It’s the age of the anti-hero, with characters such as Deadpool and Venom scoring big with audiences.
Even Disney, with its history of squeaky-clean heroes, is getting in on the trend, and fans are itching to catch the Maleficent sequel this week. However, Maleficent is not Disney’s first anti-hero. Let’s look at a few other Disney films starring anti-heroic characters.
Beauty and the Beast
In the prologue for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the soon-to-be-beastly Prince is not heroic at all. He is described as spoiled, selfish and unkind, leading to him being transformed into the titular Beast. While he tries to be kind, his early treatment of Belle (refusing to let her say goodbye to her father and ordering her to attend dinner with him) adds to his anti-heroic nature. It takes time, and mostly, Belle’s good influence, to swing him to the heroic end of the spectrum.
Lilo and Stitch
At the beginning of Lilo and Stitch, Stitch is a genetic experiment with a single purpose: destruction. His early interactions with the film’s other lead character, Lilo, involve him using her as a human shield. As the film progresses, Stitch learns the meaning of Ohana, tempering his destructive tendencies, but this does not stop him from occasionally being a terror in the sequels. Jumba, Stitch’s creator, also switches from villain to anti-hero.
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Pirates of the Caribbean series has two examples of anti-hero characters, in the forms of Captain Jack Sparrow and supposed villain Barbossa. Jack Sparrow is often selfish, and most of the time, out to improve his own life over anyone else’s. However, in cases when he absolutely must do the right thing, he usually will.
Meanwhile, Hector Barbossa starts out as the unquestionable villain in the first film, but becomes more of a frenemy to Jack in the third and fourth films. Some fans argue that Barbossa is the true protagonist of the fifth film, Dead Men Tell No Tales, when he sacrifices his life to save his long-lost daughter, Carina.
While he is the ‘Bad Guy’ of the arcade game in which he lives, Ralph is by no means a full-on villain, but neither is he a hero— at least when the movie begins. He’s not even a hero when he wins a medal in adjoining game Hero’s Duty, as much as he likes to show it off.
The crucial part of Ralph’s journey is discovering what it truly means to be a ‘Good Guy’. Ralph’s anti-heroic nature returns briefly in the sequel, when he again acts selfishly to keep Vanellope from leaving him.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The protagonist of Atlantis: The Lost Empire, adorable cartographer and language expert Milo Thatch, is every inch a hero. The movie’s supporting cast, however, is a rather ragtag bunch. Milo feels betrayed when he learns that they all came on the mission in order to steal the powerful Heart of Atlantis. However, when the Heart merges with Princess Kida and the group learns that losing the Heart would mean death for the Atlanteans, most of the crew regain their conscience, opting to help Milo save Kida and Atlantis.
As an adaptation of the novel Treasure Island, there was no way Treasure Planet wasn’t going to include a take on Long John Silver, one of fiction’s classic anti-heroes. The protagonist, Jim Hawkins is hurt when Silver, whom he had come to see as a father figure, leads a mutiny on the R.L.S. Legacy. However, Silver later reveals his softer side once more when he sacrifices a large amount of treasure in favour of saving Jim.
Moana easily earns her place among Disney’s greatest heroes. Her co-star, the demi-god Maui, takes a slightly longer path getting there. Maui’s first action towards Moana is to leave her stranded on a deserted island. He initially doesn’t want to help at all, even though the core conflict of the movie is completely his fault and even abandons Moana when he feels he is at risk of losing his powers.
While he does ultimately return to save Moana during the film’s climax, it seems touch-and-go for a moment. Maui, like Ralph, needed to earn his way back to being a true hero again.
Maleficent, the Dark Fairy, antagonist of the animated classic Sleeping Beauty, has always been one of Disney’s most well-known and iconic villains. Then, 2014’s live-action remake, Maleficent, offered the character an unexpected chance at redemption. A tear-jerking backstory allowed audiences to identify more with Maleficent, making her actions in the original film almost understandable. An unlikely friendship with Aurora and, finally, a heart-warming twist on the ‘True Love’s Kiss’ trope, help Maleficent make the transition from villain back to anti-hero. The film made Maleficent more interesting than she had been as a simple villain and forever changed the way viewers will look at the character.
We can’t wait to see how her story continues when the sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, is released on October 17.