Unmasking the quillain: queerness and villainy in animated Disney films



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of the Arts, English and Media


Utterances of the term “Disney” are likely to bring to mind images of princesses and princes, evil stepmothers, and wicked sorcerers. One image most associated with Disney, however, is “happily ever after,” a happy ending almost always synonymous with a heterosexual union between the princess and prince. My dissertation flips the analysis from the “good” heterosexual characters to examine their narrative nemeses: the queer villains (“quillains”). The villain is more than just a narratological necessity to push the films’ drives towards heterosexual happy endings, yet their narrative significance becomes overshadowed when they are eliminated.

My dissertation first explores how the villains are coded as queer, before analysing three ways that queerness is embedded in the actual narrative structure of Disney animated films. The first is through the standardisation of a heteronormative plot structure dependent upon the elimination of the quillain. The second is through the heroines’ and quillains’ musical solos, which function to associate the heroines with forward plot momentum and establish the villains as antagonists. The third and final way I explore the narratively embedded queerness is through a spatiotemporal structure which separates the hero/ines’ “ordinary” or “straight” times/spaces from the “special” or “queer” times/spaces of the villains. Finally, I examine the 2013 film Frozen to show how even when Disney consciously refers to its own narrative conventions, ultimately it falls back to its static negative representation of the villain-as-queer. I argue that Disney films perpetuate heterosexism because of the way the films are narratively structured around the achievement of heterosexuality via the elimination of a queered villain.

This thesis is unavailable until Sunday, October 11, 2020