Wednesday, May 12, 2010
It may seem counter-intuitive for an animation studio touting alleged moral messages and lessons learned, but Disney's animated films are pretty heavy on semi-violent karmic death. The lesson is far from nuanced; if you're a bad guy, you will undoubtedly fall to your painful but ultimately deserved death in a waterfall or from a jagged cliff. It's just the way it is. It may be a tough lesson for children--act out and you'll inevitably take a timely plunge off of a precariously unstable branch or railingless skyscraper--but it's an important one nonetheless. After all, without a terrifying threat of impending doom, what's to keep kids from acting out and going the ominous villain route? It's an airtight defense.
For the sake of simplicity and non-visible-from-a-distance blood splatters, a fall is by far the simplest means of eliminating a bad guy in the last ten minutes of a Disney animated film. The pain and suffering is implied without being explicit, though usually not administered in a particularly sadistic manner. In short, the punishment fits the crime while keeping in mind that a point-blank bullet to the face could probably be traumatizing to small children. This rule, of course, does not apply to the good guys, in which gun-induced trauma is not only acceptable but actually encouraged and played for tears. See Mom, Bambi's for more information and, probably, some uncontrollable sobbing.
In the cases of a semi-historical plot, it can be tougher to administer that climactic fall. While Disney movies are often pretty heavy on creative license in their adaptation of an existing story, there are existing premises in which a villain's fall to the death doesn't quite fit. Writers and animators may be forced to deliver a less crushing blow, such as Pocahontas' Ratcliffe's forced return to England to face high treason charges. It may not have the satisfying resonance of a villain's defeated wail growing progressively quieter as he crashes into the middle distance, but for some stories we may just have to settle.
Crime against mermanity: Takes advantage of innocent young mermaid in revealing shell bra; barters voice for human legs.
To be fair: She does offer a loophole to Ariel in the form of True Love's Kiss. What kind of softy villain offers an escape clause? Maybe she's not so bad after all.
Then again: If Ariel fails, she'll be Ursula's slave forever. Plus she has to hang out with those freaky eels. Yikes.
Means of death: Animated heartthrob and all around good-haired hero Eric runs over her with a ship.
Verdict: It's a little more malicious than the standard "Oh, oops, she fell off a cliff" out, but it's satisfying nonetheless.
Crimes against humanity: General deception, hypnotizes sultan, attempts to enslave whole of Arabian royalty.
Also: Owns irritating parrot. This may be the worst offense.
Means of death: Tricked by own greed and overconfidence into eternal imprisonment in the genie's lamp.
Verdict: Not quite a death, but a life sentence comes in as a near second in the Disney animated tropes for villain elimination.
Crimes against African wildlife population: Lies, betrayal, ruthless pursuit of throne, general disregard for Circle of Life.
Means of death: Falls on jagged cliffs. Okay, fine, that's not his death, it's a fakeout. Technically, falls on jagged cliffs and survives.
Add insult to injury: ...only to be eaten by his former allies the hyenas.
Verdict: Totally brutal, and just a tiny bit sadistic. They couldn't have just killed him with the fall? No, no, he needed to doubly learn his lesson...and then be eaten alive by wild beasts. It's warranted.
Crimes against endangered species of the Australian Outback: Poaches rare eagles, cruelty and entrapment of animals, terrorizing of adorable mice.
Means of death: Narrowly escapes death by crocodiles; celebrates by falling into waterfall.
Verdict: Classic Disney villain demise. Clean, quick, and a little mean.
Crimes against French provincial townspeople and/or potentially dangerous but ultimately kindhearted monsters: Incredible hubris, undue beast hunting, smelly socks.
Means of death: After the Beast makes a legitimate attempt to spare Gaston's undeserving life, Gaston goes and stabs the big guy in the back. Literally.
And then: ...trips and epically falls into the night.
Verdict: Totally justified. That's what you get for bringing a lynch mob to the castle of a mysteriously furry recluse. He really should have known better.
Crimes against East Asian warrior culture: Leads the bloodthirsty Huns into China.
Means of death: Gets totally distracted by firework strapped to comic relief dragon; explodes.
Verdict: Not quite the fall we may have been hoping for, though we can assume he did eventually plummet to his redundant death after exploding. Whatever, we'll take consolation wherever we can find it.
Crimes against persecuted Native American population: Greed for gold, exploits land, unreasonably distrust of natives.
Means of death: None. Trapped by settlers and shipped off to England to be tried for high treason.
Verdict: Lame. John Smith gets shot and Ratcliffe gets off with some treason charges? Granted, Smith lives and Ratcliffe's charges are for high treason, but really. How's a five-year old supposed to understand the karmic value in that outcome? "Oh, it's cool. He was sent back to his native country to be tried in a court of law for crimes against the state." They would have done better falling off a cliff and/or into a waterfall. It's a far more resonant visual.
Crimes against Notre Dame hunchback community: Acts totally unjustly while serving as Minister of Justice. Go figure.
Means of death: Loses hold on stone gargoyle, plummets to death from atop Notre Dame cathedral.
Verdict: As far as Disney villains go, Frollo is one of the downright slimiest. Here's a case where a more specifically violent visual may have been welcome.
Crimes against mythological Greek figures: Though justifiably bitter about role as lord of the deceased in the underworld, Hades' quest to overthrow brother Zeus by knocking off Hercules is still pretty villainous.
Means of death: Punched out by super strong Hercules, plummets into River Styx.
Also: Eaten by dead people's spirits.
Verdict: Awesome comeuppance with a real lesson: if you're gonna mess with Hercules, you're going to be smothered by the lingering souls of the dead. That's just the way it goes.
Crimes against tree-swinging contingency of jungle-dwelling humanity: Gorilla hunter and guilty of all-around bad guy-ness.
Means of death: Falls out of tree, strangled by vine, hanged.
Verdict: A little graphic, but overall pretty fair. You don't go after gorillas n' friends. They'll get you.