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Evil without reason is the stuff of fairy tales. Evil with no cause is truly frightening, for there is no way to reason or deal with it, you must fight, or take flight as they say. These tales are meant to be binary. They were cautionary tales, meant to warn children of the dangers out there in the world. Don’t wander off, or accept food from strangers, (Hansel and Gretel). Don’t judge a book by its cover, (Beauty and the Beast). You get the picture. In that old world where these tales come from, societies needed strong, clear villains and heroes. There was little room for sophisticated, intersectional heroic-villains. That kind of muddy water isn’t drinkable for these parched tales.
Enter Disney adapting its own adaptation in Maleficent.
Ok all gone now? First off, the movie is extremely well acted. Academy Award winner Jolie is perfect for the part, and her entrance into king Stephan’s court is as epic as the animated film. Here is a reminder from the animated masterpiece, Sleeping Beauty.
Linda Wolverton wrote the screenplay of Maleficent and makes sure the exact dialogue from the above scene is there. Jolie has deliciously copied the vocal inflections and the scene is scrumptious in Maleficent taking the stage, reveling in her glory of wickedness.
That’s where the film goes in a different direction for me. I like this adaptation. However I wish Linda had stayed within the sandbox of the given circumstances of Sleeping Beauty to create her tale. Too much is changed for this story to co exist within the Disney narrative we already know. Like Gregory Maguire and his revisionist Wicked series based on the Wicked Witch, Wolverton wants to make the “bad witch” the victim. Unlike Macguire, Wolverton has a bit of a muddled mess here. Keeping some elements of the original, but changing major plot points so that the two cannot coexist. You must either believe the original tale, or this one. Macguire and his Wicked, told the exact same Dorothy story, through the eyes of the witch, so we learned revolutionary things about her, but the basic plot stayed the same. In that way it recontextualizes the role of the Wicked Witch of the West. This Maleficent is almost a totally different story, so many plot points are changed, it’s a wonder why they just didn’t call her a different name altogether. Here are some of the changes I took issue with.
The three fairies we know and love, Flaura, Fauna, and Merriweather…their names are totally different. Why? They are both Disney properties so I can’t see them not being able to name them the same…
A change I really had a problem with was Maleficent giving the way out of the curse. She doesn’t even curse baby aurora to die, as she does in the disney cartoon. She lessens the blow and curses her to a “sleep like death” and Maleficent NOT one of the three fairies gives the out of the curse- the true love kiss spell breaker. Seems like an effort to make us have more empathy for Maleficent, but all it does is weaken her as a villain, and just doesn’t make sense. Why curse someone and give them an out in the curse?
Maleficent raises Aurora (whom they never call Briar Rose, as she was in the original animated film) secretly helping along the way. So you curse her to die at 16 but then want to help her live? Does t make sense .
I like the love backstory with king Stephan and the wings are fine, however I find it anti feminist to reduce Maleficent to just a jealous ex girlfriend. I know hell hath no fury and all that, but the original plot point that Maleficent is just plain evil, and brilliant and we don’t know why, if far scarier than the jealous jump off coming back for revenge…
The ending I really liked, and is super pro feminist. Two women ruling the united kingdoms. However it kiiiiinda doesn’t work. Only because the device used is that Sleeping Beauty is telling this story, and says she is telling it anew, you might have heard it different etc. Which is really just a cop out to me for not staying within the bounds of the original Disney movie. However the winners write history yes? So in this revisionist tale, Maleficent does not die, and Aurora rules the kingdom. So THEY won. If it turned out that way, how did the other version of the tale (the one we know, with Maleficent being stabbed to death as the dragon and falling to her death) even exist? King Stephan is murdered so who made up the first version of the story we know? A bit of a logic fail there I am afraid.
I enjoyed the film, greatly, it just A different animal than the story we know, and I wish Linda had worked within the framework of the original movie, especially since they lift so much dialogue verbatim, and use the Once Upon A Dream song, sung by Lana Del Rey at the end of the film. It seems they couldn’t decide to stick to the story or not, it keeps shifting back and forth from scene to scene.
Lastly the character of Maleficent is evil. In this new writing, she is evil, but tries to have comic relief moments, and jokes. She sits and watches the three fairies and casts little spells to make them fight each other. Toying with them in other words. She also saves the life of aurora when she is about to run off a cliff as a child. Then she has special chat time in the woods, where she sits and teaches aurora about life.
This is the girl you cursed to die from touching a spindle remember?