Monday, March 31, 2014

Heroes and Villains

Note: Spoilers on Disney's the Hunchback of Notre Dame ahead. But seriously, if you haven't seen it by now, do yourself a favor and Netflix it and then come back.

My favorite Disney movie used to be The Little Mermaid. I knew all the songs and dialogue and I could name every single character. When I went back to college, every once in awhile they would have me dissect a movie in an essay. I think I exclusively stuck to Disney movies. Why? Because they are a great study of setting up characters quickly and of nonverbal communication but also because a lot of their more complex aspects tend to be a lot more accesible than in other movies. Plus, I find I pay attention to them more than live action movies. I used Little Mermaid for quickly setting up characters and Tangled for nonverbal communication. In psychology I had to dissect a movie for shadow and cognitive dissonance. The first that came to mind was Hunchback of Notre Dame. I'd watched it many times before, but had never considered it a contender for being one of my favorites. And then I really watched it.

I've been coming to the realization that, over time, it has managed to push aside Little Mermaid to become my favorite. And the reason? Because it changed with me. When I was a kid a lot of the stuff with Frollo made me really uncomfortable but then the gargoyles were there to put me back at ease. He was a great villian, but the levels of villainy was a little deep for me but now I can see what a great villain he is. I liked the gargoyles when I was a kid, but I'm no longer as fond of them. I've grown out of them; they were never made for me now, they were made for me back then. Little Mermaid never changed for me, it never changed with me. It remains a nostalgic piece that always takes me back to the moment I was sitting next to my mom at the theatre and we were both crying because all hope was lost. Hunchback has taken more, and more persistent, holds in my memories. 

One of the reasons I think Hunchback may be one of the best Disney movies is because of it's main villain. In almost all Disney animated films, the villain is what make the most impact. The hero can only be as good as its villain. Why did Pocahontas and Tarzan not have that much impact on me? They had a poorly done villain. Here's a little secret: I prefer the direct-to-video Pocahontas sequel to the original. In the original, Pocahontus wasn't a very good heroine because she didn't have a good foil. Governor Ratcliffe was just greedy in the first one and he really didn't have much impact. He had little to no direct interaction with the main character. In the second one, they were on his turf. He had power, he had the home advantage, he had direct interaction with the main protagonist and the movie was better because of it. 

Probably won't believe it, but this guy is the villain
Frollo was unlike many of the Disney villains I've seen before or since. He was an evil man, he did deplorable things, but he never saw himself as evil. To the contrary, he saw himself as a good and righteous man fighting the evil surrounding him. He didn't revel in his evilocitude like Ursula or Jafar. He is someone who is relatable because we can easily see people like that around us. Though most of us would prefer not to admit it or do not see it, we may have those traits in ourselves. That is a very scary but relatable thing and it can be very uncomfortable to have those thoughts. If you speak to most people, you will find out they see themselves as the hero and those around them are the villains, but there's a good chance they are the villain in someone else's story. Very few people think they are the persecutor, it's the world and everything else that is against them. They couldn't possibly the one doing anything wrong. 

While it is easy to tell in Hunchback who the heroes and villains are, but in life it's a lot harder to tell who are villains and who are the heroes. This is probably because we are neither and both. Unless you come with the best song (such as Hellfire), then you are most definitely the villain.

Currently, Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame is on Netflix. It is definitely worth another viewing and it has a great soundtrack. And when you watch a "kids" movie, don't be dismissive and think it has nothing to offer you on the basis of it being animated because it just may surprise you.

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