Disney just released a trailer for a Cruella de Vil movie and…
I cannot overemphasize how there’s a difference between making a book/movie to make people sympathize with the fairytale-esque villain who reacted to a personal slight in a fantastical way and making a film/movie to make people sympathize with the villain who is supposed to be an obvious metaphor for oppression and/or cruelty! (Note: You can make a fun movie about a villain, i/e: ‘Watch them burn down the world!’ but Disney always seems to go for the more sympathetic route, and if the amount of shots of crying-Cruella are any indication, that’s what they’re going for, here.)
Wicked? (I know it’s not Disney but everyone wants to be Wicked, so I can’t not include it.) Works. The original Witch was a minor antagonist with no real motives or real-world connections (odds are we’re never going to be chased through the lands by a woman wanting our shoes) and the Wizard was always canonically a lying showman, so having a book/musical where his lies paint her as the villain, and him as the hero, works.
Maleficent? On thin ice but still works. She was slighted by the society in the original movie, so as much of a Wicked ripoff as it is, it’s still a very creative analysis on the other ways she could have been slighted, plus they make her the real hero in the end, and, again, there’s a disconnect because odds are none of us are going to be cursed by the fae (though let me tell you, living in the UK, I’m closer than I’ve ever been).
I read this Lion King book series as a kid, and one of the volumes was about how Scar was really born with the name ‘Taka’ (translation: garbage) and how he was treated like shite by his parents, who loved Mufasa. That worked. It never excused his past, but it showed a sympathetic side that made you realize things aren’t always black and white. (This series isn’t canonical, by the way, though Kopa absolutely should be.) And, I cannot overstate this, there was a disconnect because no reader will be thrown over a cliff by a lion!
Even Twisted works as a clever indie pastiche!
But if you’re going for sympathy, you can’t use villains that represent real-life evil and oppression!
I saw a book, several years ago, that was like, “Do you want to know all about Mother Gothel’s story?” No tf I don’t! No matter how well-written it is. Rapunzel’s dynamic with Gothel hits so close to him that the palm is on the bricks! I don’t ever, at any given point in my life, want to hear that fictional abusive parent’s voice, because that’s absolutely not the voice that should be heard. (It’s the same reason I detest any theories about Frollo. “Do you want to know why this religious man abused this disabled child?” I’m good.)
They announced, last year, that they were making a spinoff about Gaston. Because if there’s anything people want to see, it’s the movie about the gaslighting, stalking, bundle of toxic masculinity. /s
Now, Disney’s like, “Do you want to know more about the rich CEO who wants to murder puppies? Do you want to sympathize with the puppy murderer? All she wants to do is murder puppies :(.”
I just…you’re not going to be Birds of Prey. You’re not going to be Wicked. This isn’t how you create sympathetic villains! SHE HAS THE WORDS ‘CRUEL’ AND ‘DEVIL’ IN HER NAME!