From the wickedest of evil villains to those misunderstood, misbehaving but otherwise harmless antagonists that annoy us so, Disney characters usually take a distinguished side for being either for or against what’s good and what isn’t. Over the years however, we have seen many demonstrations of certain characters in Disney films shifting form their former antagonistic ways to those that lean toward more favorability.
While we can debate that not all baddies have turned into what can be considered “good guys” or that all the baddies listed were ever truly “bad” by definition, here are 13 examples of Disney characters who were once seen as villainous in some capacity but found favorable redemptions via more in-depth progressions as their characters were developed further.
We start out with the most controversial of cases for our claims on villains shifting sides from badness to goodness. Maleficent is and always will be the very epitome of evil villains, there’s no denying that. But what’s come to light in more recent years is her elaborate backstory, giving us more insight into why she came to be the way she is. In many ways, Disney’s live-action release of Maleficent (2014) redeemed her character, garnering viewer sympathy for her initial betrayal and then building her into a heroine of sorts for ultimately saving Princess Aurora.
While her status change from villainess to heroine gets challenged in the follow-up sequel Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019), her true nature prevails. Between her initial first appearance in the animated classic Sleeping Beauty (1959) to her later live-action starring roles, we’ve come to surmise that the character of Maleficent will always be considered a Disney villain but one of the most favorable ones with more notable, redeeming attributes than any other villain before or since.
There is a lot of gray area in regards to whether or not this younger brother of Thor, as seen in several of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe-based films, can really be considered a bad guy gone good. But we cannot deny his actions are heroic enough to redeem his more heinous reputation when he ultimately sacrifices himself to save the Asgardians from Thanos during the Infinity War. Do take note that Loki is not the only character of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to shift in public views from villain to fan favorite. Many other characters in the same compilation also chart similar gray areas, with some examples being Magneto, the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and others.
11. Hector Barbossa
When looking at the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise we run into more gray area than designated black and white depictions of what’s good and bad. Alliances and relationships seem fickle and forever changing from one film to the next. In truth, we can’t really say any of our favorite “heroes” are truly good guys, despite the generally accepted notion that Jack Sparrow is “a good man.” But most would agree that Hector Barbossa was the first film’s uncontested antagonist—he was, after all, the villain pitted against Jack.
With the later movies in the franchise came shifting relationships and a return of the Barbossa character as being the key to helping to actually save Jack from his fate. And let’s not forget, he was the one who performed the very unconventional nuptials for Will and Elizabeth after all. But his ultimate redemption as a “good guy” came about in the final film Dead Men Tell No Lies (2017) when we get to see him as a humanly father who loves his long-lost daughter and eventually makes the ultimate sacrifice to save her.
He is a lesser character who goes virtually unnoticed in Disney’s animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). But his actions in defying the Evil Queen’s order to murder Snow White out in the forest play the most vital role in the entire film. As it goes, he was summoned by the Queen to kill Snow White—the Queen’s threat to being displaced as the “Fairest of them all.” However, he is unable to carry out the sinister plan and instead confesses the evil plot to Snow White, begs her forgiveness, and allows her to slip away and escape. This shows an extreme act of heroism from such a minor character, and initially that results in a very vital outcome. There is also an implied martyrdom where his character is concerned, in the scene when the Queen discovers that he disobeyed her orders.
This one might have Frozen fans scratching their heads a bit, but when you know the true “heart” of the original storyline it’s easier to understand. Before the script was even finalized, the original plot for Disney’s Frozen (2013) was a far different story. In fact, it was more on par with Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale The Snow Queen, which is still credited for serving as the film’s inspiration. In the original conception, Anna and Elsa were neither sisters nor royals, although Elsa was a self-proclaimed Snow Queen villainess with an army of snow monsters at her disposal.
Her story for becoming so was that she was abandoned at the altar on her wedding day, leading her to develop a frozen heart, which in turn orchestrated the entire mess. Anna was a pure-hearted maiden who was prophesied to be able to end the pending destruction to the Kingdom of Arendelle by the Snow Queen’s initially icy wrath. The original and final story arcs for Frozen are as polar opposite as hot and cold. And while our final reception of Elsa’s character has never been considered bad or evil in any way (just the opposite in avoiding her sister out of love) she does eventually “warm up” more so in the end.
