My poor, poor neglected movie blog. I promise, I will soon get back to the Insomniac Theatre routine (although my definition of “insomniac” has changed slightly, seeing as how I rarely stay up past midnight, let alone into the wee hours of the morning anymore) and the List. But first, there’s been a lot of discussion about this film, and one of my friends (Sarah – YOU GUYS ALL KNOW SARAH) said she would be interested in my take on this topic, and while I admit that I’m now pretty much two weeks behind the curve, I’ve never let an opportunity to rant and/or ramble pass me by.
I saw Maleficent on opening night — Dad and I were supposed to go see The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but when Maleficent opened, Spidey’s evening showings mysteriously disappeared, so he and Mom and I went to see Maleficent instead. I had been wary of seeing Maleficent since I heard of its inception (referenced handily here in the middle of this entry at my reading blog), and I have to say that my gut instinct turned out to be right, because after the first twenty minutes, I realized how the story was gonna end up, and I may have sat through the rest of the film like this:
Backstory time! I grew up with a lot of Disney movies, many of which were
recorded off of our free Disney channel weekends purchased legally at the Disney Store before it went out of the business of Disney memorabilia. One of my favorites was Sleeping Beauty. I can’t exactly pinpoint why I watched it over and over — it may have had something to do with being on the same VHS as the Disney-channel-recorded … NO it was on the same VHS as The Great Muppet Caper! THAT’S why I watched it so much, I freaking love that movie!
Anyway, Reasons Why I Love Sleeping Beauty: Phillip was the first prince to have a personality (and actual dialogue, to my knowledge, though I bet if anyone could confirm that it would be mine and Sarah’s friend Brian [who I follow on Twitter], who watched all of the Disney animated movies in about a year), and his horse had a personality too! (I suppose one could argue that the friendship between Phillip and Samson was one of the first Bromances I ever encountered). The fairies were both sweet and smart, but Merryweather was the best one, and if you disagree, I will fight you. (I may still say “I still think what I thunk before” because of this movie, and no, even the grammar nerd in me won’t apologize for that.) I mean come on — tell me Aurora looks better in the pink than in the blue. I dare you.
But most of all, there was Maleficent.
Look at her – talk about having grace and beauty; I wish had her posture. And in this still, she looks like she’s just a normal fairy, showing up to give her present to the baby. I mean, clearly a woman with that headpiece and letting her raven perch on her walking stick maybe isn’t the nicest person in the world, and sure, when she arrives she shows up in a lightning bolt and a burst of fierce wind, but it’s not like she storms in and starts mowing people down like Voldemort or some other villain that I wish I could think of in this moment. She’s almost serene in her evil.
Basically, I loved Maleficent. I loved how delightfully evil she was. I loved how she stood up for what she believed in, and by gum, she believed that that little baby should die.
… y’know, reading this? Might make me seem twisted. I’m kind of okay with that. I mean, I probably get it from my mother (DON’T WORRY MOM THIS ISN’T A BAD THING), because I can distinctly remember hearing my mother comment once that, while she definitely does not condone her actions, she would have loved to have played Cruella De Vil in something, because playing a character that delightfully evil has to be the most fun thing in the world.
Because to me, what makes Maleficent so amazing and special is not just that she’s evil; it’s that she revels in it. Check out her gleeful grin at Stefan’s horrified face after she curses Aurora! After capturing Prince Phillip she tells him a wonderful little fairy tale about true love that, oops, spoiler alert, he’s not going to experience because when he finally goes to save the princess, he’s going to be like a hundred years old, so have fun with that relationship! She’s so happy once everything goes her way that she tells her raven, “For the first time in sixteen years, I shall sleep well.” I have hungered after that type of sleep my entire life.
So my unconditional love of Maleficent as a character has been with me since childhood. And when I first heard that Disney was capitalizing on the success of the Tim Burton-helmed Alice in Wonderland by revisiting the origins of Maleficent, I … became wary, to say the least.
What Tim Burton did for the latest Alice in Wonderland wasn’t an origins story: it was a continuation. And I know that there are people who weren’t a fan of it for whatever reasons, but because it was a new story, built on the foundations of both the 1951 animated movie and the Lewis Carroll novellas, I could separate my enjoyment of both the original movie and the books from my enjoyment of the Tim Burton movie. Full disclosure: I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it and it didn’t become one of my top ten favorite movies of all time (I should really post about that at some point; it would probably explain a lot of things), but I did buy it when I found it for five bucks a couple of years ago. I’ve even watched the DVD since I bought it, which is fairly high praise.
But I was afraid that by showing us the origins of Maleficent, we would see that there was a reason behind the curse on Aurora, beyond just not being invited to the party. And I was very afraid that they would humanize Maleficent. I hoped that the tale would be told in the way that I remembered it: that okay, maybe she has a reason for wanting a baby dead – that will at least get her to the christening to bestow the curse. But at the end the fairies and Phillip would try to defeat her and she’d turn herself into a dragon and then Phillip would kill the dragon and maybe she’d get redemption through death (which is one of my favorite tropes EVER. See: Severus Snape; Jack Bristow; Jack Shepherd; possibly some other Jack; and I hope Regina on Once Upon a Time, even though I do NOT want her to die EVER NEVER EVER because that character is amazing, but because that scene will just make me want to claw my eyes out in grief.).
