June 16, 2014
“I was a fairy princess once…Everything was so nice and peaceful,
’til one day it all went horribly wrong!”
–Miss Bitters, Invader Zim
And the moral of the story is, MEN RUIN EVERYTHING!!!!!
Ahem. But seriously. I’m really ambivalent about this movie. It had things I liked. And it had a lot that I didn’t.
Before going to see it I saw a couple of reviews titled, basically, “Let’s talk about that rape scene in Maleficent, shall we?” So I was looking for it, and while it was metaphorical, it was just as horrible as you’d expect. (My friend leaned over right after it and said, “Well, that’s about the worst thing I’ve ever seen in a movie.”) I have this pet peeve, in stories about powerful women, where all their power and motivation comes from some traumatic incident in their past. Not always rape, but often it is, and this plays right into it. That’s the whole point of the movie — what traumatic thing happened that made Maleficent go all evil and stuff? Ta-da, there you go. Complete personality transplant after that scene. I mean, when we first meet her, and she’s this cheerful happy young fairy, and she announces, “I’m Maleficent!” I’m thinking “No you very well aren’t!” The word Maleficent literally means “evil-doer” in latin, and at that point, she really really isn’t! Etymology matters, bitches! What would have worked better, I think, is her renaming herself Maleficent when she decides to go for revenge — that would have shown a whole lot more consciousness of what she’s doing, some kind of agency of her choosing this path rather than inevitably sliding into it because that’s what happens to traumatized women in stories.
Because you know who didn’t really need any motivation to go all evil and stuff? Stefan. Base ambition was enough to turn him bad, and he didn’t need a reason, and he didn’t need any redemption after, apparently. This whole movie is supposed to be, is billed as, Maleficent’s redemption story. And I just kept thinking, she isn’t the one needing redemption here! She’s the victim! Gah!
Aurora saved the movie for me. Until her appearance, this was a movie about how people are terrible and awful to each other all the time. Even the three “good” fairy/pixies were awful. But Aurora, when she announces, “You’re my fairy godmother!” with such joy, and the look on Maleficent’s face when she realizes, Dammit, the kid’s right. That was awesome. I feel like I should have despised the character for being a caricature, all sunny and happy and tralala. But I loved her, because she managed to convincingly embody what’s good in the world and why life is worth living. Oh, and I also loved the raven. Another great character who saved the movie from being about unrelenting terribleness.
I was disappointed that Aurora’s mother died, because that didn’t happen in any of the versions this is riffing on, and it’s like the movie just didn’t want the complication of Aurora having two mother figures. I know why they skipped the whole “everybody falls into a deep sleep” thing because they wanted to have a big battle at the end, but that also felt like a misstep.
But I do really love that we now have two Disney movies seeking to redefine what “true love’s kiss” means, and that there are lots of kinds of loves that are just as important as hetero romantic love. I also love how the closing credit version of “Once Upon a Dream” was super-emo-goth, specifically designed to appeal to two generations of emo goth kids who look on Maleficent as their goddess.
Now, if you really want a subversive retelling of Sleeping Beauty, let me recommend Robin McKinley’s Spindle’s End.