So Good at Being Bad: Disney Villains

Now-August 8 the Disney Villains will add a wicked twist to Disney Villains After Hours event nights at Magic Kingdom Park in Walt Disney World Resort. (In case you aren’t familiar, Disney After Hours is a special event that’s open to a limited number of guests and offers low wait times at more than 20 attractions and experiences after the park closes to day guests, from classics like the Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Space Mountain, to newer favorites like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, plus many more. Event tickets also allow entry as early as 7 p.m., which gives you time to enjoy fireworks before heading off to the attractions. Ice cream novelties, popcorn and select bottled beverages are also included in the cost of admission).

“Whether we like them or not,” said Disney’s director of Studio Publicity Tom Jones in a 1972 “Disney News” magazine article, “villains are a necessary evil…”

“The Disney villains have had a lasting impact on the public,” observed Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, in their classic 1993 book “The Disney Villain,” “spreading horror, visual excitement, and in many cases, laughter around the world…crafty villains, uncaring villains, powerful, cruel, and spiteful villains, stay with us, haunting our minds and our hearts.”

Walt Disney was fearless about using fear as a prominent element in creating his stories for animation, live-action films, television, and even Disneyland—Walt knew that the villain was frequently the driving force in his storytelling, and could, in many ways, be more interesting and appealing than the heroes themselves.

“Villains are the most fun to animate,” Disney Legend Andreas Deja, animator of such classic villains as Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast” and Scar in “The Lion King,” says. “It’s fine to have a villain who beats people up and calls them names, but the more important thing for me is whether or not they are they interesting. The villains that are interesting are the ones you remember.”

No less an authority than the Slave in the Magic Mirror boasted in the 1956 “Disneyland” television episode “Our Unsung Villains,” “Take away the villain and what have you got? Everybody happy. No problems. Nothing to worry about. All in all, a pretty dull story.”

After a series of useful but uncomplicated villains appeared in Disney short cartoons, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” brought a giant leap in onscreen villainy—as it did in every other component of animation art and storytelling. In fact, Disney was criticized at the time for the frightening elements, some claiming that the Wicked Queen and her alter ego, for instance, went “too far.”

Walt disagreed, “I showed ‘Snow White’ to my own two daughters when they were small. And when they came to me later and said they wanted to play ‘witch,’ I figured it was all right to let the other kids see the film.” (Walt’s daughter Diane confessed that she hid her face in her hands when the Queen’s scenes played out.) Walt’s villains afterward continued to lean to the truly terrifying—the comic or antic villains of the Silly Symphonies era were a rarity. 

Beware the apple peddler! © Disney

When Disneyland opened, the villains of the animated features were ported over into the Fantasyland “dark rides” based upon those stories—Captain Hook menaces Peter Pan in Never Land to this day, and the Wicked Queen transforms into a haggard peddler woman to threaten Snow White. In 1983, a new Pinocchio attraction brought the little wooden boy’s nemeses to dimensional life, from Foulfellow and Gideon to Stromboli and Monstro the Whale.

Is it wrong that our sympathies are with the foul fellows in the cell?
© Disney

It’s interesting to note that in Walt’s Disneyland storytelling, there are two timeless (and still hugely popular) attractions where the hero is vague, but the villains are prominent. When examining its storytelling, Pirates of the Caribbean takes a strange viewpoint that begins with a cautionary creepiness about the ill fortune of those who pursue the pirate’s life, then takes a much more comical, lighthearted, and appealing turn (in large part thanks to the work of Disney Legend Marc Davis) in immersing bateaux-loads of “sightseers” on a voyage through the sacking of a long-ago Caribbean port town.

Even though we know that evil resides within, we want to visit this sinister house. © Disney

The Haunted Mansion shares a similar bifurcated thematic, a strange and eerie tour of a dusty and long-abandoned house begins subtly, on “the trail of the tingling spine,” and progresses apace, growing in its tempo and thematic temperament to a frenetic and comedic climax in the graveyard—with the visitors to this strange mansion themselves acting as the fulcrum between comedy and creepiness.

“Fantasmic!” premiered at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 1998. © Disney

The triumph of good over evil is given an extravagant stage in Fantasmic!, a nighttime multimedia spectacular at Disneyland Park at the Disneyland Resort, Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort, and Tokyo DisneySea at Tokyo Disney Resort. It features fireworks and pyrotechnics, characters and live actors, elaborate projection and water effects, and a rousing and memorable musical score.

Fast asleep, Mickey Mouse dreams that he is a mighty sorcerer’s apprentice, with the power to control water, color, and magic. The Disney Villains, including Maleficent (in the form of a towering, 40-foot-tall dragon) turn Mickey’s dream into a nightmare, but the power of Mickey’s imagination is a formidable opponent to this onslaught of animated evil.

Walt’s friend and star of “Mary Poppins” Dick Van Dyke recalled, “Walt said once, ‘What I understand about kids that nobody else understands, is that they think it’s delicious to be frightened. Kids love to be scared. They love ghost stories.’ And he always put the witch or something in there, to give them that delicious goose bump. He knew.”

Disney Villains After Hours will feature exclusive entertainment, food & beverage, merchandise, and more. Here’s a taste of what new elements to expect:

  • A Brand-New Disney Villains Stage Show – Hades and Meg from “Hercules” will set the castle stage ablaze in this all-new stage show, Villains Unite the Night, which will also feature appearances by Jafar, The Queen, Dr. Facilier and Maleficent.
  • Spot Maleficent the Dragon –  Maleficent the Dragon, with her Steampunk style and signature wicked grin, will be let loose for the first time at night – breathing fire as she creeps through the park as a one-of-a-kind experience for party guests.
  • Villanous Enhancements – Discover surprising, villain-inspired additions at Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain.
  • Wickedly Good Food & Beverage – A variety of special food & beverage offerings will also be available for purchase, including tasty desserts, drinks and dishes inspired by The Queen, Cruella de Vil, Maleficent, Hades, Dr. Facilier and even Emperor Zurg.
  • Event Merchandise – Event attendees can also purchase new logo merchandise, as well as items from a curated collection of the best Disney Villains merchandise available.
  • One Notorious Item to Note – Ever driven to stand out in their unpredictable and audacious fashion, while the Villains will be entertaining guests in the new stage show, they will not be participating in character greetings during the event. 

This post originally appeared on Disney Parks Blog.
Author: Jeff Kurtti