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"Maleficent" and the Disney Renaissance (Mild Plot Spoilers)

 With both irony and triumph, clever storytelling and genuine feeling, Disney is bringing us a new kind of fairy tale.

As much love, fondness, and respect as I have for Disney, the company's name is still the one we most commonly associate with the age-old misconception that a princess is usually in need of rescuing.  In the traditional story of Sleeping Beauty, this "heroine" sleeps through the majority of her own fairy tale.  Almost a literal demonstration of the concept in critical theory of the female as the object of the male gaze - the princess lies unconscious, her person-hood negated, while the admiring prince looks on and, eventually, is the catalyst to her awakening.

In 1959, Disney adapted this tale very faithfully.  How fitting that now, in 2014, in an age when it is more important than ever to be intentional about teaching young girls that it is not "unfeminine" to be powerful, confident, and to have agency, Disney is the company to break its own mold by presenting not one, but two female leads who participate in their own growth and make choices that progress the story.

Refreshingly and fortunately, Elle Fanning's Aurora is awake for most of the film, and the audience gets to know and love her.  But as the title clearly indicates, it's not really Aurora's movie.  It's Maleficent's.

Angelina Jolie's Maleficent (extremely well-acted, by the way), is a woodland-guarding fairy who is agonizingly wronged early on in the film.  The violence to which she falls victim ignites hate within her, and it is in a spirit of vengeance - just as in the animated version - that she curses Princess Aurora.  However, unlike in the animated version, in this film, we see Maleficent repent of her anger and strive to redeem herself.  Like Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, though we may always remember Maleficent for her grim persona and misdeeds, ultimately, we observe a soul face its own darkness, seek and grant forgiveness, and find redemption.

"Maleficent" is not the only Disney film of late to turn the traditional fairy tale on its head.  "Frozen" was released Thanksgiving week of 2013, and surprised audiences with a tale of sisterly love, rather than romantic love, saving the day.  At one point, Elsa even tells Anna, "You can't marry someone you just met."  This is Disney completely poking fun at itself, and without devaluing what an enjoyable part of my childhood the Disney animated films of the 80s and 90s were, I can appreciate the way Disney is somewhat reinventing themselves, and love them all the more for it.

As masterfully told stories often do, "Maleficent" reads differently to adult audiences than to child audiences.  If you saw some of the movie trailers, you saw that part of the story is that Maleficent has her wings taken from her.  The scene in which this happens, largely because of Jolie's acting, is very disturbing and almost seems an analogy for a stealing of innocence or a violation, especially since she is drugged as part of the scene.  A ten-year-old, for instance, is obviously not going to draw this parallel, but he or she will certainly be affected by the intensity and emotional content of the scene.  Likewise, the fantasy violence and creatures and the antagonists in the film might be scary for children younger than 9 or 10.

If nothing else, "Maleficent" is worth seeing simply for the eye-dazzling fantasy visuals reminiscent of Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, Snow White and the HuntsmanPirates of the Caribbean, and Pan's Labyrinth.  It isn't a long movie by today's standards, and you will not be bored!  I guarantee it will make you wish you could fly and be the guardian of a magical forest.

Cute side note:  If you check out the "Trivia" section for this movie on IMDb, it says that Angelina Jolie's daughter, Vivienne, played one of the young Auroras in the movie because she was the only child not afraid of Jolie in costume.


  1. I think they wanted it to be purely Maleficent's movie, which is why we don't see the dress-changing part (bummer, I know) or more involvement from Prince Phillip. As far as Maleficent's fate, I think that even if she didn't survive, they still could have shown a redemptive story arc. After all, that is what Tolkien did with Thorin. (In the books... That is not a spoiler, people.) But I think that one of the selling points of the story was the sweet friendship that unexpectedly developed between Maleficent and Aurora, and it would have been pretty sad not to see that continue. Who knows? :)

  2. In the space of just a few scenes, the movie rights itself from its rickety beginning. The timeless appeal of the classic Sleeping Beauty fairytale belatedly kicks in, and Maleficent steadily grows in stature from there.


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