A Winter’s Tale of Two Villains

WARNING: IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN FROZEN AND YOU DON’T WANT TO READ SPOILERS, SKIP THIS ENTIRE POST.

So yeah, I finally saw Frozen. When I left the cinema going, “Well, time to go home and learn all the songs,” I realized my Disney-viewing habits have not changed since I was five years old.

Even though I liked the movie, I wasn’t planning to blog about it. But then Joy (who wrote her own review) asked a question that, when I had mulled on it long enough to give her a thoughtful response, she practically commanded me to blog about. So here we are.

We were talking specifically about Frozen‘s Prince-Charming-turned-villain Hans when Joy issued this challenge: Why is there so much love among fangirls for Loki (of Thor, The Avengers, and Thor: The Dark World fame), and so much hatred for Hans, often within the same fangirl heart? This was a convicting question for me, since I am one of those fangirls. Once I had grappled with my own hypocrisy–and not for the first time–I had to think of a rational explanation.

Let’s look at Hans. Hans shows up to Arendelle at Queen Elsa’s coronation, and right away has a meet-cute with Elsa’s younger sister Anna. They fall in love with the power of Disney songs, and Anna is brokenhearted when Elsa refuses to bless their engagement after knowing each other for a few hours. What no one knows at first, however, is that Elsa made the right call. Hans is a prince with 12 older brothers, making him 13th in line for the throne (since this is Disney, I assume all those sons are legitimate). Inheriting a crown is pretty much not happening for him, so he scams poor Anna into falling in love with him, with plans to kill Elsa and seize the throne after he and Anna wed. He originally intended to marry (and presumably murder) Elsa, but she brushed him off early on. At the end of the movie, Anna saves Elsa’s life by coming between her sister and Hans’ sword.

Man, that Hans guy is a jerk, right?

And then there’s Loki. Raised as the younger of two sons of Odin, Loki actually was born a Jotun/Frost Giant and adopted. Loki is denied the throne of Asgard (except for a brief period in Thor, when Loki lies to Thor about their father’s death and devises a plot in which he kills his biological father), and sets his sights on Earth. He allies with a mysterious alien race to forge a path of mayhem and murder (“He killed 80 people in two days,” Black Widow says in Avengers) in his attempt to take over the planet. He gouges out a man’s eye, uses alien brain-bending powers, demands a crowd to kneel before him, stabs his own brother in battle, stabs fan-favorite Phil Coulson to death, and throws Iron Man through a skyscraper window. When he is foiled by the Avengers, he is taken back to Asgard as prisoner and, [SPOILER ALERT!] in Thor: The Dark World, eventually fakes his own death and disguises himself as Odin in order to sit on the Iron Throne of Asgard at last.

Loki, you little shit.

AND YET?

. . .

Lots of women looooooooooooooooooooooove Loki.

(I KNOW, NOT EVERYONE. Calm down, Thor fangirls.)

I’m sure that part of it is because 1.) it’s a little harder to get attached to animated characters as opposed to characters performed by living, breathing humans, and 2.) Loki appears in films aimed at an older audience, and older girls/women are more likely to favor villain types.

But I’m not going into that. I’m going to look specifically at their characters and how they are portrayed to find out why Loki, arguably the greater and more dastardly villain, gets more audience love than Hans.

JUST TO BE CLEAR: I am not trying to excuse the villains’ actions—just the fangirls’. Understanding a motive for murder doesn’t make the murder okay.

1. Tragic backstory.

As far as we can tell, Hans doesn’t have a tragic backstory. Sure, he’s the youngest son who won’t inherit the throne, but there are 11 others who probably won’t, either. He says that he was picked on by his brothers, but who wasn’t? At the end of the movie, when he’s caught and being taken home, there are hints that his elder brothers will punish him somehow. It doesn’t sound like abuse, it just sounds like dudes punching some sense into other dudes. Heck, this might indicate that he comes from a somewhat close family with some sense of integrity. At least, they weren’t behind his plot.

Loki, on the other hand, is adopted by Asgard’s royal family, but doesn’t learn about it until he’s an adult, and even then it’s by accident. And not just adopted—Odin found him as an infant, left to die because he was puny by Frost Giant standards. And those Frost Giants (or Jotuns) are called “monsters” among Asgardians. Loki grew up to hate the Jotuns, per standard Asgardian protocol, only to find out he was one of them. There are hints that Loki never expected to inherit Odin’s throne (he tells Thor, “I never wanted the throne, I only ever wanted to be your equal,” but are we to take him at his word?). But Odin tells young Thor and Loki that “both of you were born to be kings.” What is one supposed to make of that?

In the battle for fangirl sympathies, I’d say that Loki wins the Tragic Backstory round.

2. Sexiness.

I don’t care if we’re talking about Disney here, animated characters can still be sexy. And don’t start arguing with me, or I’ll sic Batman and Jessica Rabbit on you.

If power is sexy (if?), this round goes to Loki as well. Hans has his charming, winning ways, and shows up all sweet and innocent, but when his true plans are unveiled, it turns out he’s just got a few minions with him. Plus, he’s going behind his family’s back, so he doesn’t even have the power of his father’s kingdom to back him up.

