Wednesday, March 16, 2022

It's Not Easy being Green

Continuing with our green theme, I want to expand on the idea that Mike wrote about in his Sailor Jupiter post-why are so many villains associated with the color green? 

Well, it depends on the villain. 

The Fires of Envy

When Maleficent unleashes her fury her flames are green. When Scar sings about how he's going to usurp Mufasa the flames around him are a bright lime green. The phylactery (Horcrux to you non-Dungeons and Dragons fans) held by Rasputin in Anastasia pulses with an eldrich green, despite being from hell itself where you think it would glow red. In the case of these charming despots and monsters green is symbolizing the burning envy they feel for the heroes and the world around them. When they need to show that they want what someone else has, they take a match to some copper sulfate and let it burn (Yes that's the actual chemical that can make a fire turn green-try it sometime!)

Envy burns. It consumes. It is a need for something that must either end in the obtaining of it or the destruction of both. Green fire here works well for the analogy since it too burns and gives the audience a decent visual representation of the villain's inner feelings. Let's take Maleficent for example. Her motivation for being the Dame of all Evil is a bit unclear at first glance. She's not invited to a party so she's going to tear the kingdom apart over it (And yes, we're going with the animated Sleeping Beauty here because Maleficent' s intentions in Maleficent are this whole other thing)? If we take her green flames into account we get a far clearer picture of her issue: She wants to be acknowledged as an equal. She's obviously powerful, probably more powerful than the gender reversed Three Stooges we're supposed to like, and yet she doesn't even get a token invite to the party. That's not only rude that's just hurtful. Maybe if she was invited Aurora would've been blessed with something useful, like a personality or basic common sense. Either way she's envious of those who were invited and acknowledged as equals without question. She deserves a seat at the table and is ticked that she didn't get it. 

The Color of Money

Accompanying envy is greed, its lovely wife and business partner. While envy is for something that someone has, greed is a bit less specific in the intention. Greed is what Ursula has when her weird watery smoky hands reach out for Ariel's voice. Greed motivates the Shadow Man as he turns his friends from the other side onto changing Prince Naveen into a frog. Greed  is the look in Lady Tremaine's emerald eyes as she looks at her daughters and imagines manipulating them onto the throne with the Prince instead of her far more qualified and deserving stepdaughter, Cinderella. The villains want something, and while certain characters may have what they want they aren't as concerned with the person as they are with the power they wield, or the person is just a stepping stone to their true goal. 

Take Ursula, who we know has an obvious beef with Triton (In the play they're brother and sister and there was this whole inheritance dispute thing but we'll go with the movie for clarity sake though totally listen to the play's soundtrack). Ursula isn't jealous of Ariel, she doesn't want to be Ariel. She's a bit more jealous of Triton, but her real goal is to take what she feels she deserves, the triton. Ariel and her father are just stepping stones to getting her hands on it, especially since the first thing she does with it is start causing widespread mayhem throughout the harbor. She could've easily killed Ariel and Triton, but just toyed with them because her ultimate goal was momentarily accomplished. 

Horrifying Power

Now we've got to talk about Bruno (You see what I did there?). His future sight is seen as green energy swirling through sand, while his eyes glow green just like a villains. If you didn't know who he was or what the plot of the movie was you could easily see his color scheme and mistake him for a villain, but instead he's not. The green here indicates that his power is dangerous magic, something that isn't fun or playful like growing flowers or making healing empanadas. It's gazing into the shifting future and trying to interpret fragments of signs before they happen. 

Here green indicates dangerous power, similarly to Maleficent' s flames and Ursula's smoky hand trick. Another more interesting example is Cruella De Vil, in the animated 101 Dalmatians. When she walks into the Darlings home she's seen smoking a cigarette with green smoke drifting around her. The smoke is sickly and is different from when Roger smokes his pipe-which has black and grey smoke. Hers is the indication that her presence is something foreign, something so different to the Darlings that she obviously doesn't belong. Even her cigarette can't behave like everyone else's because she is not like anyone else around her, especially in morale, and that makes her scary. 

Visual Shorthand

A quick technical note about why green is used so often has to do with coding. It was mentioned before that green has the connotations with greed, sickness and envy, and that's something that most Western audiences would know when they walk into the theater. Films have only so long to get across different ideas, character motivations, ideals, plot elements etc. and will often rely on visual clues to help the audience know who everyone is without having to go into a lengthy backstory if they don't need to. Is your villain envious or greedy? Give them something green to show that off, preferably flames because they look cool, especially in a dark lair or at night when they're doing evil deeds. Need to show that the magic is otherworldly and powerful? Color it lime green like the entire thing is sponsored by Cricket, that'll show that what the characters are messing with isn't of this world. 

Green: It's not just for leprechauns. 


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