her dark powers to be as radiant as she is. She could have been a shunned victim (by a lover, of course) because of her looks, which could fuel her intention to use beauty as a weapon of affection (against men, perhaps?).
Lady Tremaine from Cinderella (1950)
The evil stepmother of "Cinderella" may be the defining figure that makes all stepmothers look bad but she is still a mother after all. She gives the best to her unappreciative daughters and wishes them to be happy, which may the underlying reason that prevents her from loving poor Cinderella as her own.
At least her disdain for Cinderella is honest and she still has enough compassion to not throw her out of the house after her father died. Given the Victorian-like period and setting of "Cinderella", Lady Tremaine could be a more sophisticated villain than the other Disney deviants on this list. Her coldness towards Cinderella could come from a tragic story of how she could have been mistreated in an unloving marriage (maybe several), and her daughters (repulsive as they are) are her only source of comfort and joy in her cold-hearted world.
Disney is currently making a live-action adaptation of the glass shoe wearing maid (directed by Kenneth Branagh), and we would be satisfied if a spin-off could come from there to give Lady Tremaine her depth in character.
Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians (1996)
As an icon of crime against fashion as she was in her first appearance, Cruella De Vil (whose name just spells all kinds of trouble) would now be considered as one of the lowest scums of the Earth that would put an arrow to a dog. Her sole motivation to skin 101 Dalmations for her poor fashion sense would make her one of the best caricatures to make fun of to an animal-rights aware audience, and that's some potential currency to be had if a movie about her was made.
While the characters we suggested on this list to have their own movie is still mostly a pipe dream, Disney has actually started work on a script focused on De Vil, with live-action actress Glenn Close involved (though not reprising her best known role). How will her origin story turn out is one we are already anticipating, and they better explain if she is colour-blind!
Ursula from The Little Mermaid (1989)
Manipulative and conniving as she is, Ursula from "The Little Mermaid" is the first among our list as one of the more fabulous villains who is hard to hate. She is a very convincing villain when she offers Ariel the bargain of a lifetime and when you thought that she was after a happy ending of her own, it was revenge against King Triton that she was truly after, along with the throne of the depths below.
If there is any potential in her past it is by listening to her most famous song in "The Little Mermaid", where we learn that she had a 'nasty' past and a talent for witchcraft. So there's already enough material to talk about how she became to be the saint for poor unfortunate souls. Another area of exploration was revealed in the staged play of "The Little Mermaid" that Ursula is actually the sister of Triton, so going into how she was cast out of the palace by her own brother would make for high drama under the sea.
Jafar from Aladdin (1992)
Away from the classical mold of villainous sorceresses and stepmothers, we have the serpentine Jafar from "Aladdin" to make the first male villain on our list. The only Disney villain that even Disney loved so much that he was brought back for a sequel.
Psychotic yet mysterious, we will admit that we would be curious to see an origin story of how he came to be the cunning vizier of Agrabah, discovering the Cave of Wonders and meeting his pet Iago along the way. Not that Disney doesn't have anything to work on since in a deleted song (titled 'Why Me') from "Aladdin", Jafar laments about his poor and hungry childhood on the streets of Agrabah. This would fittingly make him a parallel to Aladdin and how different paths lead to different consequences.
Scar from The Lion King (1994)
During that pivotal scene in "The Lion King" when Scar whispers 'Long live the king' before throwing Mufasa down to the stampede, there seems to be so much more being said from just those four words. It was as though in his final moments, Mufasa, in his eyes, finally realises that this was a culmination of what Scar had been waiting for all his life.
While that life story could have been told in a flash, we think it is something that deserves to be explored in a full length feature that could possibly start when Mufasa and Scar were just cubs (and we would get to see Simba's grandparents for once). Scar potentially could have been a tragic villain who wasn't born with any ill wills against his brother, but was warped by jealousy after being jilted as being inferior to Mufasa in every way (maybe even by Sarabi who could have chosen Mufasa over him, oh the drama!). There's even material suggesting that Scar's real name isn't even Scar, so how he came to be known as that is already a story in itself!
While we can see most of the villains on this list being revisited in a live-action, we think Scar should be revisited in animated form (preferably in the style of "The Lion King") with that unsettling purring voice of Jeremy Iron again.
Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Although Disney had softened the heavier themes of Victor Hugo's novel with talking gargoyles, Judge Claude Frollo still remains as one of the darkest villains not only on this list but one that has ever been put onscreen by Disney. When was the last time you saw a Disney character who would call a baby an unholy demon that needs to be sent back to Hell through a well (in the opening scene no less)? Frollo's urge to purge (more like mass genocide) the gypsies with cleansing flame is as unholy as his creepy lust for one of them, while he sings his burning desire like they were hellfire.
While most of the villains we suggested here need to have an origin story so that we can sympathise with their faults, this is one origin story we want so that we have even more reasons to find Frollo despicable. There is a certain timeliness in depicting a man who is so blinded by his own self-righteousness to commits sins that even a degenerate would never even consider.
Hades from Hercules (1997)
This wise-cracking Lord of the Underworld may not get the laughs out of his fellow Olympians, but he is easily one of the best parts of "Hercules" and one of our favourites on this list. In between releasing the Titans (and pointing them in the right direction) against Olympus and using a damsel in distress as bait to murder his superhuman nephew, it is hard to get enough of Hades as he gets us chuckling with his fast-talking jokes, but it is his moments when he bursts into outraged flames that has us roaring.
While most of the villains in this list should be in prequels to the classics they would later appear in, Hades is one where we would like to see more of in a sequel after "Hercules", as he comes up with new ways in his endless plot to dethrone Zeus or make a bad day for Hercules, as long as James Woods is playing him.
Queen Narissa from Enchanted (2007)
While many may no longer remember the hybrid live action animation that brought the world of Disney princesses and our world together, "Enchanted" did boast some serious talents in Amy Adams (in one of her first breakthrough roles as lovestruck Giselle) and Susan Sarandon as Queen Narissa.
While Queen Narissa doesn't necessarily need a serious origin story like the rest of the villains on this list, this one has a potential to be developed into something more because she is barely more than just an amalgam of Maleficent, The Evil Queen and Lady Tremaine, but has plenty of potential to be developed into something else. Besides, they already have a great actress that would be fun to watch her play her wretchedness to the hilt again.
Doctor Facilier from The Princess and The Frog (2009)
If "The Princess and The Frog" didn't successfully recapture the spirit of the Disney Renaissance years, it did hold true to the tradition of having a memorable villain in the split shadowed Doctor Facilier. A persuasive tempter and double-dealer, Facilier is frightening because of the mystery shrouding him which hides what he is truly capable of with his voodoo magic.
For very much the same reasons as Jafar, mystery is working in favour for the Shadow Man to get his own origin movie. Although there is a rumoured rejected script that ties him as a once apprentice to the benevolent Mama Odie, an origin story explaining how Facilier made friends with those on the other side would be a fascinating and frightening tale already.
Mother Gothel from Tangled (2010)
While we would love to see Disney eventually revive all their classic villains, let's not forget to look at the villains created after Disney had fully made the transition to 3D animation. Out of the few villains that came from the new Walt Disney Animation Studios, Mother Gothel from "Tangled" comes to mind as someone who deserves to have an origin story.
Although part of her story of how she came upon Rapunzel and the Golden Flower were partly told in an exposition, why Gothel had went searching for the flower and her eagerness to sustain her beauty could be the basis of her backstory. She did live long enough to age into dust when Rapunzel loses her powers, so there's plenty of time to tell what she's been up to in between.
Cinema Online, 22 May 2014