Needless to say, I was disappointed.
In this film, Maleficent starts out as a nice fairy. And one day, Stefan stumbles into the fairy world and they become friends, which is kind of forbidden because humans and fairies don’t really mix. Over time, she falls in love with Stefan, and it’s possible that the affection is returned. However, Stefan’s ambition overpowers his depth of feeling, because when the dying king asks for revenge on the fairy that so handily handed his army’s ass to them on a silver platter, Stefan goes marching into Fairyland, drugs Maleficent, is going to kill her, but instead, decides to just cut off her wings.
And look, pretend you’re me: you’re watching this movie, and it’s starting out kind of slow and sappy, and then – BOOM! – rape metaphor. If there is ANYTHING that is going to vindicate Maleficent’s downward slide (or upward climb, depending on your perspective) into evil and vengeance, THAT IS IT. So for a brief moment, I actually had some hope that maybe the film wouldn’t completely defame her character by giving her a sappy side. Because look: if I were a fairy and some … god, I wish the English language had words for the type of awful, horrible human being Stefan was in that instance (bless you Tina Fey/Liz Lemon, but fungdark really doesn’t even come close) drugged me and cut off my wings, leaving me mutilated beyond repair? You can bet your ASS that I’d want to wreak vengeance on him, on his descendants – a pox on his house wouldn’t even begin to cover it.
(And I know that the sins of the father shouldn’t transfer to the children, but seriously: rape metaphor with mutilation. Tell me you wouldn’t at least consider it.)
So I’m sitting there, actually anticipating how this story will go: she’ll get her revenge because Aurora will prick her finger and she’ll die, she’ll cackle, and maybe she’d piss off Phillip’s family, which makes him seek revenge on her, and something would happen to make her redeem herself in death. (I clearly hadn’t thought that through, but that’s what I wanted.)
Until Maleficent curses Aurora. Because when she made that curse, I knew that Maleficent would never live up to my expectations.
The curse, as written in the 1959 original, states:
Before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she shall prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel – and DIE.
In Maleficent, she amends the curse to say:
Before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she shall prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a sleep like death!
There is a HUGE difference between those two curses, and it’s not just the words. In Maleficent‘s version of the curse, she has already softened up compared to her predecessor, because now she’s not killing the kid, she’s just putting her to sleep forever.
And then she amends her own curse, giving it a cure! She says the equivalent of, “Oh well, okay sure, I’ll give you a curse-breaker: she can only be woken up by True Love’s Kiss.” And as she leaves, she’s all, “BECAUSE THERE’S NO SUCH THING SUCKA HAHAHAHA” And then she would flip the entire gathering of peasants and rabble The Bird as she vanishes in a cloud of green smoke like a motherfucking boss.
Except she can’t stay away from Aurora – I’m still not sure if, initially, she kept watching Aurora and saving her from the fairies’ ineptitude just because she wanted to make sure she (Maleficent) was the one responsible for the girl’s demise (and DON’T get me started on those fucking fairies. Not one Merryweather in the bunch). The first line of the curse in both Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent states that Aurora will be beloved by all who know her. Well, in this film, Maleficent falls under her own spell.
To the point that Maleficent tries to break her own curse! She ends up caring for the princess and tries to take it back! Except she fooled herself because when she cursed the girl originally, she made sure to say that the curse will be unbroken until True Love’s Kiss – she didn’t even put in a override line or anything reserved for herself. So then she gets sad because she’s cursed Aurora to this sleep of death, because True Love’s Kiss doesn’t exist.
Well, that’s all well and good, except that anyone who’s ever watched Once Upon a Time knows that the best True Love’s Kisses come from mother to son (both Emma and Regina to Henry, breaking two curses). So when the fairies force Phillip into kissing a sleeping Aurora and it doesn’t work, Maleficent tries to say goodbye to Aurora by kissing her, and GUESS WHO WAKES UP
In the end, Maleficent gets her wings back, she stops being evil, Stefan dies (as all good Disney villains do) (I actually pointed and shouted DISNEY VILLAIN DEATH in the theatre but no one heard me), Aurora rules the humans in concert with Maleficent not-quite-ruling the fairies because they don’t believe in a system of government, and Alaina does not like the movie because they made Maleficent soft.
Where was my evil queen who ruled all those wonderful, stupid minions? Where was her outright glee in tormenting others? You know how much fun Lana Parilla has playing Regina the Evil Queen on Once Upon a Time? THAT’S WHAT I WANTED FOR MALEFICENT.
(I’m not even going to get into the fact that on Once Upon a Time, Maleficent was played by the awesome Kristin Bauer Von Straten, only to have Regina permanently turn her into her dragon in episode 2, and then have Emma kill her in the season 1 finale. Why does Maleficent always get short shrift?)
