We Were Warned: What the Movie Villains Should Have Taught Us

This thought occurred to me as I was driving home the other night. I was listening to the soundtrack to Disney’s animated classic, Beauty and the Beast, and “The Mob Song” was playing, in which Gaston stirs up the crowd with the imaginary fear that the Beast is coming to kill their children. At one point, the mob sings:

“We don’t like what we don’t understand, in fact it scares us…”

I thought “huh, sounds like Trump voters.” And then it hit me.

For eighty years, Disney tried to teach us in detail all about villains; how they operate, what their character traits are, what they sound like, how they justify themselves, and how to defeat them. We’ve seen it over and over, from Snow White’s evil Queen whose vanity is rivaled only by her cruelty to Frozen’s creepy social-climber Hans, Disney introduced us to dozens of malignant narcissists who will do anything to get what they want. We all saw them; Cruella DeVil, Stromboli, Jafar, Ursula, Captain Hook, Gaston, Hades, Frollo, Scar, and many more. We know them all. We ought to be able to recognize them when we see them.

And yet. A guy comes along who exactly matches the stereotypical Disney villain profile in every way, and what did we do? We elected him.

Seriously, can you think of a single Disney villain who doesn’t remind you in some way of Donald Trump?

I mentioned this thought to a friend of mine, a terrific cartoonist named Daniel Boris, and he went to town on it.

So, how about Cruella DeVil?

She thinks she can buy anyone or anything, she routinely abuses those she considers beneath her (and she considers everyone to be beneath her), and is eager to inflict cruelty on innocents in order to satisfy her vanity. She has moronic underlings to do her dirty work, and tries to pretend to be dignified and classy until her rage comes out.

Illustration © 2018 by Daniel Boris, used by permission, all rights reserved.

How about Ursula?

She’s a social-climbing con artist who wants to be important; she tries to convince the naive to give up what they most need in trade for an ineffective solution to a nonexistent problem. She uses the now-entrapped victim as a bargaining chip to advance her own position. She gets what she wants through lies, manipulation, threats, deception, and ultimately, violence. She acts as if her predatory actions are a public service.

Illustration © 2018 by Daniel Boris, used by permission, all rights reserved.

There’s Hades.

Here’s a fast-talking wheeler-dealer looking to scam people, take advantage and exploit them. He lies and traps people in deceptive deals to advance his own interests.

Illustration © 2018 by Daniel Boris, used by permission, all rights reserved.

And how about Captain Hook?

He flip-flops between murderous rage and infantile tantrums. He’s willing to abuse and murder children to further his goals. He mistreats his staff. He acts like a child. He’s loud and threatening, but ultimately a coward.

Illustration © 2018 by Daniel Boris, used by permission, all rights reserved.

[Obligatory plug time. If you like Dan’s work, you should check out his comic strip, Hoxwinder Hall. You can also follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Check him out!]

There are so many more we could have included. Scar, the fascist who turns his homeland into a nightmarescape; Maleficent, who is so petty she curses a child and then waits 16 years to exact her revenge; Stomboli, a bullying money-grubber who enslaves children; Gaston, who combines narcissism with staggering ignorance; Frollo, a judgmental authoritarian who punishes others for his own weakness and sexual predator who blames his victim; and so on, all the way back to the the hunters who shot Bambi’s mom.

It’s not just Disney movies either; there are hundreds of films showing us what petty, vain, temperamental, vulgar, self-serving, greedy, mendacious con men looked like. They should have taught us to distrust crooked businessmen, self-righteous moralizers, and shifty politicians, the foul-tempered, corrupt, sexual predator who abuses power and betrays his friends. Over and over, Hollywood showed us what to look out for:

Kevin McCarthy in UHF as a power-hungry TV executive with a violent temper…

Thomas F. Wilson as Biff Tannen in Back to the Future II...

Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor in Superman….

Harvey Korman in Blazing Saddles….

Miguel Ferrer in Robocop

ROBOCOP, Miguel Ferrer, Peter Weller, 1987, (c) Orion

Christopher Walken in Batman Returns

Alex Rocco in That Thing You Do! as a crass record producer; is there one single second of his performance that doesn’t scream “Trump”?

Not to mention every villain in every lowbrow comedy from the ’80s and ’90s. Remember all those terrible late-night movies on the USA Network, where a bunch of slackers have to pull together to stop a slimy developer/businessman/government official/mobster from shutting down the ski resort/school/car wash/bikini shop/whatever? How did voters not immediately recognize Donald J. Trump as that guy? And who wants that guy running anything?

We were warned. We knew better.

 

5 Comments

  1. M-Wolverine

    I mean, aren’t you basically talking about all people in power, because their main goal in life is striving for power? Take a look at Cruella and Hillary together…bet you have a hard time telling them apart. It’s not even partisan. Bill, George, W., yes even Obama. They’re all just telling you different lies and appealing to different bases to get what they want.

    And the reason people don’t take Hollywood seriously is because the image they’re creating might describe Hollywood people far more. It’s not just the occasional Harvey; the head of the creative department that made most of that company’s latest successful animation stuff just got pushed out because he was a creep. And the “creative types” are often just as bad and more dysfunctional than they are. (It’s amazing Kevin Spacey hasn’t done a Disney villain voice, because, typecasting).

    The heroes in the movie aren’t doing things to become famous. The bad guys are the ones doing things to be rich, powerful, and famous. And those are the ones you hear about in real life. So it’s probably a bad idea to trust them.

    1. BB

      Wolverine, it’s too easy to lump all politicians together. Are any perfect? Absolutely not, but there are many, many who hold office for the service. Is Trump the worst? Undoubtedly yes. “They all suck” glosses over the atrocities he’s uniquely committing within our borders and across the world.

      Jim, good post. I live in a state in which my vote doesn’t really count, and I’m struggling with how to help bring change. Thanks for the inspiration.

      1. M-Wolverine

        At some local level? Maybe. But I’ve seen some pretty extensive town level corruption too. At the federal level, about the service? Only if you’re tilting at windmills in a one term election.

        Is Trump objectively bad? I think it would be fairly easy to make the case. But people are so blinded by partisanship that they don’t see after spending 8 years painting Bush as a nazi it falls on deaf ears when the next guy is too. The extremism is what got him elected in the first place. And that attitude is on both sides of the aisle, because we just got off 8 years how Obama was the “worst president ever” from the other side.

        The extremists have taken over the dialogue and thus destroyed the dialogue.

  2. Edo Bosnar

    This is a good post, and I love the images.
    The thing that gets me, though, is that we have been warned, ever since the 1980s, by Trump himself – his entire ‘career’ in the public eye since the 1980s (and earlier, apparently, if you were a New York resident) has been a series of red flags.

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