There are different kinds of villains, and this month we’re hanging out with them all: the malicious family-wreckers, the frightening terrors, the grody revenge-seekers, and the not-so-scary-bullies-who-might-be-misclassified-as-a-true-villain. Today we’re spending time with the latter type, embodied in one of literature’s most iconic bad guys, Captain Hook.
Captain Hook is undeniably scary, particularly in appearance. I mean, come on. Hook for a hand, piratey scruff, mysterious feathery hat, hook for a hand, sword on his belt, tall and towering in stature, hook for a hand… This guy is someone we’re meant to be afraid of. What’s more, being such a prominent villain in popular culture, from the original J.M. Barrie play to the countless adaptations of the Peter Pan story on virtually all media platforms over the years, the audience probably has some expectation of who Captain Hook is even before a frame of Disney’s film begins.
The thing about Captain Hook, though, is that we’re never meant to truly hate him. He is designed to intimidate us at first, but ultimately become likable. Why is that? Why wouldn’t a villain simply be left to be a villain? Mainly because Captain Hook isn’t just Captain Hook. He’s also Mr. Darling.
Walt and his animators gave George Darling and Captain Hook similar facial features and cast the same voice actor, Hans Conreid, in both roles. In doing this, the audience is meant to see parallels between the two as Wendy’s story arc matures. Since she ultimately needs to learn to come to terms with her father (and her father with her), Mr. Darling is appropriately never portrayed as a villain, but rather a disagreement that must be confronted for future happiness. He’s not a bad guy, he’s Wendy’s dad. And since he isn’t truly threatening, neither is Captain Hook.
This freedom opens the doors for Captain Hook to be an atypical antagonist whose personality lends itself well to more playtime than menace time. While he and Peter never come to real resolution like Wendy and Mr. Darling do, Hook is still less threatening than his Disney baddie brethren, and this means more humor for us as an audience.
Hook is what you might call Villain Lite: all bark, no bite, and even when there is platform for real evil, it’s never for any purpose other than to outwit Peter Pan. With other villains, the protagonist is an obstacle to eliminate in order to achieve a grander goal. Scar must defeat Mufasa to overtake Pride Rock and become king. Lotso must put Woody and Buzz in their place so he can continue to call the shots at Sunnyside. With Captain Hook, he must get rid of Peter to… do what? There’s the revenge factor in there for his hand, I suppose, but that’s really it. Essentially, the relationship of Pan to Hook is not necessarily hero to villain, but rather two players in a never-ending game, with the gameplay being the same cycle every time. It’s a dynamic actually quite similar to Agent P and Dr. Doofenschmirtz in Disney Channel’s Phineas and Ferb.
Add this to the fact that in all of this, Captain Hook, try as he might, can’t stay grounded in his villainy but instead retreats into cowardice thanks to that pesky Tic-Toc Crocodile, and you’ve got yourself the set up for a cartoony comic book more than an epic good-vs.-evil battle.
Due to its many different facets, Peter Pan is an evergreen franchise for Disney, with something new seeming to come through the pipeline on an almost continuous basis. Currently, Captain Hook’s villainy is downplayed even more in the Disney Junior series Jake and the Never Land Pirates, in which the captain takes on a more cutesy appearance as he encounters young pirate Jake in educational opportunities for young children.
While Captain Hook may not be the most evil overall villain, he’s certainly one of the most entertaining, endearing, and enjoyable bad guys to grace the screen. Whether he’s getting frustrated to no end with his bumbling first mate Mr. Smee or comically escaping the clutches of the croc, Captain Hook’s a keeper.
Images from DisneyScreencaps.com.