Beasts and Besties – Breaking down bad guy pets

Dr Evil and Mr Bigglesworth from Austin Powers

What’s the deal with animals and bad guys? No this isn’t a Seinfeld ‘bit’ although it could be.

“Why bother with a pet? How about, rather than split their time between scheming and caring for a pet – they just do the one thing. Open a pet shop, or go for world domination. Not only can’t men multi-task, but neither can bad guys… that’s why they always get caught.”

Aside from a love for the homicidal, silver screen bad guys are just like the rest of us. They need to eat, do their washing and a few of them even share their lives with an adored pet. Dr Evil had his Bond villain parody Mr Bigglesworth, Mikey Rourke had a bird in Iron Man 2, Jafar was BFFs with Iago, Woody Harrelson was crazy about his Shih Tzu in Seven Psychopaths and there’s plenty more.

The relationship between a villain and their animal is a great technique that helps us understand the character. Each villain is different and the great thing about adding a pet is that it can either stress or undercut a villain’s personality. A loved pet can make a bad guy, such as Dr Evil, seem misunderstood. Questioning our perception and making us think that maybe this guy isn’t so bad – after all, look at how he’s treating that cat. This juxtaposition can make a villain more digestible because after all, stroking a cat while divulging your evil plans is eccentric.

If a villain has an obsession with their pet, like Woody Harrelson in Seven Psychopaths, then this affection is usually offset by the villain being aggressive in nature. It explains how Woody’s character can go from shooting someone point blank one minute, to sobbing over his pets disappearance the next. Here the pet serves as the swinging pendulum to these two extremes. These types of bad guys come across as much more deranged because of their irrationality, they really love their pets, like heaps.

What’s interesting though is that stereotypically the pets of villains are usually a cat or a bird. Let’s be honest, cats are villainous by nature, they’re aloof, moody, have an enormous sense of superiority and make a great evil companion. So if you have an evil person to buy for this year, a cat could be the way to go. The bird idea is tricky, perhaps their evolutionary closeness to raptors and crocodiles instil a fear in us, or maybe it’s because of their ability to defecate from a height. Birds are synonymous with pirates and do symbolise the ‘devil on the shoulder’, making them a good companion for outsiders.

Overall though, animals are a strong way of showing the isolation and loneliness that a villain might be feeling. Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2 was obsessed with his ‘bird’. That animal represented his only friend in a world that had been hard on himself and his father.

But while certain animals lend themselves to villains, dogs do the same for the good guys. From Scooby-Doo, to Lassie, Snowy from Tin Tin and plenty more, it’s not hard to see why. Dogs are loyal animals and known as man’s best friend, making them a natural sidekick for the hero. K-9 was saving the world through time and space with Dr Who and beyond, Brian Griffin is literally a part of the family in Family Guy, Superman had a dog at one stage, and try and imagine Lady and the Tramp with two cats.

When the bad guy inevitably eventually loses, either ending up dead or in prison, I hope that their pet makes it out alive, so that they can find a home and start a new life, preferably one away from crime.