Animusings

Thoughts on storytelling and the world of animation. Caution! SPOILERS!

Blog #1: The Wickedest Witch

Disney Villains
In a recent attempt to review all the ‘Disney Princess’ movies, I found myself thinking about and comparing the various ‘wicked witches’ and how they related to their respective princesses, trying to decide which was the worst and why. There is a distinct difference between the interactions of the early and late Princess films, especially in character development and changes in storytelling.

The first thing that stood out to me was the antagonists. The first three movies had wicked women in a position of power over the Princess, intent on harming her. Later movies found the princess only indirectly in danger, certainly not mortal danger, and this was usually due to their own error or the misadventures of their ‘princes.’ For example, The Wicked Queen in Snow White wanted Snow White killed because she was too beautiful. Evil Vizier Jafar in Aladdin, on the other hand, has no real interest in Princess Jasmine, only seeing her as a useful tool to gain the throne when his other plans begin to fail.

The second thing, and the thing that frustrated me the most, was the lack of character development for the early antagonists. We know nothing about the Bad Fairy Maleficent, except she got snubbed at a party and decided to curse the guest of honor. I’m not even sure the princess knows who she is. We know nothing personal about Maleficent, she’s simply evil personified. The same could be said of Snow White’s stepmother. I only just found out what her name is (Grimhilde) while doing some light research for this blog.

In later films, the antagonists get more personality. The sea witch in The Little Mermaid gets quite a brash personality that’s mean, but appealing. She’s cynical and cruel, but she has a great, twisted sense of humor. She preens and dances and fawns over her pets. We see her personal life. She even gets to sing. One of the things I’ve noticed in my movie watching is that the bad guy hardly EVER gets to sing. It just isn’t done. Singing is for the good guys and their sidekicks. Ursula is, in fact, quite chatty compared to the other witches. I LIKE Ursula, and I’m probably not supposed to. Ursula set a standard for the next few antagonists. Jafar even manages a song or two, and it’s pretty difficult to get Gaston to STOP singing and preening. We know more about these later ‘witches’ and are able to relate to them better. They are not lurking background figures, but active in their own plot and have their own quests to fulfill other than ‘torment the main character.’

Mother Gothel, RapunzelThe witch that began this whole train of thought was Mother Gothel from Tangled. I was thoroughly disgusted by her, and began wondering why none of the other witches got such a reaction. Mother Gothel insinuates herself thoroughly in her Princess’s life, lying to her and abusing her ever so subtly every day of her life, all for the witch’s personal gain. There will definitely be no attempted killing of a princess here! At the same time, she’s not a classic witch. For one thing, she’s pretty. We don’t actually see Gothel perform any magic other than the spell to activate the magic flower/hair. There are several opportunities where she COULD use magic, but instead Gothel relies on her wits, hired help, and handy tools or weapons. Gothel felt too real to me, unlike Maleficent, who had the ability to turn herself into a fire-breathing dragon. Scary on one level, but on another there’s a suspension of disbelief that allows you to relax and say ‘that can never happen.’ You don’t get that opportunity with Mother Gothel. Instead, you watch this train wreck of a relationship between her and Rapunzel, with the witch playing on the girl’s emotions to get her way. It’s so very PERSONAL. Even the Evil Queen didn’t get that involved with Snow White. she opted to ‘kill from a distance’ with poison, rather than make a more personal death through, say, stabbing or strangulation.

In short, my candidate for wickedest Disney witch is Mother Gothel for her up close and personal emotional abuse and constant lies. (even Ursula was fairly up front with Ariel.) Her wickedness is enhanced by Disney’s change in storytelling to give antagonists more complexity, personal goals and singing ability.

You probably think I’m joking about the singing, but think about it.  if you were in a dark alley and you saw a dark shadowy someone lurking up ahead, would you be more or less afraid if you could hear the person singing?  (Horror movie dark alleys excluded.)

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5 thoughts on “Blog #1: The Wickedest Witch

  1. Carolina Ruiz on said:

    Hey its Carolina from the History of Animation class!

    You bring up a very good point in your blog and it actually made me start to think about the antagonists in each of the Disney movies that I have seen in the past.

    I cannot argue that Mother Gothel is the wickedest Disney witch compared to other Disney witches, because I have yet to watch “Tangled.” Although by just looking at the image of Mother Gothel and Rapunzel, she seems to give off a warm, almost “motherly” sensation. The only indication that signified her being the antagonist of the movie, is the fact that she is dressed in dark clothing and she also has a dark and gloomy lighting to her compared to the bright and colorful image of Rapunzel. I would need to watch the movie in order to decide whether she is a “wicked witch” or not, but I will say that her image and character is completely different from that of previous Disney antagonists which you can identify immediately by the way they dress and the expressions upon their face.

    For instance, if I had to choose a wicked witch, I would choose Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty or Jafar from Aladdin. The expressions upon their faces and exaggeration of evil that each of the characters portray made it frightening enough for me, and clear that these characters were evil. However, I also feel that with the times and generations changing, the image and idea of evil is getting more and more complex. Children do not get as scared as easily as they used back when these movies were created. The image of evil now is someone more personable and real because evil such as Maleficient, who can change into a fire-breathing dragon is not realistic and therefore not as scary.

    Overall, I feel that you brought up some interesting points about the change in antagonist in Disney films and that makes me want to look at more current animated feature films to see how they portray their antagonists.

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  3. You make a good point about there not being good character development for these antagonists. You tend to think as the main character being the only focus for these Disney movies. However, the antagonist has just as much importance to the story. Both characters need to be able to balance themselves out, and if a back story isn’t developed properly enough, one character takes up the spotlight. I personally never saw “Tangled”, but I remember Cruela De Vil being the most vile Disney villain. Not only was she out to ruin the lives of the main characters, she wanted to skin and kill puppies. Seemed like a pretty cruel plan to me.

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