Loki has not only his own magic powers and badass weaponry, but an entire freaking alien army behind him in Avengers. Plus, he’s got the snarky wit going on too. All that makes him sexier, thus more appealing, and thus more able to be sided with.

(And personally, I think Hans has a much more punchable face. Nothing approaching Joffrey Baratheon, but more than Loki.)

3. The Set-Up and Subsequent Betrayal

In Frozen, Hans is set up to be the Prince Charming character. His twist doesn’t come until the very end, and there’s almost no indication that his motives are anything but pure (except the whole “too good to be true” thing). He provides blankets and food for the people of Arendelle when Elsa accidentally turns summer into winter and then runs away. He goes after Anna when it looks like she’s in trouble. He dances with her at the coronation ball. He gets to sing the movie’s big love song. That’s unheard-of for a villain in the Disney universe, right? And all of that comes crumbling down when we find out what he was really plotting. By betraying the audience as well as the film’s other characters, Hans won their enmity.

And he tried to f*ck with Elsa. You just don’t do that.

In contrast, Loki is never set up to be the good guy. Like Hans, he commits betrayal and constantly lies, but he is not held up as any kind of ideal. At best, he’s ambiguous and conflicted, but even from the beginning of Thor, even if you’re not familiar with the comics, his demeanor pretty much yells “untrustworthy.” When it comes to Loki, he may bamboozle other characters, but the audience, knowing him to be the villain, is not fooled. Generally (and ironically), with Loki, you already kind of know what you’re getting into. You know him as the villain, and appreciate him as such.

4. Necessity is the Mother of Villainy

It’s entirely possible that Hans doesn’t even need to follow through on any of his evil plans. He might marry Anna disingenuously, but then grow to love her. If Elsa dies or abdicates without heirs, they could rule together anyway. Elsa doesn’t entertain suitors and she keeps to herself. More likely than not, she’ll be Arendelle’s Elizabeth I and rule alone, dying without issue. Hans’ plot is unnecessary and contrived (though that may be a fault with the writers as well as the character) and could easily be carried out with a little more honor and a lot less death.

"But I looooooove hiiiiimmmm!" TOO BAD.

“But I looooooove hiiiiimmmm!” TOO BAD.

With Loki, however, one might understand how, in his twisted mind, he has no other choice but to lie, cheat, steal, and kill to get what he wants. Heck, Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki, has said, “Every villain is a hero in his own mind.” Loki does the things he thinks he has to do. They’re not good things, and his intentions are hardly nice, but you could see how he would think he has no other options. Even if Loki was well-behaved, he would see the throne of Asgard pass to Thor, leaving him with nothing. And that’s aside from the fact that he still belongs to a “race of monsters” as he says himself. Yes, Thor abdicates the throne (or his inheritance of it, at least) at the end of Thor: The Dark World, but Loki had no reason to think that would happen. This doesn’t excuse Loki’s behavior, but it makes it at least more understandable, which makes him more sympathetic, and more appealing.

Now, this is probably not all going through every fangirl’s head when she decides to love Loki and hate Hans. But as far as I can figure, those are the most sensible explanations for this phenomenon.

6 thoughts on “A Winter’s Tale of Two Villains

  1. I had another thought re: apologies for Hans this morning: The Trolls say that ice to the head can be helped, but ice to the heart can only be healed by an act of love. Obviously Anna gets a blast of each by mistake. What if Elsa’s freezing of the entire country carried psychological effects as well as physical ones? Like you said, Hans is set up to be Prince Charming, and his actions *are* charming until he reaches Elsa’s ice castle. Perhaps it becomes a winter of *everyone’s* discontent over time.

    I also reflected that he must have some serious Ron Weasley Syndrome. How novel it must be for him to have a position of authority for once, despite being younger than other attendees of the coronation! It might be the only time he hasn’t been, like, “Frederick/Lucas/Christian/Johann/Gustav/Oliver/Daniel/Emil/William/Victor/Niklaus/Anton’s little brother.”

    • Hmmm, well that’s an interesting thought. Doesn’t Hans say that his whole purpose in coming to the coronation *was* to scam Elsa and/or Anna? That’s what I took it to mean. But if he was originally sent to the coronation as a courtesy, as a family representative, and only later decided to make evil plotty-plots, then you have a good point there.

      The Ron Weasley Syndrome bit is also legit! But I always kind of thought that applied to Loki too, at least in “Thor.” I’m inclined to believe him when he says he didn’t really want to be king of Asgard—he just wanted to postpone Thor’s rule and knock him off his high horse a bit. But when Thor was banished and Odin fell into odinsleep, Loki took the opportunity to grab what he could—and unfortunately, was unwilling to release it and became further corrupted.

      • Oooh, good point. Clearly I need to see it more than twice, since I don’t recall.

        Mostly I am really curious about the normal operation of the Southern Isles family. With that many sons, they could be allied to ALL the neighbors. Or rich families. Yes indeed.

        • That’s true…and with that in mind, it’s surprising that the family wasn’t ALREADY attempting to marry off two of their sons (Hans not necessarily one of them) to Elsa and Anna. A young, unmarried queen and an even younger, unmarried princess, both with some political power, both gorgeous, would be hot commodities.

          • Ugh, I want to make some kind of joke about cold commodities but that just isn’t how the idiom works.

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