If the marketing for Disney’s “Maleficent” is to be believed, villains are the new heroes. In the upcoming fantasy film, megastar Angelina Jolie brings the evil sorceress from "Sleeping Beauty" to life, exploring the character's mysterious past and examining how that past shaped the events of the famous fairy tale.
Disney has already toyed with this idea a bit in the past, most notably with 2010's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (inspired by the segment of the same name from "Fantasia") and the in-development Cruella de Ville movie. But "Maleficent" is the first time that the House of Mouse has really mined one of its beloved animated films like this.
If applied correctly, the villain angle could provide Disney with some very cool opportunities in the future. There are plenty of other Disney antagonists whose back stories could be mined for their own stand-alone films:
Ursula (“The Little Mermaid”)
Much like Maleficent, Ursula is also an outcast of sorts. There’s a reason she lives alone in a cave with only a pair of eel minions to keep her company. A standalone “Ursula” movie would explore the character’s past. Early drafts of the “Little Mermaid” script implied that Ursula and King Triton were brother and sister (making her Ariel’s aunt). Perhaps she was labelled a sea witch and outcast so that Triton could seize the throne? If that’s the case, Ursula’s beef with the merfolk seems almost entirely justified. There’s a whole lot of potential for undersea family drama in this one.
“Aladdin” baddie Jafar is lies, he controls, he murders, he corrupts, and he steals, all in an effort to get the coveted Genie’s lamp. But is Agrabah’s Royal Vizier really a villain or is he just a pragmatic second-in-command trying to keep the kingdom on the right footing? The Sultan of Agrabah is depicted in “Aladdin” as a bumbling and gullible fool with no real idea what life is like outside of his palace. Though Jafar is obviously seduced by the idea of power, he may have initially just been trying to do what’s best for the kingdom in the absence of real leadership. The “Jafar” movie would be an examination of how power corrupts and how even the best of intentions can be derailed by a plucky thief and a fast-talking Genie.
Gaston (“Beauty and the Beast")
An arrogant chauvinist with an extremely high opinion of himself and a very low opinion of women, Gaston becomes obsessed with Belle after she repeatedly rebuffs his marriage proposals. Not only does he try to blackmail Belle into marrying him by threatening to have her father thrown into an insane asylum, Gaston also leads a lynch mob to kill the Beast. During the film’s climax, Gaston falls to his death after a fight with Beast atop the castle.
What happens when a man who has had the world handed to him on a silver platter doesn’t get what he wants? Taking place during the events of “Beauty and the Beast” (as seen from Gaston’s perspective), a Gaston "sidequel" would be a story about the perils of privilege and expectation, and examine the environment that creates characters like him. Will he get redeemed at the end? Should there be any redemption for jerks like Gaston?
Shere Khan (“The Jungle Book”)
In the original Rudyard Kipling stories, Khan is also called “The Lame One” and sports a crippled leg. There’s obviously some serious physical and emotional trauma in the big cat’s past that is at the root of his domineering behaviour. A “Jungle Book” prequel centered on the lording Shere Khan might look something like “Bambi,” only with Bengal tigers instead of deer. Imagine a young jungle tiger having to survive things like hunters, clear cutting, and wildfires; he’d quite rightfully grow up to be quite cautious about such things. To Khan, Mowgli doesn’t represent a harmless child. The young boy represents the encroachment of man into the animal kingdom.
The youngest of 13 siblings, Hans was twelfth in line to the throne of the Southern Isles and had no hope of ever being king. Thus Hans concocted a plan to marry into the neighbouring monarchy of Arrendelle, wooing Anna and murdering the new Queen Elsa, becoming king in the process. Hans's plan was, of course, foiled, but a standalone "Hans" prequel could be a great chance to explore the other side of the Disney prince/princess coin. What drove him to do what he did? What is the real life of a handsome Disney prince like? What are the pressures of being nothing but an old fashioned fantasy archetype?
Are there any Disney villains, like Maleficent or the ones listed, that you think deserve their own movies? Which animated baddie could filmmakers put an interesting live-action spin on? Let us know in the comments.
Photos courtesy of Disney Pictures.