Disney-Pixar’s Up has a special place in my heart. It’s a fun adventure film with some stunning animation and great writing, and every time I sit down to rewatch it, I find myself in love with nearly everything on the screen all over again. This wasn’t always the case, though. The story is centered on a man dealing with his wife’s death, and fridgings are an overused trope that I hate a great deal. But the more I thought about it, the less this fridging in particular bothered me. Up takes that common trope and reworks it into an important life lesson with a surprisingly positive message about dealing with the death of a loved one.
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.