Disney movie heroes and heroines are good people. Like really good. I mean, like, woodland creatures help them do chores, for cripes’ sake. And so it would be really out of character of them to start straight-up murdering people, even if those people happen to be the bad guys.
So how do the bad guys get dead then? Well, in a lot of Disney, movies it seems as though some sentient force of nature itself reaches out and snuffs them out. Whoever’s running these universes really has a habit of picking sides, and it’s pretty clear who they’re rooting for. Let’s look at a few (I’d warn for spoilers, but seriously, you guys you should have seen these movies already):
In Up, the bad guy Charles Muntz catches his foot on some balloon strings while trying to attack our heroes and falls to his death.
In The Incredibles, Syndrome is sucked into a plane engine by his cape.
In Beauty and the Beast, Gaston loses his balance and falls off the Beast’s high balcony.
In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the evil Queen is struck by lightning, falls off a cliff, and is crushed by a boulder as she runs away from Snow White’s cabin.
In Oliver and Company, Sykes’ car is hit by an oncoming train and he dies.
In Tarzan, Clayton falls from a tree and is strangled to death by hanging vines.
Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective gets caught up in Big Ben and falls to his death.
(Dang, that’s a lot of falling to death. Crappy way to die.)
It’s interesting that, in universes where, for the most part, there are no actively acknowledged gods or God, (save Hunchback, where they talk about God and damnation a lot), that divine retribution or intervention via uncannily timed accident seems to be the go-to way to get rid of a bad guy. Is it that bad for a Disney hero/ine to get some blood on their hands? Most interesting is that this handy plot device isn’t something that’s gone away with age—it spans movies as early as Snow White to as recent as Up.
There are plenty more examples—feel free to name some in the comments.
What goes around comes around. Disney knows this.
In Mulan, Shan Yu dies via fireworks. Mulan intentionally stuck him to the roof with the knife so that Mushu could hit him into the lookout full of fireworks which then blew up and killed him. Technically you can say it was divine intervention as Mushu is technically a guardian spirit but Mulan is the reason Shan Yu was in that position. She straight up murdered his ass and didn’t look like it phased her at all. Example of main character having blood on their hands.
In The Little Mermaid, Eric stabs Ursula in the stomach with his boat, killing her. In that case Ariel’s hands are clean of blood but her soon-to-be husband’s aren’t. She also doesn’t seem to mind. Example of associated main character having blood on their hands.
In A Bug’s Life, that was definitely “divine intervention” as Hopper was killed via being eaten by a bird. Seriously, that bird has some good timing and Flik was lucky it wasn’t bothering with him. Example of main character getting off scott free.
Despite having watched all these movies, the reality of all these deaths in Disney movies has become a lot more clearer as I never really thought about it before. You should do a special on all the Disney propaganda films they did during the war. Donald Duck as a Nazi.
Yeah, I skipped over movies like Sleeping Beauty and the Little Mermaid since the prince does actually take matters into his own hands to slay the witch in those ones. Mulan I think definitely breaks with the tradition, since she is directly responsible for killing Shan Yu, but then again Mulan is a stereotype-breaking badass in pretty much every way.
I forgot about the bird in A Bug’s Life. A random creature (who is not sentient, at least compared to the insects) comes out of nowhere at the perfect time to eat the bad guy? Yeah, I definitely think that counts.
I always think it’s fun to watch old Disney movies and count the number of un-mentioned on-screen deaths. I think my favorite is in A Goofy Movie – when Max swings onto the stage with Powerline at the end, the security guard who was chasing him slams into the jumbotron and it basically explodes. Like, that guy just died on stage and they just keep on having their climactic dance party. It adds a fun bit of black humor to the mix.
I always wondered why in movies like Toy Story and A Bug’s Life the toys and insects can talk but creatures like the dog and bird can’t. Doesn’t exactly spell consistency. And I personally always thought A Goofy Movie was a pretty sad movie. It has a happy ending but the road there wasn’t exactly painted in rainbows. Goofy actually gets super depressed because his son Max is such an ungrateful ingrate and his son is all he has considering his wife died. I mean, crazy sad.
And Mulan is a bad-ass.
I think it’s tied into the divine justice thing. If the bird talks, then it’s a sentient being murdering another sentient being; if it doesn’t talk, then it’s a force of nature that conveniently removes the villain.
Yeah, A Goofy Movie does have some really depressing moments, but I think it probably portrays the problems that spring up between teens and parents a lot more realistically (for a given value of realistic, considering they meet Bigfoot and successfully crash a fake-Michael-Jackson concert) than other movies like Little Mermaid for example.
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