So that’s why I didn’t like the movie: they took one of my favorite childhood antiheroes and made her soft in the heart and gave her a happy ending that was actually happy (versus my other favorite trope, Redemption Through Death). I would like to point out – before I get into the true impetus of why I’m writing this post – that while I felt the writing did a disservice to Maleficent, Angelina Jolie was phenomenal in the role. I mean, really: my main problem was the story. Or the fact that their story deviated from what I wanted the story to be. My dislike of the movie had nothing to do with the persons involved (unlike when I went to see Mission: Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol because SOMEONE said it was an amazing movie and that Sawyer from Lost was in it but Sawyer died in the first ten minutes of the movie and basically SOMEONE STILL OWES ME NINE BUCKS FOR THAT MOVIE AND ALSO FOR PRISONERS BECAUSE THERE WERE SNAKES IN PRISONERS AND YOU DIDN’T TELL ME ABOUT THE SNAKES, BRAD).
So anyway: heaps of praise for Angelina Jolie and the visual effects; bunches of boos for the poor story decisions (my opinion). Once the movie came out, I was seeing a few articles that praised Maleficent for having such a female-centric storyline, and after careful consideration, I have to agree. It is amazing that there are five female characters with speaking roles compared to the two male characters (three if you count the king that dies in the beginning). The movie passes the Bechdel test with flying colors; no doubt about that in my mind. And I applaud the movie for showing us such a positive female relationship between Maleficent and Aurora, regardless of how I felt about the relationship as part of the story.
And then Sarah links me to this article, and says, “I’d be interested to hear your take on this.” So I read it, and I’ve been stewing over it for a couple of weeks now, and I guess my main feeling regarding this article is that I feel the author is nitpicking and reading into a lot of stuff (says the girl who has written nearly 2500 words in the same manner).
The author of the article claims that Disney had the opportunity to create a truly revisionist feminist movie starring Maleficent – show a woman’s agency and the choices she makes and how those choices go against the patriarchy found in that realm, and how grrl!power would triumph over the stupid stupid men. And remember that part where Maleficent was horrifically mutilated by a man and I thought this was going to be the best revenge fantasy movie ever? I really wanted that, along with the author of the article.
Obviously, my disappointment comes from a deep-rooted nostalgia. The author of the article traces her disappointment to the fact that the film is not Maleficent’s movie – she is merely a player in Aurora’s movie, remade to look like the main character. Aurora is the narrator of the movie, and the narration that begins the film tells the audience that we haven’t heard the story told in this way before. And that’s because for the first time, we’re seeing the story as told from Maleficent’s perspective, and we’re getting backstory on Maleficent’s motivation, but at the end of the film, Aurora still needs to wake up. We can’t have Maleficent succeed in her original plot (revenge against Stefan = keeping his daughter sleeping like death for eternity) because then we really would be seeing Maleficent win, and the villain winning wouldn’t be a comfortable position for any summer tentpole audience.
What I kind of have to love in an ironic manner is the fact that the author of the article can’t even focus on Maleficent for her entire article. She ends the article claiming that the Aurora in the 1959 movie is more femme-positive (her words) than the Aurora found in Maleficent:
In Sleeping Beauty, Aurora had a nurturing family and a trio of good fairies who were flighty (yet responsible). She had the gift of song, the man of her dreams, and an iconic, charismatic villain who audiences loved. In Maleficent, Aurora is the product of a cold and loveless marriage and a vengeful, unhinged rapist. Her safety relies on a trio of clueless and dangerously careless fairies, and her Godmother is the woman who cursed her — and who had, in turn, been violated by her own father.
Which sounds more reductive to you?
To be honest, I don’t even know what she’s talking about. In Maleficent, Aurora doesn’t need a man to save her from her fate – Maleficent saves Aurora with her version of True Love’s Kiss. When Maleficent is captured by Stefan’s guards, sure, she changes her raven-man into the dragon instead of changing herself into a dragon, but maybe there was a line that was cut that explained that fairies can’t actually turn themselves into other creatures? And in the end, Aurora helped save Maleficent by returning her wings to her (there has to be a metaphor in there somewhere about a woman returning another woman’s power to her after it had been raped away, but I’ve been working on this essay for about a week and I can’t think too hard about this anymore) – how is that less femme!positive than Sleeping Beauty where the prince kills the female dragon and wakes the heroine up with a kiss and her marriage to Prince Phillip had been arranged before she was born, and they were just lucky that they met in the woods and fell in love immediately without knowing each other was their betrothed whereas in Maleficent Aurora got to choose to marry Phillip and the marriage wasn’t arranged or anything and everyone lives happily ever after, even Phillip, who honestly ended up having less of a personality than this guy:
So there. I really don’t think I can analyze this movie anymore. I was disappointed in the movie, but I’ve got my anger out now so I won’t be talking about it any longer.
I will most likely continue to bring up Mission: Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol and Prisoners when applicable, because I haven’t gotten my refund for either of those movies yet, BRAD.