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Disney’s ‘City of Villains’ is like a Batman story in a Disney world

‘City of Villains’ is an innovation when it comes to childhood classics

‘City of Villains’ is an innovation when it comes to childhood classics.
“City of Villains” is an innovation when it comes to childhood classics.
Disney

It’s unlikely you’d see Batman in a Disney story. But what about a Disney story that feels a lot like something from the Batman franchise?

Enter “City of Villains,” the latest novel from Estelle Laure.

The novel tells the story of Mary Elizabeth Heart (the Queen of Hearts), who is a high school student that works as an intern at the Monarch City police department. While there, she investigates disappearing teenagers and soon finds herself stuck in a battle between those who can wield magic and those who seek to destroy it.

“City of Villains” — a young adult novel meant for those between 14 and 18 years old — does a lot to mix villains with heroes at the same time. It uses the concept of villains to present stories about upbringing and coming of age. In that way, the novel truly innovates in bringing a new perspective on old characters. We learn more about their back stories, what these villains would be like as young adults and so much more.

We spoke with Laure about “City of Villains,” the first book in her upcoming trilogy, and what makes it such an innovation.

Deseret News: What made you so interested in this project?

Estelle Laure: I’ve always loved Disney and as soon as I was a published author I started dreaming about working with them in some way. Then when I was presented with the opportunity to audition for a project that had to do with the villains, I was all in. I love true crime and exploring anti-heroes, so the idea of reimagining the origins of Disney villains was fascinating.

DN: How did this idea come to you?

EL: The basic idea was my editor’s, so I had a concept page to work from. I knew it would be villains and a murder mystery and that magic was dead when the story opened. The Scar, where it takes place, Miracle Lake, the teen personalities of all the villains, and Mary Elizabeth’s personal story all came pretty quickly after that, which is how I knew I would be the right person to develop the story. When you know, you know.

DN: How does this book innovate when it comes to young adult stories?

EL: “City of Villains” is a totally new approach to Disney characters, and it’s squarely in the young adult sphere so it’s for older readers. Kids who grew up loving those Disney villains can see them in a totally new light and circumstance, as teenagers trying to survive in a tricky world. I feel like it gives each of them complete psychologies and backstories while still allowing for the fast-paced fun and magic that’s associated with their characters.

A photo of “City of Villains” author Estelle Laure.
A photo of “City of Villains” author Estelle Laure.
Disney Publishing

DN: Why is it different than what we’ve seen before?

EL: We’ve never seen seminal Disney characters as present-day teenagers trying to make it in a dark world. This is specifically tailored for readers who love graphic novels, mysteries, procedurals and compelling character development.

DN: This book feels like Batman meets Disney. Why is that so different than what we’ve seen before?

EL: I can see why you would say that because it was pitched as Gotham meets Disney, but that’s only to explain the modern urban environment and the hard city. I think it’s only recently, with the advent of shows like “The Descendants,” that Disney has opened up and wanted to explore ways of making those familiar characters new and exciting. I’m just lucky to have been in the right place at the right time.

DN: Why is it important to tell the stories of villains and show young adults different sides of a villain?

EL: First of all, it’s just fun, and as an author, it’s very juicy material. There’s a lot to work with when you’re asking how a villain got to where they got (think Darth Vader), but it also allows for an exploration of the ways in which we can become distorted and fall off the path of goodness through bitterness, injustice, misunderstanding, closed-heartedness. If you can make a reader love a villain then maybe you can also teach them a little something in the process of showing how that person became the way they did. And if it’s also super fun, even better!

DN: If you could rewrite any childhood classic — but from the perspective of a villain — what would you choose?

EL: ‘The Little Mermaid’. Ursula’s perspective on that story would be a delicious and disturbing descent. Also, who wouldn’t want to imagine being a giant sea-monster for a minute?