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Maleficent: Disney's Revision
We all know the story of Sleeping Beauty, young girl cursed by an evil, powerful witch (for not being invited to a christening) to prick her finger before her 16th birthday which will send her into a coma until true loves kiss will wake her. Similar to all other Disney princess movies where true loves kiss can literally take women out of coma's, or give them legs instead of a fishtail. I mean who needs a first aid kit, or hospitals in Magical Disney fairy tale world, when they have princes who can kiss strange women?!
So that's the story as we know it anyway, Maleficent is the most evil, powerful witch, and Aurora is a beautiful, fragile little princess. So When I heard Disney was remaking this wonderfully, villainous lady I didn't have high hopes, Disney's track record is nothing to be desired when it comes to female characters. I mean if 'Frozen' was THE feminist Disney film, then we still have some serious issues! However, I was told Maleficent is worth the watch, that they not only broke the ugly Witch stereotype, but also the 'true loves kiss cures all ailments' angle, so I was intrigued.
So far, Disney has a list of the most appalling heroines and female characters. Snow white is poisoned by another ugly witch because of her beauty and it is this beauty that saves her. The Little mermaid literally changes her body to find a man, which costs her her voice, as long as she still has her looks though that's fine. Cinderella is saved from doing housework by a prince who wants to marry her because of her....beauty. Belle, saves a monster with her only asset, oh yeah........beauty!!!!
Since these disastrous female characters Disney has been trying to step up its game. 'Brave' was an amazing story of a girl fighting against the patriarchal laws that would have controlled her entire life. Although many, many people see 'Frozen' as the most feminist Disney movie, I can't agree. The Fact that Elsa runs from her responsibilities, that both lead female characters have the EXACT SAME FACE, Anna is told by trolls that she has chosen the wrong man to marry, the list goes on. Yes it has feminist qualities, but it is still wholly insulting to women everywhere.
So, we reach 'Maleficent', and while the story has issues, the feminist angle is amazingly well done. Not only does this new film recreate a boring old story, it does it in a way that gives the story purpose for the first time.
Just a Note:
Maleficent anoints herself queen, she strides up and simply takes her throne. Interestingly, the fairy land prior to her anointing herself queen appears to be one not based around any kind of hierarchy. So not only did she take her throne, she took it from nobody, and created it from nothing proving just how powerful she really is.
Maleficent as a relatable character
The traditional imagining of Maleficent was brilliant, to say the least. She was uber-evil, powerful, strong and forceful. This new, re-imagined Villain is impeccable. She is no longer the ugly, greenfaced, scrawny witch we once knew. When we are first introduced to her, she is a young, energetic fairy, who meets a human boy, Stefan. They become friends quickly, and he visits her. After a while he stops visiting though. Maleficent obviously misses him, but she returns to her normal fairy routine. Years go by and she grows into a beautiful, young woman. Even with horns and wings, she is a gorgeous creature. She represents many things, but the most important representation is the battle against patriarchy, portrayed through the king. The king is hell bent on invading the fairy land and taking control of it, and when Maleficent stands up to him, he says "A king doesn't take orders from a winged elf" - An important message in understanding patriarchy's ideas. Not only has the king admitted to a jealousy over her magical abilities, 'winged elf', he also implies a hatred for femininity, as elves and fairies are constantly portrayed as having feminine attributes.
Because of her power, the king wants her destroyed, and offers both his kingdom and his daughter to whomever can kill Maleficent. That's right, he's offering his daughters hand to a murderer. Since Stefan has a relationship with maleficent, he rightly assumes that he would the advantage over others. He returns to her, and although at first she is suspicious of his motives, she finally gives in and relaxes. He drugs her and she falls unconscious, a cowardly way to kill such a creature. even more cowardly is the fact that he can't bring himself to kill her, instead opting for removing her wings and hoping that it would be proof enough for the king. And it is. He marries the princess and becomes king himself. The drugging scene caused a stir among reviewers of the film, some have seen it as a metaphor for date rape, while others have said that it was the betrayal of a lover that sent Maleficent down the dark path of vengeance, thereby again insinuating the stereotype that women are crazy emotional when it comes to men. I tend to disagree, nowhere was their relationship portrayed as a sexual one, they were childhood friends, not lovers, so the betrayal wasn't one of love in that sense, it the betrayal of friendship and trust that was so rudely and cowardly broken. she is no jilted lover, She was defenceless because she trusted him and it cost her her wings. I can also see some connection to the sexual assault claim, as in a symbolic stealing of innocence. This theft also takes from her something she can't get back. She is left filled with anger and resorts to hiding her hurt feelings with dark ones of revenge. There is no way in hell I would have reacted any differently. I too would have jumped into a gothic, dark place, taken, that's right, TAKEN my throne, and pondered the numerous ways I could seek revenge on the person who had stolen my ability to soar above him.
