It won the box office over the weekend, but there’s no certainty that Maleficent will wind up with a sequel. Unlike Disney’s previous live-action retellings of its own animated classics – 101 Dalmatians and Alice in Wonderland – this movie may not earn enough in the long run to warrant bringing Angelina Jolie back as the redeemed Sleeping Beauty villainess. The studio will instead focus on its other live-action remakes already in the pipeline, namely 2015’s Cinderella and The Jungle Book and the to-be-scheduled takes on Beauty and the Beast and, again, 101 Dalmatians. That last title will, like Maleficent, be focused on the baddie and has a tentative title of Cruella de Vil. Hopefully Glenn Close will reprise the lead role (making it another sequel to the 1996 hit), as she is currently credited as an executive producer on the project.
Given today’s trend of super franchises, though, it wouldn’t be surprising if Disney announced that all these movies were leading towards a mash-up of some sort. And because the public has a thing for antagonists, which Hollywood is already looking to exploit big time with a Sinister Six movie spun-off from the Amazing Spider-Man series, it also wouldn’t be surprising if that mash-up was going to be centered on Disney’s Villains merchandising franchise. It’d be a more fruitful effort than doing something with Princesses or Fairies, even though both of those are much more lucrative licensing-wise. Brands are not proven movie-worthy simply because of clothing and toy sales, especially with Disney products since the studio would prefer to target a wider audience than just the little girls who wear Tiana or Tinkerbell pajamas.
Think of the possibility: a movie teaming up Jolie, Close, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine and a computer-generated Shere Khan voiced by Idris Elba. Maybe throw in some more male villains, because unfortunately there is a need for that, for demographics reasons. At least a Frollo, Jafar, Gaston or Captain Hook. There also must be Hades, who seems to be a good means of uniting his fellow evildoers. Yet it’d be hard to round out this movie without an Ursula or Evil Queen, too. Disney had previously planned to do a live-action version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which could’ve included the latter, but they canceled the idea when Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman pushed forth quicker.
Now we just need some kind of story that would bring all these characters together.
Disney doesn’t have any kind of backstory to the Villains merchandising, though there have been some cartoon specials and theme park attractions forcing a union. Those stories are sort of based on the idea that the characters are just “characters,” where their only shared context is that they’re part of properties owned by the same company. As if they’re conscious of the fact that they’re being lifted out of other pieces of media or the parks. That’s the only way they’d have a foundation where their common enemy is Disney heroes in general, or principally Mickey Mouse. So far, Disney has two ways to go with mashing up their characters, either they do something like the novel “The Kingdom Keepers” and the planned live-action movie Magic Kingdom, where the characters at the theme parks come to life, Night at the Museum-style, or they integrate them in a little world, a la TV’s Once Upon a Time, though even that deals with characters pulled out of their own stories.
Could there instead be the creation of an amalgamated fantasy universe that inhabits all the characters of these stories, sort of a generic Medieval world where these wonderlands and kingdoms are in the same world yet exist great distances apart? Many of Disney’s animated features involve similar settings, but how would Cruella fit in? She’s a 20th century woman. Shere Khan, meanwhile, is very much 19th century British empire. Other characters have specific periods, too. However, there is a way to let the imagination accept a great land made up of more Middle-Age sections as well as modern urban areas, and everything in between. That’s basically just looking at the Disney theme parks as representations of an actual world in some other universe. Look at a Disneyland map as not a directory of rides and attractions but as a loose replica of a continent consisting of nations like Fantasyland, Frontierland, etc.
Next year, the Disney Channel will air a new TV movie from High School Musical’s Kenny Ortega that seems to be making such a shared universe. Titled Descendants, it will feature Belle and Beast as queen and king of a kingdom where other heroes and heroines also reside happily ever after. All the villains, meanwhile, are collectively imprisoned in another realm. But their kids (however these were conceived) are allowed to commute from the dark place to the kingdom in order to attend school with the good characters’ offspring. The plot does follow a team-up of the adult villains for an evil mission, too. That might either be a sufficient platform for the premise or at least an effort that beats any movie pitch to the punch. Then again, the fact that there have been numerous Superman TV series hasn’t stopped there from being Superman movies, too.
Perhaps the studio can take some inspiration from the Disney Villains fan fiction, of which there is plenty. One in particular that seems to be popular is called “The Hellbound Hearts,” which involves the simple concept of bringing a bunch of villains together for a common evil – in this case, world domination, as suggested by Hades – only for them to end up divided and conquered as a result of their disagreements and egos. The value in the story, published to the web in 2010, is not so much in the plot, since that is clearly rather cliched and predictable, but in the fun of seeing all these villainous personalities bounce off one another. Author “Da Games Elite” has mostly been praised for how he or she captures the characters’ voices and behavior in order to see how they clash. The story also begins with a perfect neutral setting: the underworld.
It’s probably best to wait and see how Sinister Six turns out, because that is going to be the first real team-up movie focused on the villains. There’s a good chance that Descendants will be the more successful, but it just seems to be the case that – Maleficent’s minor triumph at the box office notwithstanding – we like our bad guys and antiheroes on the small screen more than the big (unless it’s a fully conventional slasher horror movie perhaps). There just aren’t a lot of ways you can go when concentrated on villains that remain villainous – not retconned as good yet misunderstood as evil a la Maleficent.
My idea to keep a Disney Villains movie a worthwhile effort throughout: no major “good guy.” No Mickey or Prince Charming or even a team-up of heroes. Let the villains truly ruin their own plan and make their flaws as a team somewhat humorous. Make the division even funnier. I envision a movie like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World but with Disney villains, where little team-ups break off and they’re all out to try to take over the world separately. Make it happen, Mouse House.