The Purpose of the Sympathetic Villain


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Brooke Kruger, News Editor

It is safe to say that Disney has truly mastered the polarity between good and evil. Producing some of the most successful and wicked villains of all time, Disney gives them all one thing in common: a tragic backstory. Making a villain “evil just to be evil” is almost entirely extinct.  

Disney has used remakes and spin-offs of some of their classics to share how some of their villains came to be. One of their biggest hits was 2014’s Maleficent. It gave the character a promising beginning to being morally “good”, but showed how deceit, abuse, and mistrust altered her personality and motives. Viewers felt sympathy towards her and more easily put her actions into perspective than the original classic allowed. Disney is currently working on the release of a new adaptation of the “101 Dalmatians”, titled “Cruella”, that is going to delve deeper into the characters motives and history. Based on the trailer, fans have spread rumors online guessing that Disney will use this film to show the effects of untreated mental illness on a person’s sanity. “Cruella” is expected to hit theaters on May 28, 2021.  

Aside from the purpose of character development, adding a tragic history to a classic villain reminds viewers that people can be a product of their environment. Disney is notorious for creating films with some of the best morals and teaching moments in the industry. The act of showing how a villain came to help children understand that traumatic or unfortunate experiences have the power to bring people to do cruel or evil things. A tragic backstory is not to confuse the villain’s actions with being right, but to show that people often have a motive for what they are doing. The line between good and evil starts to become ambiguous.   

Film writers often create sympathetic villains so their viewers can relate to them more. It sounds awful, but as people observe the villains, they can see that they may have felt or experienced something similar to the villain. This allows villainous characters to draw on realism. During our daily interactions with the antagonists in our lives, we often fail to look at other aspects of them and neglect the fact that they are human. They are emotional and can allow external factors to influence their actions. Every human is prone to influencers that can leathem down a similar path to a fictitious villain.  

Whether Disney is searching for a new way to present morals about initial judgments of people’s character or attempting to tie them to realism, fans can expect riveting villainous films to come from the industry.  


Brooke Kruger is a Dakota Student News Editor. She can be reached at [email protected]