Why Bellweather is a Better Twist Villain Than Hans: Zootopia Has More Structure
Disney needs to go back to standard, cape-twirling villains. Seriously. I’ll take all the villain songs, from “Mother Knows Best” to “Shiny”. And I will take the monsters that adopt human forms and terrify us.
Twist villains can be fine if done well. But Disney is relying on them too much. For this column, I’ll talk about Frozen and Zootopia.
I will admit I can’t rewatch both movies in entirety. Zootopia triggers my anxieties about the present and news, and Frozen well, it’s hard for me to watch without nitpicking.
Since we are talking about twists that happen late into the films . . .
Motives and Consistent Actions
A good villain has motives that are consistent with their actions. Captain Hook wants to kill Peter Pan for chopping off his hand and tossing it to the crocodile. Gothel wants Rapunzel trapped in the tower forever to use her magical hair. Claude Frollo wants to commit genocide. In these films, the villains’ evil actions are aimed towards accomplishing their goals.
With a twist villain, it becomes harder to make actions consistent. You are hiding that they are villains. Wreck-It-Ralph had a successful twist villain, but that’s because we knew King Candy was bad news as soon as he showed up on screen. We just didn’t know who he was.
Bellwether and Hans are both ambitious. They crave power. Both are willing to kill to gain that power. One has a plan set in months before the first act ends. Another is improvising off the bat.
The writers of Zootopia knew that Bellwether would be the villain from the start. She hides in the shadows as the assistant to Mayor Lionheart, who treats her like dirt. Beneath suspicion, Bellwether can send out her sheep lackeys to drug random predator animals and start a panic. The Mayor’s counterattack of capturing the feral predators is no worry to her; she waits for the police to catch him. That’s why she’s initially indebted to Judy, who becomes her pawn.
From what we see, Bellwether’s initial plan involved playing the long game: developing Night Howler darts from the plant, drug a few animals in random areas so that no one would be the wiser, and put prey animals like her and Judy on top. She has a surveillance system that lets her spy on the whole city. Her helping Judy and Nick find the missing Jaguar helps her as well by leading them to Mayor Lionheart’s counter-scheme to find a cure for the animals he’s imprisoned. Later on, she wants to promote Judy and made her the face of Zootopia Police Department, to encourage a takeover of prey animals.
Ultimately, Bellwether goes down because she blows her cover. When Judy and Nick get a suitcase of Night Howler drugs as evidence and nearly make it to the station, she personally interferes and tries to confiscate the suitcase while promising to deliver it. Judy would hand it over, except instinct and logic take over: how did the Mayor know they were in an abandoned subway station? Then the mask slips, which allows Judy and Nick to counterattack.
Hans, in contrast, is not written consistently in Frozen. We see him smiling earnestly at Anna after she accidentally crashes into him. He proposes to her impulsively after dancing for a few hours, which shows disrespect towards the newly crowned Elsa for getting engaged without seeking her approval through the royalty formalities of courtship. It’s only because of dumb luck and Anna putting him in charge that he has any chance of earning the throne of someone else’s country. If he is ambitious, then he’s the worst at achieving his goals through actions that seem sincere.
This makes more sense when we learn in the original concept that Elsa was the villain, misguided and out of control with her ice powers. Hans instead was someone who believed he was the hero of the story, who had to kill Elsa to save the woman he thought he loved. Making Elsa a deuteragonist meant that there had to be another villain. That also meant changing Hans late in the game, when he was just a guy that Anna liked and not her fiance. They literally added him to the scene where Anna was talking to Elsa about giving Hans a job, where he doesn’t speak up at all to calm the situation. He could have agreed to court her instead, and play the long game. But Hans can’t play it though he claims to do so.
In essence, Hans’s failure doesn’t matter because he shouldn’t have succeeded that much in the first place. He only succeeded because the script mandated it. He misread Elsa’s adherence to etiquette, and all he did was bungle up any goodwill he could have shared with Anna after she needs a kiss of true love. It’s like the Prince in Enchanted; he doesn’t get a chance to be heroic because most of the movie is spent bumbling around New York. And at least the prince is consistent in that, with motivations and actions.
Writers, you fudged this one and tried to hide it under a message of pro-feminism. We aren’t fooled. Many people called you out for this. If you had kept Elsa as a villain who gets redeemed, you’d have a better story.
If We Get Sequels
The second Frozen movie needs to learn from the first one’s mistakes. You can’t have an arbitrary twist villain. The motivations all through the film need to line up and show logic.
Or, just go back to the traditional cape twirling folks with an evil laugh. Those were fine. You don’t need to improve on perfection. Nothing can beat Gothel and Frollo singing about abusing their children, or Ursula suckering a princess into a deal.