Soapbox: Disney Dreamlight Valley Feels Like A Villain Rehab. Is That A Bad Thing?

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Is Disney Dreamlight Valley A Villain Rehab
Image: Kate Gray / Nintendo Life

In the world of Disney, a deep line is drawn in the sand between Good and Evil. On the side of Good, we have most princesses and fairies, anything and anyone with large eyes, and all women under the age of 30. On the side of evil, we have most non-prince men, all witches, some wizards, and any woman with wrinkles. I won’t get into the suspicious gender division of this list right now, and admittedly, there are some characters who straddle that line (like Peter Pan), but overall, it’s pretty clear who’s evil and who isn’t.

So, why is Disney Dreamlight Valley, Disney’s supposedly wholesome take on Animal Crossing, so full of these criminals? I wonder if it’s part of a new attempt by Disney to rehabilitate their villains for potential use in new ways, because it’s not like they couldn’t just use the gigantic pile of non-villainous characters in their warehouse instead. There has to be a point to it all, right?

Spoilers ahead for some of Dreamlight Valley’s characters and plotlines.

Is Disney Dreamlight Valley A Villain Rehab
Be prepared… to exonerate criminals! — Image: Kate Gray / Nintendo Life


This week, as part of a big new update, developers Gameloft added Scar to the game, who is a lion, but also a MURDERER. His murders, both successful and attempted, are so heinous that they actually have specific words for them: Fratricide, Regicide and Nepoticide. That’s a high percentage of the named murders, dude. Those are the bad ones.

I can forgive slightly predatory legal practices, but I cannot forgive breaching a contract

And he’s not the only villain in the town. There’s also Ursula, a sea-witch who offers transactional curses, and you know what? I can forgive that. If some idiot teenage mermaid wants to sign a binding contract that she didn’t bother reading, even after Ursula did a whole villainous song about it, then that’s kind of on her. But then Ursula went back on her word in order to try to steal Ariel’s man. I can forgive slightly predatory legal practices, but I cannot forgive breaching a contract.

Then there’s Mother Gothel, who I think might be the least pleasant of the bunch. Sure, she didn’t actually murder anyone, although she certainly tries — but kidnapping a baby, imprisoning it in a tower, gaslighting and emotionally abusing the poor thing and enslaving her in order to stay young forever is pretty bad.

And my lovely, peaceful town harbours these criminals, for no reason other than because Disney said so. I have to build Ursula a house! I have to go along with Mother Gothel’s plan to restore peace to the valley, which would sound nice if she didn’t insist on me erasing Kristoff’s memory of his wife as part of the plan! I have to rub shoulders with Scar like he didn’t throw the best Disney dad off a cliff! BAH.

I’m afraid this will all turn into one of those video game gotchas where, at the end, I am branded a criminal by association, and Mickey Mouse lectures me about not doing things just because a game told me to. I mean, I highly doubt it, but that would be an unusual twist for a Disney game. Maybe a Disney game made by Playdead.

Is Disney Dreamlight Valley A Villain Rehab
Tom Nook would never murder anyone, probably — Image: Kate Gray / Nintendo Life

Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate a game that dabbles in shades of grey and flawed characters. And it’s not like Animal Crossing doesn’t have dubious characters, too. There’s Gulliver, whose repeated near-drownings are suspicious at best; Redd, who is constantly trying to con people with his fake art; Blathers, who (depending on how you feel about museums) is hoarding cultural artifacts belonging to other countries; and Zipper T. Bunny, who is almost definitely a serial killer.

Considering the fuss people kick up about Tom Nook’s supposedly toxic behaviour every time there’s a new Animal Crossing game, it’s surprising that the same isn’t applied to Disney

But the worst character in Animal Crossing, by most accounts, is Tom Nook. Let’s list his crimes:

  1. Loaning you a house, no questions asked
  2. Expecting you to pay back the loan in interest-free instalments at your own pace
  3. Suggesting upgrades to your house when you pay off the initial loan
  4. Making his underage nephews run his shop (okay this one is kinda bad)

What, that’s it? No murder? No kidnapping? Not even a little bit of arson? Pathetic.

But considering the fuss people kick up about Tom Nook’s supposedly toxic behaviour every time there’s a new Animal Crossing game, even though the actual villain of Animal Crossing is Resetti and/or whichever villager refuses to leave town when you want them to, it’s surprising that the same isn’t applied to Disney’s legit monsters.

I don’t know, folks.

There’s a part of me that wants to feel uncomfortable or suspicious about a gigantic monolith of a media company attempting to minimise the crimes of its characters, because it feels… icky. It feels like it’s an analogue for whitewashing history and celebrating historical figures who committed atrocities, even though these villains are literally just made-up characters, so who cares, right? But even in media, we must be careful of the tropes and messages that we are absorbing. “Villains aren’t that bad” may just be a quirky Disney thing that they didn’t put much thought into, but excusing evil, even just cartoon evil, is a slippery slope.

There’s another part of me who thinks that it’s pretty weird that, of the handful of characters that exist in Disney Dreamlight Valley at the moment, about one-sixth of them are evil. Disney has a vast catalogue to choose from — we could have had Olaf, or Simba, or the Genie, or Snow White, but instead, we have B-list characters like Kristoff and Merlin, and The Lady That Locked Rapunzel In A Tower.

I presume that the reason the A-listers aren’t around yet has something to do with Disney needing to agree to their plotlines, or wanting to spread out the well-known princesses and heroes a bit more, but I would still default to, I don’t know, the most obscure of the seven dwarfs before I jumped straight to Scar.

And then there’s a third part of me that just finds it quite funny. Disney’s need to merchandise everything has led to this moment. They want to sell Scar plushes, so they reframe him as “mean lion uncle!” instead of “the guy who killed the hero’s dad and made him watch!”

They want to sell Scar plushes, so they reframe him as “mean lion uncle!” instead of “the guy who killed the hero’s dad and made him watch!”

And so, in Dreamlight Valley, he is all but literally defanged and declawed, a pussycat who just wants you to build him a house and give him apple pies every now and again.

The juxtaposition and paradoxical nature of Scar-as-murderer and Scar-as-friendly-neighbour is absurdist humour… but it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be Disney-friendly, a soft cuddly plush version of their films, but it utterly undermines the message of their own films, like the marketing arm of Disney doesn’t talk to the creative arm at all. It’s similar to the irony of Netflix creating a real-life Squid Game with a cash prize. It’s depressing, and points to an issue with media literacy at large… but it’s also just funny.

Is Disney Dreamlight Valley A Villain Rehab
It turns out that you can befriend Mother Gothel by having her follow you around as you dig holes. Maybe Rapunzel should have tried that — Image: Kate Gray / Nintendo Life

We’ll likely never know the answers to questions like “Why is my child playing a game full of felons?” and “Sorry, is Scar more of a pull than, say, Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc.?” and “Does this mean that heroes will have to live alongside the people who tormented them?” Disney is way too secretive and cautious to let us know what’s going on behind those mouse-shaped doors, and I suspect the answers might be “we didn’t really overthink it like you clearly did.”

But I’m curious to see how the inclusion of these irredeemable characters shapes the story in Dreamlight Valley in future — and if it will become some kind of make-nice society where the line between Good and Evil is scrubbed out to make room for Jafar’s house.