Whether you’re Roman Catholic or not, you’ve likely heard of the seven deadly sins. Also described as “Cardinal Sins,” these are supposed to be the worst of the worst–that which would make your teachers from Catholic school do more than just slap your hands with a ruler. Since Pope Gregory IX and the days of old, these sins have been held to by worshipers and clergy alike as being on the top of the hierarchy of the abominable. The cream of the despicable crop, the most profound manifestations of human corruptibility, the seven deadly sins are the most greatly nefarious and obscene actions us mere mortals can commit.
And they’re evident in every Disney film.
For your convenience, we’ve created the below chart to show which deadly sins are most often personified by Disney villains. As you can see, greed wins hands down. (The irony in that is fantastic.) With so many Disney villains motivated by acquisition of power (Hades from Hercules, Syndrome from The Incredibles, Lotso from Toy Story 3, Prince John from Robin Hood, Shan Yu from Mulan, Jafar from Aladdin, Governor Ratcliffe from Pocahontas, and Edgar from The Aristocats, to name a few), this isn’t particularly surprising. What is interesting is that the female villains who personify greed aren’t really after power: they were after money and fashion. Madame Medusa from The Rescuers wanted an enormous diamond, and Cruella de Vil was just after a nice fur.
Pride, envy, and anger didn’t score too badly, either. Gaston is about the most prideful character in the history of children’s movies, and the Wicked Queen’s motivation in the film Snow White stems entirely from the fact that a mirror told her that someone was prettier than she was. The Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland is just mad (like everyone else in that story). The remaining three only get on representative a piece: Hopper from A Bug’s Life is the most slothful of all the villains, Shere Khan from The Jungle Book is only driven by his gluttonous desire to eat Mowgli, and Judge Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame is creepily motivated to the point of attempted genocide by his lust for Esmeralda.
The disturbing thing is, it’s not just the evil characters from Disney who are afflicted by these moral ills. While audiences are encouraged to save Tinkerbell through belief in fairies, she remains one of the most prideful, vain, and envious characters in Disney. Similarly, Donald Duck may be sweet and funny, but he loses his temper in almost every Disney film in which he appears; looks like he’s got an anger problem. And how about Winnie the Pooh, and his excessive love of honey? The dude eats so much that he’s unable to make it out of the house of his friend Rabbit (who, by the way, has got way too much pride in his garden).
But the Disney film that best exemplifies all deadly sins is certainly The Lion King. Basing any children’s film on a Shakespearean tragedy is bound to yield some suspect moral results, but you can find every deadly sin in this one film. In the beginning, Simba‘s character is incredibly prideful. Scar is driven entirely by his envy of his brother. The gluttony and greed of the hyenas causes them both to follow Scar in his insurrection, and to ultimately devour him. Timon and Pumba and their “hakuna matata” lifestyle can only be described as slothful. And adult Simba and Nala? It’s no secret what all that nose-nuzzling really means. In the end, Simba is anything but the merciful and admirable victor, as he allows his wrath and bitterness at Scar’s past treacheries to poison his mercy and leaves Scar to a torturous death.
So next time you’re watching a Disney movie, think about what the heroes of the story are really showing. Are they the admirable people (or animals) that you’re set up to think they are? or are they, perhaps, something more sinister in a cute Disney disguise?