For decades, Disney’s films and series have taught audiences that crime doesn’t pay. But now, the company is changing its tune.
Last week, Disney Channel announced a new original movie called Descendants, a live-action adventure-comedy about the teenage offspring of Disney’s classic villains, including 101 Dalmatians’ Cruella De Vil, Snow White’s Evil Queen and Aladdin’s Jafar. The film’s modern-day take will involve the kids questioning “the evil that’s always been in their hearts,” the network said.
Descendants is scheduled to air in early 2015, a year after Disney releases yet another fresh take on a memorable baddie: Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie as the horn-tipped villainess from 1959’s Sleeping Beauty. The film, opening in May, re-imagines Maleficent’s backstory, in the same way the mega-successful Broadway musical Wicked (based on Gregory Maguire’s novel) offered a sympathetic take on The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West. “In general,” Jolie told Entertainment Weekly, “it’s a very good message to say, ‘Let’s look at something from the other side.’”Especially in an entertainment world dominated by dark, antihero characters on popular shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Dexter, and Ray Donovan. While the wholesome company built on Mickey Mouse cannot create a series around the likes of drug kingpins or serial killers, its Disney Villains (as the company has been branding them in theme parks and merchandising) offer them an ideal entrée into at least semi-dark territory. An early attempt at this was Wreck-It Ralph, last year’s animated film hit about a misunderstood video game villain who becomes the hero, which grossed a healthy $471 million worldwide. - Quartz
The concept of "evil" that we are teaching to our children (and to ourselves) has been changing little by little in recent times. A few decades ago, evil people were portrayed as having no hope for redemption (generally - and especially in children's stories) but these days a character who committed a hundred murders or more can be turned into a "positive and likeable" character by giving him/her a pretty face and a clever tongue.
The value of a life has been so diminished in TV and movies that the only lives being portrayed has having any real value are those of the kings, queens, CEO's, or whoever the one special main character may be and so on. Think of all the "lackeys" and employees who meet their makers in TV/movies without so much as a hint of acknowledgement as to the value of their lives - but when the main character or some other "important" character is hurt then the mood becomes mournful and the creators of the movie/TV show use the connection that has been created with the audience to elicit an emotional response to the character's demise.
This is where the problem comes in - we are conditioned to react emotionally when certain key members are hurt - just like within our lives. We only feel sad when we lose someone we have an emotional attachment to - whether they are a close friend or family member or are a monarch or famous person we love and respect.
Back to my original point: it has become so common now for really terrible people to be turned into the perceived good guys - and we, the audience, are buying into it. For example: a popular TV series for teens that is currently on air is Vampire Diaries in which both of the male leads are vampires with very bloody histories. Both of them tortured and murdered countless people, but they are beloved by a multitude of fans because they are good looking and are very good at eliciting desire from women. The portrayal of their mutual love for the female lead also helps in making them appealing to the masses - they are seen as being loving, protective, sweet and so on to one person - so activating the savior complex so many woman have: the desire to turn a bad boy good by having him fall in love with her and therefore, saving his soul (or some such variety of the desire).
The concept of cruelty is also being deliberately altered to appear to us to be more acceptable - and even sexually stimulating. It is shown on-screen in a casual manner, coupled with other stimuli that trigger positive feelings within the viewer - so conditioning human behaviour and cognitive thought patterns.
What will this do to who we are in our society and what we will be willing to accept from other people? Will we now become more complacent in the face of abuse, not finding it quite so appalling? This is the problem with using sexuality and emotional stimuli in our entertainment - what we are willing to accept and what stimulates us becomes more and more extreme, which is reflected in the things we do in the world - the things we do to other people and to animals.