8. Flynn Rider
Here we have a character we cannot claim was ever “bad” but was mischievous, dishonest, and nothing but trouble all the same. As the leading man in Disney’s Tangled from 2010, Flynn Ryder, whose real name is Eugene Fitzherbert, is a charming albeit thieving individual on the run with many enemies. But his intentions to help Rapunzel fulfill her desire to see the world (in comparison to the only one she ever knew throughout her entire shuttered existence) are admirable all the same. He may be quirky, and he may be trouble personified, but he is a good-hearted favorite with fans just the same.
The title character in his computer-animated Walt Disney film from 2012 was never evil, despite his video game fate for being a designated “bad guy.” And while he struggles with his true good-hearted nature versus his unfair reputation of being bad, he eventually gets redeemed among his peers and becomes known as the kind individual he truly is.
This well-known demigod from Disney’s 2016 computer-animated hit Moana is a unique blend of love and hate in one. He carries a pretty big fan base among viewers and has many amusing lines and antics. All the while, however, his character also retains some rather odious characteristics. He can be obnoxious, ill-mannered, selfish, and is in fact the very culprit beyond the plot’s overall main problem. All the same, he ends up coming through and redeeming himself, proving to be not so selfish and unpleasant, once all is said and done.
5. Mike Yagoobian
One of the biggest reveals in the Disney computer-animated hit Meet the Robinsons from 2007 is that the sinister “Bowler Hat Guy” is actually the 40-something future version of the protagonist’s childhood roommate, Mike. It comes to light that following one circumstance in particular, the meek and unassuming boy became embittered, spiteful, and set on revenge toward the film’s main character—whom he holds accountable as being the very bane of his harrowing misfortune. After teaming up with dark forces that prove to be using him in the end, he realizes the error of his ways. While he comes to a remorseful redemption as an adult, given the time travel nature of this film, he also gets a reset on his boyhood and a chance at growing up with a happy life.
We all know the story of Cinderella, her wicked stepmother, and “ugly” stepsisters. But what some folks do not realize is that one of the later sisters isn’t quite so ugly (on the inside, at least). When watching the original animated classic from 1950, it’s hard to discern that the younger of the two sisters, Anastasia, isn’t quite as vile as the other, although various other adaptations of the Cinderella story do at least hint at such, to an extent. But when the much later Disney direct-to-video sequels came out in the early 2000s, we get to see more in-depth developments into the Anastasia character.
We begin to view her more as having feelings and emotions rather than her earlier tertiary antagonist presentation. And in Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, we get to learn her heart and desire for someone to love her for who she is, regardless of social status. This is built on in Cinderella III: A Twist in Time when she decides not to go through with a forced, mind-controlled ploy at marrying the Prince, as it is not true love. So in the end, Anastasia really isn’t evil at all, only temporarily misguided and influenced by the antagonistic family that raised her.
This scarlet macaw parrot, most renowned for his role as Jafar’s bird in Disney’s Aladdin, is primarily thought of as dual antagonist to the plot. But those who have seen the direct-to-video sequel Return of Jafar know better. Very early on in the film, upon escaping the lamp and refusing to help Jafar, we learn that he has mended his ways and decides to join Team Aladdin. This is perhaps owing to the fact that despite his loud-mouth, obnoxious antics in the first film, he was always different from other antagonist-owned pets in previous films. Fans generally adored him, even when he was a baddie. So through a little Disney magic tweaking, they gave us a viable reason to like him even more! And his more positive portrayals in Disney spinoffs ever since have remained.
2. Darth Vader
Diehard Star Wars fans can tell you the whole history and backstory behind Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader, the Force, and so on and so forth. And it’s an undeniable shame that Anakin went over to the dark side, becoming Darth Vader. But by the end of Return of the Jedi, he too gets the ultimate character redemption in his sacrificing himself to save his son.
1. The Beast
Beauty and the Beast may be a “tale as old as time,” but it also contains perhaps the biggest, although otherwise largely uncredited character redemptions in any Disney film to date. When you really stop to consider it, it’s the Beast’s whole demeanor that runs the show. His “beastly” nature is what initially led to the curse, and it’s the melting away of his harshness that sets the course for the ultimate character reformation. Shifting from a literal beast, both inside and out, and becoming a loving, pure-hearted prince undeniably takes the prize in notable character redemptions.
Throughout Disney film history we have seen many shifting character portrayals. This elaborate list is just some of many examples, as there are numerous others we could get into, along with all the undoubtedly eminent future Disney portrayals that will continue to reflect upon evil transforming into good.