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Analyzing the Disney Villains: Itself (Strange World)

So this is our future, huh? Disney has stopped attempting to make villains. There are no bad guys, just people who make mistakes and assumptions. Our antagonists are now natural disasters (Strange World), faceless plagues (Raya and the Last Dragon) or ourselves (Ralph Breaks the Internet).

I think this will be the final entry in “Analyzing the Disney Villains” because Disney simply isn’t making new villains. Which is a shame because Disney had some of the best — Scar, Maleficent, Captain Hook. That’s part of the reason I started this series. But there doesn’t seem to be a point anymore. I applaud Disney’s move on attempting to craft something more than just “good guy fights bad guy”, but there’s a reason why that trope is as fundamental as the measure of time.

So here’s the deal. Strange World has no real antagonist because of the nature of the story. There are obstacles, there are problems, there are arguments, there are misunderstandings. And I think that’s part of the flaw of this movie, but also its genius. I call it a flaw because the lack of a firm antagonist means the stakes and the lengths the heroes have to go to are not so high. I call it genius because it’s still a pretty good story despite having no bad guy. This movie will probably end up being a cult classic, like “Meet the Robinsons”.

You might think that I would call Jaeger Clade, Searcher’s father, the antagonist, because I made a similar call for Maui and Abuela. But this time, he’s a true deuteragonist and not an antagonist, because he’s not in the way of the hero’s goal, just his ideology. Deuteragonists are more than a sidekick and less than a protagonist. You can tell a deuteragonist because they also learn a lesson by the end (Han Solo, Samwise Gamgee, any romantic story), whereas a sidekick (like Sancho Panza or Jack Sparrow) is right all along. In either case, the deuteragonist ultimately serves to give the protagonist the lesson needed to achieve the goal. Besides, if I picked him, all I’d be doing is rehashing “Chicken Little“.

All right, so if it’s not the main character’s father, who or what is stopping the main character from getting what he wants? Is this a man vs. nature story? Well, it is and it isn’t. Because this is yet another movie with a turnaround protagonist, following Hans, Dawn Bellwether, and King Candy. You could argue this has been a thing since Frozen.

It turns out that the world that they’re on is not a world. It’s some kind of megafauna biosphere on the back of a giant sea turtle. And the electric berries that have been giving them power are not plants. They are some kind of macrovirus or parasite or high cholesterol. This “strange world” is really someone’s bloodstream. It’s not “Journey to the Center of the Earth“, it’s “Innerspace“. So instead of saving their power source, they’ve got to save the world. That means that what’s been fighting them has actually been on their side the entire time.

That’s beyond my capability to analyze. I can’t break something like that down into motivation, character strengths, complement to the hero, etc. These are all Big Dumb Objects. They’re not evil. They don’t gain anything from the pain or death of others. The strengths and weaknesses do not relate to the heroes or the central conflict. This isn’t even a typical Man vs. Nature story. Those are usually like “The Poseidon Adventure” or “Moby Dick” or “Lord of the Flies“. They’re “how do we survive against nature?” stories, not “how do we save nature?”.

But that’s the external conflict. The internal conflict isn’t much better. It comes from toxic masculinity and generational trauma. Again, that’s a theme, not a tangible story element. That’s not something that has personality traits or tools. It’s an argument. It’s a debate. The movie even dares to lampshade this because we’re so dumb.

“For the twenty-seventh time. There are no bad guys. The objective isn’t to kill or destroy monsters. You’re just supposed to build a working civilization utilizing the environment around you.”
“What kind of game has no bad guys? That’s just poor story-telling.”

No non-hero character has any real relation to the heroes. Not to mention how the movie hammerheads you with morals. I don’t like to use the word “woke” because no one knows what it means, but even I know an axe to grind when I see it. The real villain is the heavy-handed messaging. No one tried to stop our heroes except the banal, stale story that accompanies the gorgeous visuals.

So I’m sorry that for my final “Analyzing the Disney Villains” you didn’t get a traditional format. Perhaps this is just how Disney is going to trend in the future. Maybe someday we’ll get our villains back. But until then, like Tigger says, TTFN.

Remember kids, stories aren’t there to tell us that dragons exist. We already know dragons exist. Stories are there to tell us that dragons can be killed.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at http://www.ericjuneaubooks.com where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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