Move over Frozen, Maleficent is Disney’s shining feminist movie
By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor
Disney continues to promote a positive female image with its latest film Maleficent, an alternate telling of the classic Sleeping Beauty. Not going to lie, I’m glad we were wrong about our prediction. Despite the PG rating the film is presented in such a way that the surface material is fairly child safe while the subtext is something adults can really get into. More about that in the spoiler section…
The reason I had doubts was because whenever the marketing campaign for a reimagined classic mentions it’s “the story you don’t know,” that usually implies they’re going to throw a twist in there that’s usually something clunky and out of place. In Snow White and the Huntsman the big twist was Snow White becomes a Joan of Arc kind of figure and fights for her kingdom, which has nothing to do with the huntsman… it had all sorts of problems. –Sigh-
Thankfully Maleficent’s script doesn’t try to add in anything that’s so out of left field, instead giving the audience a believable reason as to why Maleficent, who is a fairy, became so evil. I have always been a fan of the original idea that she was utterly insulted because she was not invited to Aurora’s christening (which in medieval times not to invite someone of nobility or social stature was the biggest insult.) The new reasoning is more logical to a modern setting and takes a look at some deeper issues, which again, will be in the spoiler section.
Love her or hate her, Angelina Jolie (who I think is a good actress) absolutely killed this role. I could not have imagined another actress nailing the movements, the emotion and the duality that is in this new imagining of the character. Elle Fanning’s Aurora has been criticized by others for being just a little too happy, but keep in mind one of her gifts at birth is everlasting happiness and she’s a Disney princess so the bubbly mode is kind of a permanent setting. Overall the cast is good even though the characters themselves are a whole other issue, in particular Sharlto Copley’s King Stefan. I have not seen any of his other films but good god he comes off as such an asshole here. It’s probably the character and not Copley, but I did not like him at all.
If you have children, I’d say this film is fine for them as long as they’re about seven or older as some of the images might be scary. (I saw a couple of moms take smaller children out of the screening I attended.) I give this film an 8/10. Hopefully they can continue this streak when Cinderella comes out next year.
THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS
The re-imagined plot is a surprisingly dark play on some classic fantasy literature themes. Maleficent is the winged guardian of the forest who must protect it from men who would ruin it for its treasure. Stefan wanders in as a child and becomes fast friends with the fairy and for a short time becomes her romantic interest.
Years pass and the two grow apart as he becomes more involved in the human world and she in the enchanted one. The King of the humans wants the forest for himself but is fatally injured by Maleficent who is defending it. He puts up a bounty for her with the prize being marriage to his daughter, the princess and inheritance of the entire kingdom. This leads to Stefan betraying her trust, drugging her and removing her wings while she sleeps which he presents to the king as proof he has taken care of her.
The scene where Maleficent wakes up is horrifying because of the clear implication that she was date raped, with her body mutilated and the pain of being betrayed by a man she trusted. Most other critics have picked up on this and are surprised that Disney still approved the film but the subtlety of it works brilliantly. Adults know what is going on, while a kid with his or her literal reading, are not too likely to pick up on the subtext, thankfully. Spurred by revenge, Maleficent dawns the black attire and in an almost Kill Bill way, plots revenge against Stefan.
The story then picks up essentially where the animated film begins with the christening and bestowment of gifts. One common criticism is the fact that the three of the possibly stupidest pixies ever are charged with raising Aurora. Those were my thoughts as well until we got a scene with Stefan talking to himself and ignoring his men when they warned him the Queen was dying; he’d rather sit by himself and have a Gollum moment. The guy is crazy and doesn’t even care about his own wife. He’s so obsessed with wanting to be on top that he even keeps his daughter away from the glory of the kingdom.
Meanwhile the pixies are doing such a terrible job at parenting that Maleficent essentially becomes a fairy godmother to the child so she doesn’t die out in the woods. While it may seem problematic that Maleficent eventually grows to love Aurora and could even be viewed as a “silly female trope” it makes perfect sense in this story as she’s basically adopted this girl. She curses the baby to get back at the father, though throughout the course of the film, she comes to realizing her mistake of blaming the child for the fault of the father, as she watches Aurora grow up into becoming a lovely human being.
I will not say how the story ends. Even with a spoiler alert I don’t think it’s fair to give that much away. However the film did initially leave me feeling that it was very pro-women and very anti-men. Stefan is downright horrible and there are not many other males in the story save Maleficent’s crow, Diaval and Prince Philip who doesn’t really do anything. Considering the original Grimm’s fairy tale had the prince rape the princess in her sleep which resulted in her giving birth to twins, one of whom sucked the thorn out of her finger which woke her up, the original is kinda anti-men too.
I’m not entirely sure where the film was intentionally going in terms of that, however it is clear about theme and that it is anti-rape. Not only in the Maleficent back story but also the fact that Prince Philip’s kiss doesn’t wake Aurora up. Think about it, he wants to kiss her but we don’t know that she necessarily wants it so her being unresponsive seems to be saying it’s not ok to take advantage of a girl in her sleep. It might seem like a stretch because this Philip doesn’t seem like a bad kid; they just haven’t had time to nurture a relationship so neither of them really loves each other.
Ultimately though, symbolism aside, I think Disney is presenting some more progressive themes in their films. Ever since Enchanted they’ve really tried to up the ante as far as giving depth to female characters from the classic Disney films where they were beautiful, could sing, and clean but always needed a guy to come save the day. They’re throwing away this shallow idea for something more modern and creating fairy tales with messages kids should listen to. So remember boys, it is not okay to do something to a girl without their permission. Ladies, settle your qualms with the person who upset you in the first place and don’t take it out on somebody else.