Not only is Maleficent now a multidimensional character, she has substance, and a history, a story. The original character is probably best known for her callous evil nature, not needing a reason to do something ghastly, just wanting to do it and then following through, and while that was why she was such a famous character, it lacked the history, her story, and rendered her quite flat. This new rendition of the evil character allows these without taking from her the true dark nature of the original character. She is as dramatic as ever when she arrives at the christening of Stefan's child, and delights in cursing the child and watching Stefan's horror, and his ultimate paranoia and hunger to defeat Maleficent which drives him almost into hysteria.
There's More To Pure Evil
Stefan sends Aurora away with the three worst babysitters, the fairies, who know nothing about caring for children. On numerous occasions Aurora's life is in danger and it is Maleficent who saves her, as if she died she wouldn't get to see her curse play out, thus ultimately robbing her of her satisfaction. As Aurora grows, she assumes Maleficent is the fairy God mother, as she is constantly watching over and keeping her safe, the exact definition of the term. Her actual 'fairy god mothers' are so caught up in ridiculous quarrels that they never notice Aurora and her needs. Maleficent is thereby creating her own attachment to the child, and becoming the mother figure Aurora desperately needs, even if it is only so she can see the curse play out.
It is from this point on that Maleficent is re-positioned from the one dimensional pure evil character, into a character with an evil, yet caring nature, one that lies even to herself in order to do the right thing. After years of bonding with Aurora, she attempts to break her own curse, but it is too strong. This is a moment the original Maleficent would never have been a part of, yet this modern take on the villain has come through massive, traumatic experiences and still has the strength to try to change, to not let Stefan change who she is, he may have taken her wings, but not her ability to rise above him.
In the years that aurora spends before her 16th birthday, Stefan becomes increasingly paranoid and driven mad by his fear of Maleficent. The story follows the original in that Aurora meets a young prince and has a 5 minute conversation with him before he leaves. She then finds out that she is actually the daughter of King Stefan, and rides to the castle to see him. There she is hypnotized by the curse and pricks her finger on a spinning wheel sending her into a deep sleep. Maleficent finds the young prince in the hopes that he can awaken the young princess, and brings him to the castle. When told to kiss Aurora he is naturally jolted by the fact he has to kiss a sleeping girl, but attempts it regardless due the fairies constant pushing. When his fails to wake her, everyone assumes that he's not her real true love. The very idea of 'true love' implies much more than a five minute conversation consisting of asking and giving directions. Which is exactly why when Maleficent goes in to apologise to the sleeping Aurora, she wakes her from the slumber after she kisses her on the forehead. I can't say I was surprised by this, we saw it in frozen, now here it is again, true love between women is so strong it can overpower the most powerful magic.
Just A Note:
Has anyone else questioned the hiding of Aurora for 16 years? After watching Maleficent, I wondered why he would feel the need to hide her away from Society Completely, not ever visit her and leave her with three incompetent guardians? He could absolutely have kept her safe in say a town, where she could attend school, or even have a life, communicating with more than three people every day, after all, the curse blatantly says she will be safe until the night before she turns 16. But no, he shuts her in a forest, with no civilization, away from any help be it needed. How would he have even found out if she was injured in the 16 years she was locked away from every aspect of society?!
A Congratulatory Concusion
Before concluding its also significant that Aurora herself has been given much more control that the original story, which sees her as a pawn in a war between two powerful people. She has absolutely no authority, she is a mere puppet. The new Aurora, however annoyingly princessy she is, has this authority. It is after all Aurora who shows Maleficent the meaning of love, she also gives her her power back by freeing her wings and ultimately helps Maleficent defeat the Stefan. And after she does all of this, she makes her own decision to live with Maleficent, the only person who had truly looked after her. Not only this, but that prince who attempted to wake her, doesn't even get a second thought. She has power of her own, and its her power to decide who she spends her life with and where, regardless of whether or not she was born to a patriarchal society. She doesn't automatically have to abide by those rules, nor does she, as she makes her own choices to betray the father she never knew.
Overall, the story is wholly finished compared to the original which was less than detailed on the events surrounding the Cursing of Aurora. This re-imagining of the story leaves viewers feeling like the 'Sleeping Beauty' plot has been fulfilled, its been finished, finally. We can only hope that previous Disney Princess narratives will too be modernized and completed, abandoning Princess Song fillers to instead fill the story with more detailed descriptions, in depth examinations of the characters and more reliable storytelling. Maleficent now has her own history, she is not simply the wicked old hateful witch, she has a story, a beginning, a life. However, she is still to be feared as a force of nature, a feminine, powerful force of nature.
Overall, a fantastic retelling of an old story. Jolie was incredibly, and as dislikeable a character that Aurora was, Fanning played her perfectly. The narrative itself is exceptional and as said before, the story feels whole.
I have dropped a star because of numerous, yet small, things irked me. Like the fact that the once honest, reliable fairies are now nothing more than bumbling idiots. Maleficent spends nearly 16 years watching and playing pranks on said fairies, which seems hardly that maleficent at all. She freezes people just to carry them behind her...there were minor issues, and lets just leave it at that.
© 2015 belleart