There’s a funny sort of phenomenon in children’s films about animals. If the story is about mice, then cats are bad guys.
But if the story is about cats, then mice are either essentially non-entities
or the cats are friends with the mice. For. Some reason.
And who are the villains?
If it isn’t a dog or other animal dangerous to a cat, like a wolf, then it’s probably a human. It is in the Aristocats. The same goes for dogs (Like 101 Dalmations) – they might fight a wolf or something but there’s not much higher on the “food chain” than humans.
So basically, there’s some coinciding between antagonists and villains. When your protagonist is prey, predators are a consideration and a problem. But while you can tell a story about happy vegetables or insects, personifying them as your prey protagonist’s food is awkward. And when your predator is the protagonist, the prey loses traits that would appeal to the audience – like, say, sentience. It’s all the cycle of life. And what hunts the hunters? Whatever it is, it’s the new antagonist.
It’s all in perspective, see? I mean, you read Charlotte’s Web and the humans are just awful for raising Wilbur for pork. I suppose you can argue they weren’t going to raise Wilbur at all and therefore he really was more of a family pet, but the point is the humans are antagonized to some degree for wanting to eat a pig.
And sorry, but…that’s why humans raise pigs. At all. We give them life so that they may grow delicious and then we eat them. It’s more traumatic when the pig is fully sentient and can talk, which real pigs aren’t, but the point is, the villain thing is all perspective here. Some vegetarians will say carnivores are monsters for eating meat and villify the action. That’s their perspective. I’d like to point out that that animals eat animals all the flipping time and that our ancestors didn’t get to be a civilization building master race by eating raw vegetables. Nope. We got to be the humans we are because we cooked meat (and vegetables, too, sure). That’s our secret. Meat, and fire. Wheat helped too. Yay gluten.
Anyway some things are objectively wrong. We can all agree that cold-blooded murder is pretty much totally evil. I’d like to say we can all agree that torture of any living creature is totally evil but some, er, political statements by a particular candidate and the agreement of his followers suggest somehow that’s not agreed upon. But. The point is, you should consider very carefully your villain and morals. Because what’s 100% evil to you, little rabbit, is 100% moral to the wolf trying to eat you.
Ultimately, this applies to more than just prey and predators in children’s films. And when you have a wolf who thinks he’s Balto but he’s in a Bambi film, you have your villain. Villains usually think they’re the hero. And it’s just as easy for an antagonist to be sympathetic and not necessarily a villain. For example, consider both sides of most hot-button debates: with a lot of equal rights debates, it seems like the rabbits who are afraid of the wolves are in a wolf film. But with something more ambiguous, it’s really hard to say whose film it is, rabbits or wolves. It really is a matter of perspective, and you can see that easily if you can take a big step backwards out of your own.
In order to understand your villain, try considering that maybe they don’t hold an evil view because they’re Evil McEvilpants. Maybe they hold that view because from their perspective, it’s not evil.
It’s all in perception and context.