I like Disney, yes, we all know that, right? One of the many reasons why I like Disney is that it has plenty of good versus evil--and I do love a good versus evil story. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, much of Fantasia, Sleeping Beauty--it's all great good versus evil content. Light and dark. Symbolism. It's great. But as our society moves away from absolute good and absolute evil, our fiction has become increasingly interested in exploring the bad traits of the "good" characters and the motives of the "bad" characters. So naturally Disney is joining in.
I expect I will go see Cruella and I did enjoy the first trailer I saw, but the more trailers and promotional content I see for this movie the less I like it and the less I even want to watch it. Granted, my concern over Raya and the Last Dragon from the trailer ended up being completely unfounded after seeing the movie. So perhaps there will be a similar situation here. But even if that ends up being the case, I think it's worth discussing my concern.
The impression we get from the promotional material is that this movie will show Cruella's side of the story. We will see her beginning and get to understand that she was trying to stand up in the face of a world that was cruel to her--we will empathize with her and we will cheer her on as she spits in the faces of those who wanted to hold her back. We will learn to love her evil and see it as good instead of evil.
Why can't villains remain villains? Sure, if we want to have fun putting on a long coat and using a paintbrush as a cigarette-holder and saying "darling" and acting like our favorite character Cruella, go ahead. It's all part of the fun of fiction. We understand that she's the villain and that she's also a fun character. We like to watch her eyes turn red as she chases the puppies and wrecks her car. But we know we don't want to replicate her actions or view her as a model for actual behavior.
But when we start making so many stories in which the villains are the protagonists, it confuses our sense of what is right and what is wrong. It makes it all relative and not absolute. We watch the original, animated 101 Dalmatians and we see traits of good and bad wrapped up in a silly story about a woman who loves fur coats a little too much. We see the joys of love and family in Anita/Roger and Pongo/Perdita/puppies. We see that loving companionship makes a home a joy rather than material successes: Roger and Anita love their little home together, even though Cruella ridicules it and belittles Roger for providing it for Anita and mocks Anita for being content with Roger. But we see that Cruella has no love except for her lust for her coats because she has no love in her heart. That is why she can so easily trample on the joys Roger and Anita have with their puppies. That is why she is perfectly willing to harm innocent creatures to satisfy her own desires.
The only reason that we should want to empathize with Cruella and learn her backstory and motives would be so that we don't let the same thing happen to us. If the world spits on us, we gain nothing by spitting back. If we think the world has been cruel to us, then why should we take on that cruelty as our identity? Then instead of being hurt, we will only hurt ourselves.
Let's not make cruelty cool. Let's get back to imitating virtues instead.