Disney Color Theory
The Color Psychology Behind Disney Heroes and Villains
By: Domonique Cox-Salberg
Just about every Disney movie can be boiled down to a few characteristics. The young hero and their trusty sidekick, charismatic villains, transformation, happy endings, magic, and music. All contribute to Disney’s wonder; however, one factor is not often mentioned: the color psychology behind its heroes and villains. There is something to be said about how color affects our understanding of character and personality. Why is it that when we think of how villains and heroes should look, specific colors come to mind over others? How does the color change or influence our experience? To clarify these questions, we will consider the connection between color meanings and characters that are universally beloved: Disney heroes and villains.
Growing up and seeing countless characters over the years through the eyes of Disney animators have subconsciously informed us of what makes the image of a “hero” or a “villain.” Spanning the several decades-long Disney canon, correlations can be found between the dominant colors used for the good versus the evil characters. But before we start, this is my interpretation based on what different colors commonly symbolize, patterns found within Disney’s handling of them, and how they correlate to the character’s personality and actions.
As expected, the dominant Disney villain colors were purple, black, and red. Meanwhile, colors like yellow, blue, and green were primarily found in heroes. However, some morally ambiguous heroes and likable villains had color schemes opposite their good and evil titles, to be discussed.
Purple: Maleficent, Doctor Facilier, and The Evil Queen
Often associated with nobility, power, luxury, and ambition, purple is possibly most remembered in characters like Maleficent and the Evil Queen, but also Yzma, Governor Ratcliffe, and Doctor Facilier. At the same time, popular heroic characters like Aladdin and Frozen’s Anna sport the color. We know these two characters are not evil in the slightest, but Anna does come from a noble background, and the largely heroic color blue is prominent in her costume. Aladdin’s use of the color purple reveals his innocent ambitions for a better life, making both an interesting clash.
Red: Jafar, Captain Hook, and Gaston
Additionally, most Disney villains are presented with aggressive colors, so it is no surprise that iconic characters like Jafar, Gaston, and Captain Hook heavily use red. It evokes strength, energy, and determination, which makes this color tricky in that all those qualities can fit both heroic and villainous characters. Still, Disney tends to use it more for villains and with great effect.
Black: Scar, Shan Yu, and Ursula
An unsurprising color used to convey villains and their evil deeds are black. It is a color that exudes formality, death, and evil. However, some exceptions find these colors in heroes to highlight conflicts within the character. The villains under this color also tend to be the evilest and have virtually no redeeming qualities. But to further show how good or heroic characters’ colors are greatly contrasted next to evil characters, let’s take a look at them and their color schemes.
Disney Heroes Color Scheme: Yellow, Blue, and Green
The colors yellow, blue, and green are dominated by the heroes. Woody, Pocahontas, Belle, and Snow White all share the color yellow, which symbolizes joy, happiness, intellect, and energy. Alice, Aurora, Cinderella, Elsa, Stitch, and James P. Sullivan all share the color blue. It is a color that denotes confidence, stability, and loyalty. Then, green in characters like Mulan, Ariel, and Tiana are often associated with growth, healing, and safety.
Disney animators, interestingly, also use green for dramatic effect during sinister villain moments. Notably, Scar’s “Be Prepared,” Lady Tremaine in Cinderella, when Ursula successfully takes Ariel’s voice in The Little Mermaid, and Maleficent escaping in Sleeping Beauty. A few of these examples can be seen in the GIFs below. All that said, these are trends I found, and in the end, it is about the characters and how colors work to serve and enhance their makeup.