When you’re having a bad day, there’s nothing quite like a Disney film to lift your spirits: faith, trust, and pixie dust tend to make for easy, mindless viewing, after all, and you’re always guaranteed that big fat happy ending.
Unless, of course, you’re rooting for the bad guy. Because in a Disney film, bad guys (and gals) always finish last. In fact, they’re lucky if they live long enough to make it three-quarters of the way through the story, let alone to the final credits.
And a short life expectancy isn’t the only thing that Disney villains have in common: after careful examination of all their grisly demises, it’s become apparent that studio bosses have a preferred “kill method” when it comes to the Gastons, Captain Hooks and Wicked Queens of the world.
However, there’s a very important reason why they tend to stick to this tactic.
So how does Disney prefer to bump off its villains?
Well, think about it: in Beauty And The Beast, Gaston falls from the enchanted tower after a brief duel with the Beast. Tarzan’s Clayton accidentally cuts his own vine after lunging for our hero – and plunges downwards to the jungle floor. Mother Gothel trips over Rapunzel’s hair and plummets out of an open window in Tangled. Captain Hook topples from the mast of his ship to his presumed death in Return To Neverland. The Wicked Queen disappears over a cliff edge (followed by a boulder) in Snow White.
The same thing happens, time and time again, in the likes of Hercules, The Fox and the Hound, Basil The Great Mouse Detective, Sleeping Beauty, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Lion King and The Emperor’s New Groove.
Even Cinderella isn’t safe from the falling curse: in the animated classic, we see the aptly-named Lucifer (as in, yes, the cat) tumble from a tower that’s far too high for him to ever hope to land on his feet.
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It’s clearly a trope that’s here to stay (even films as recent as Frozen see their villains take a tumble) – but why does Disney do it?
Well, there are three popular theories: the first reasons that the brand has strict rules about how their characters die, whether they’re evil or not. These are, after all, family films, and Mickey Mouse and all those in charge are keen to keep things as gore-free for their young audiences as possible.
The second goes a little deeper. Pointing out that the majority of Disney villains’ flaws stem from pride, film buffs have suggested that the archetypal “Disney fall” is a not-so-subtle metaphor: think of it as a fall from grace, a knock back down back to reality or a tumble from a (very) high horse.
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Thirdly, tying into the first theory, having a villain fall to their death excuses the hero from having to kill them with their own bare hands.
This vindicates the good guy entirely. Firstly, it makes sure they're not guilty of first degree murder (avoiding any complicated, non-family-film-friendly paperwork, arrests or trials) and secondly, it means that they’re still strong hero material – impressionable young viewers are never left with the impression that murder is the answer.
After all, everyone is subject to gravity. And it’s nobody’s fault if gravity happens to do the hero’s job now is it?