Shrek, Despicable Me and Finding Nemo are all guilty of negative skin stereotypes: 75% of the villains are bald, or have scars and wrinkles

  • Characters intended to come across as bad have more wrinkles and eye bags
  • Meanwhile only 25 per cent of heroes and good characters  have skin issues
  • Experts say films could contribute to people’s own insecurities about their skin
  • Researchers analysed characters in 50 animated films from the past 27 years

Children’s films are increasing the stigma around skin conditions because villains are often bald or have scars or wrinkles, scientists say.  

A study found giving the good guys blemish-free skin and bad guys skin problems in animated movies reinforces negative stereotypes, affecting how people feel about their own skin.

The study analysed characters from 50 of the highest-grossing animated films, most of which were made since 2000.

Three quarters of bad characters such as Darla, the cruel dentist’s daughter in Finding Nemo, and Jafar in Aladdin, have skin issues such as freckles or eye bags.

Good characters like Mr and Mrs Incredible, Rapunzel and Moana, however, are more likely to have perfect skin and only 26 per cent of them have problems.

The scientists also found skin issues on characters who are supposed to look bad but are good on the inside, such as Shrek and Gru in Despicable Me.

They say the portrayal of skin problems in films could distress people who do not live up to the unrealistic ideals. 

Shrek, who is an ogre and is supposed to appear to be a bad character, has scalp freckles, no hair and large wrinkles between his nose and cheeks, the scientists observed

Researchers at the University of Texas found 76.5 per cent of villainous characters or those with negative associations have what the authors call dermatologic findings, compared to 25.9 per cent of the characters meant to appear good.

Dermatologic findings in the study include scars, baldness, wrinkles, moles, eye bags or darkness round the eyes, and freckles.   

One researcher, Professor Michael Ryan said: ‘The depiction of skin issues in movies and its association with evil over good could be a factor contributing to the stigma of skin disease. 

‘By repeatedly portraying protagonists as characters with flawless skin, there is the potential to cause distress in those whose appearance does not fit this unrealistic ideal.


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‘Real life examples of this can be seen in dermatology clinics where cosmetic treatments are performed to remove harmless moles, eliminate wrinkles, and alter many of the natural skin changes that develop with age and solar exposure.  

‘Social perceptions and beliefs regarding beauty and youthfulness are likely underlying the desire for these treatments. 

‘The association between evil and skin findings in film could be one factor that contributes to these beliefs.’

How the research was carried out

Some 50 popular animated films were analysed, ranging from 2016’s Moana back to Disney’s 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast. 


Researchers from the University of Texas last year claimed leading Hollywood titles give many notorious villains blemishes and scars, and don’t give popular heroes the same features.

From Darth Vader’s face being unveiled in The Empire Strikes Back, to The Wicked Witch of the West’s warts in The Wizard of Oz – 60 percent of baddies aren’t deemed ‘picture-perfect’.

Others causing the general public to believe those with skin problems should be ‘feared’ include Regan MacNeil’s facial scars in The Exorcist. 

But just a fifth of their counterparts, such as Indiana Jones in The Raiders of the Lost Ark, are being given the same treatment by film producers and directors, researchers discovered.

Even when they do have a condition, their blemishes are often more subtle than those of villains, according to the findings in JAMA Dermatology.

Writing in the journal, the scientists said: ‘The results of this study demonstrate Hollywood’s tendency to depict skin disease in an evil context.’ 

92 per cent of the movies were released after the year 2000, and 50 per cent were released after 2010.

The human protagonists, or main characters, and antagonists – the main characters’ enemies – of each film were identified and examined for dermatologic findings.

Two additional categories were used for characters that didn’t neatly fit into these clearly good or bad roles. 

Atypical protagonists were morally good characters who have attributes or roles with negative or evil connotations, including Shrek, Dracula in Hotel Transylvania 2, and Ralph in Wreck-It Ralph.

These characters would normally be assumed to be bad and were made to look that way, the scientists say.

Hidden antagonists were characters that initially seemed good but were later revealed to betray the good characters – these included Stinky Pete in Toy Story 2 and Hans in Frozen, both of whom have no skin problems. 

The researchers published their findings in the British Journal of Dermatology today.  

‘We watch the films at the same time as we learn about good and evil’

They say it adds to past research showing the same issue in films of the 20th century in which notorious villains have a statistically significant higher proportion of dermatologic findings compared to heroes.  

Matthew Gass of the British Association of Dermatologists added: ‘The animated films we watch as children tend to stick with us, with many of us being able to fondly recall our favourites with ease. 

‘We watch them in formative years when we are learning about good and evil, and whether they mean to or not, it’s likely that they impact our biases and associations.

‘One thing that thing that we know is that the creators of these works are capable of producing emotional, nuanced, and thoughtful works. 

‘We hope that this means that they will be open to considering this research when making animated films in future.’

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