Commercialization of Evil

I have to admit, when I first read the article title “Dreamlight Valley is a waking nightmare and Disney must be stopped,” I thought both that clickbait is getting out of control and… yeah, that’s some quality clickbait that deserves a click. What I discovered is a pretty legit, punchy article that brings up an increasingly odious problem when it comes to Disney and their commercialization of evil.

The TL;DR is that Disney is populating Dreamlight Valley – aka Stardew Valley meets Animal Crossing – with whitewashed villains. For reasons. Probably commercial ones. As the article states:

You can’t sell a backpack with a genuine monster on it, so the various appalling crimes and deeds of the Disney Villains have been meticulously sanded away – these figures reduced to queer-coded girlbosses so gentrified hipsters who love Hamilton can get tattoos of them guilt-free. Earlier this year, Disney released an advert for their doomed Star Wars hotel depicting a mother and her daughter enjoying their expensive vacation by dressing up as space nazis and narcing on beloved revolutionary icon Chewbacca. The pair of them smirk as stormtroopers lead Han Solo’s fluffy best friend away in handcuffs, presumably to either an execution or to be shipped off to a kyber mine as slave labour.

Is this really a problem endemic of the moral failings of society? Probably not. But I was a bit surprised to learn that Disney also has a mobile gacha game called Disney Twisted Wonderland that turns all their villains into anime-inspired versions of themselves. The latest addition is one based on Claude Frollo, whose cartoon bigotry in The Hunchback of Notre Dame has only become more relevant over time, and would probably precipitate a “woke backlash” if it had not already been released 25 years ago.

In principle, I do not have anything against people dressing up as Stormtroopers or whatever. People do that not because they were space Nazis, but because the designs are iconic and, yes, cool-looking. That’s just a win for the Art department. And so I can see the draw for Disney to tap into these hitherto untapped wells of marketing material in the form of villains – demeanor/war crimes aside, they are just as iconic if not more so than the heroes of the films they serve to foil.

So… what’s the big deal? I dunno. Maybe nothing.

Nevertheless, I do feel like something gets lost over time. We probably should not be relying on Disney movies to teach morality to children in the first place, but whatever cautionary tale might have existed in these characters’ stories becomes muddled and unrecognizable through the commercialization process. And what was gained? This is not a Wicked-style introspective on possibly misunderstood villains. It’s just… business cashing in on cachet. Which is what they do, I guess.

Posted on October 27, 2022, in Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. If you think Disney villains might be problematic, try redirecting your gaze to Warner Bros. and their DC Comics properties. I was somewhat surprised at work the other day to run across this little gem.

    To quote the blurb “Young Bruce Wayne is drawn to the fun and excitement he sees going on at Arkham… Bruce is determined to find out why Arkham is full of so much fun and laughter.”

    Arkham Asylum, containment facilty for clinically and legally insane serial killers, mass murderers, socipaths and sadists, that is. As if it wasn’t bad enough having Batman himself as a role model, now apparently we’re asking pre-schoolers to party with The Joker. I think this ship sailed a while ago…


  2. “queer-coded girlbosses so gentrified hipsters who love Hamilton can get tattoos of them guilt-free”? This is some pretty odious rightwing culture warrior bullshit.


    • I can see how it reads that way. There’s also this line:

      It’s going to be fascinating to see how this game develops, to see if there are any characters considered simply too toxic for addition. We can probably assume that none of the cartoon animals from the jaw droppingly racist musical Song of the South will be making an appearance, if for no other reason than it not residing in the nostalgia sweet spot of the game’s intended audience of blinkered millennials who love games about owning a house because they’ll never get to experience it in reality.

      Personally, I get more of a vibe of “make fun of the popular things” than culture warrior per se. From their review of Hardspace:

      The brutal truth is that there is simply no fully automated luxury gay space communism waiting for us up there. Space travel is no longer the purview of specialised independent agencies – the infrastructure and technology required is now all in the hands of private enterprise, nothing but another asset for boosting the egos of our ruling vampiric billionaires.

      +1 culture warrior, -1 culture warrior? Oh well.


  3. I get that villains are part of the mass of capital that must continue to circulate until the heat death of the universe, but (unlike Siobhán Casey who opts for the whitewash-till-can-sell-plushie explanation) I still don’t understand why the designated hero-villain dynamic can’t be maintained in the process.

    What’s wrong with Vader threatening to turbolaser your house or Ursula threatening to flood your fields and then you team up with Mickey Mouse to thwart them or whatever?


    • In the article itself, Casey brings up that point. Specifically, how Ariel and Ursula live right next to each other and have no interaction at all, “like ships in the night.”

      My understanding of things is that while Ursula does have a more morally dubious unlocking mechanism – stealing documents or whatever – that’s as far as it goes.

      Honestly, it’s a rather huge missed opportunity on multiple levels. Villains could be antagonists, sure. Or they could be mutually exclusive choices with their foils: you can choose Ariel or Ursula, but not both. Even if both choices unlocked the same mechanics, that would give some interesting player agency. Or the villains and heros could require additional questing to get them to partner up to tackle a larger evil (as hard as that may be to imagine). Or, at the barest minimum, have the lore indicate the villains were plucked from their timeline before their respective movies.

      Early Access is Early Access, so maybe we’ll see some changes. I’m doubtful though.


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