A lot of the discussion around Dreamlight Valley – Disney’s astonishingly flagrant Stardew Valley rip-off – has been around how it holds up mechanically against its cosy farming peers. It’s certainly worth talking about things such as crop diversity, villager interaction, and hoe-feel in a game like this... but nobody seems to be addressing Dreamlight’s unique feature. That at any moment, an evil cartoon lion inspired by Adolf Hitler could move into town.
A post about the game’s impending update shows Scar as the star of the show, the next big Disney character being added to the game, posing peacefully next to the Disney Adult player character. Our elderly readers will remember Scar’s behaviour in the 28-year-old film The Lion King as being somewhat less than peaceful, his main hobbies including murdering kings in front of their child’s eyes and performing impassioned musical numbers about race science to his army of goose-stepping hyenas. Somewhere between the regicide and being torn to shreds by his own minions, Dreamlight offers the possibility that maybe Scar took a brief sabbatical by moving to a peaceful rural town and offering a mining bonus and a reward track filled with Lion King-themed furniture to the mayor.
The experience of playing this game is already deeply bizarre. Dreamlight is trying to tap into the warm, pastoral vibes of Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing, but that fantasy is constantly butting up against the complex and messy reality of characters with such disparate morals being treated identically from a mechanical standpoint.
You can cook delicious meals and gift them to hot-headed but harmless Donald Duck for Friendship Points, and you can do exactly the same thing with famous child abuser Mother Gothel. None of the other characters address this, nobody has any issues with anything. Interpersonal friction is the only crime in Dreamlight Valley. They’re all there to be your best friend and help you harvest carrots. It’s like if Fred West moved into your Animal Crossing village and joined in with the morning aerobics in front of the town hall. It drives you slowly insane.
It’s going to be fascinating to see how this game develops, to see if there are any characters considered simply too toxic for addition. We can probably assume that none of the cartoon animals from the jaw droppingly racist musical Song of the South will be making an appearance, if for no other reason than it not residing in the nostalgia sweet spot of the game’s intended audience of blinkered millennials who love games about owning a house because they’ll never get to experience it in reality. Beyond that, anything feels like it could be on the table when the game’s only Tangled character is currently the evil witch with a penchant for kidnapping children.
I personally can’t wait for Judge Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame to move into town, once I’ve assured him that there aren’t any Romani living nearby. I’ve always wanted to share gardening tips with a guy who tried to drown a baby in a well. Maybe they’ll add Esmerelda too, but don’t worry about any uncomfortable animosity between the two. My valley is home to both Ariel and Ursula – the evil sea witch who violently ripped Ariel’s voice from her – their houses placed side by side. You can frequently see the pair of them happily bobbing along in the water from the beach, completely unaware of each other's presence. Like ships in the night. But what else do you expect from the corporation that gave their own villains a specially branded merchandising line, complete with its own logo?
You can’t sell a backpack with a genuine monster on it, so the various appalling crimes and deeds of the Disney Villains have been meticulously sanded away – these figures reduced to queer-coded girlbosses so gentrified hipsters who love Hamilton can get tattoos of them guilt-free. Earlier this year, Disney released an advert for their doomed Star Wars hotel depicting a mother and her daughter enjoying their expensive vacation by dressing up as space nazis and narcing on beloved revolutionary icon Chewbacca. The pair of them smirk as stormtroopers lead Han Solo’s fluffy best friend away in handcuffs, presumably to either an execution or to be shipped off to a kyber mine as slave labour.
This deliberate minimising and commercialisation of evil is essential for the existence of The Walt Disney Company. It’s the fundamental contradiction rotting in that empire’s foul heart. You can’t hawk disposable merch of Scar, the murdering fascist – but you sure can hawk disposable merch of Scar, the sassy lion! You can buy a cutesy, official plushie of Clayton, the poacher from Tarzan who was planning on selling hundreds of gorillas on the black market. Of course you can. To Disney, a company built on hoarding IPs and regurgitating them back to us forever, there is no functional difference between a Clayton plushie and a Stitch plushie. It’s a recognisable Disney character wrapped around fluff, ordered in bulk.
You can’t object to Ursula and Mother Gothel’s presence in Dreamlight Valley. You can’t banish them. You can’t sound the alarm, stand on a soapbox in the town square and shout and scream about their crimes. The Valley represents an ideal world as imagined by Disney – a world where evil goes unpunished, where even discussing it is completely forbidden. You’re there to smile pleasantly at content you remember from the 90s and farm, to sow pumpkins until your fingers bleed. It’s the world they’d like to see actualised; a nightmarish EPCOT for the 21st century, where there’s nothing you’re permitted to do but reminisce about your childhood and toil for the betterment of an economy that will never give anything back to you.
Anyway I hope they add Stitch soon because he’s very cute and he makes me happy.