This weekend Maleficent made a boatload of cash, and that bums me out — because this wasn't the Maleficent I wanted. And it certainly wasn't the Maleficent we all deserved. Here's why I'm pissed at what Disney did to the biggest and baddest villain around. Warning, spoilers.
Maleficent wasn't all bad. Our review praised Angelina Jolie's brilliant performance and her gorgeous Rick Baker horns. But all in all, Disney really missed the mark on translating this classic villain's origin story to live action on the big screen. And while I could harp on other problems — such as the failed attempt at "slapstick humor" fairies, or the complete abandonment of the original film's brilliant surreal color palatte and chilling score (inspired by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" ballet) — the real problem was with the central character herself.
I cannot believe what Disney did to my favorite villain. Here's what bothered me most:
Snow White's Evil Queen, Cinderella's Step Mother, Peter Pan's Hook, Alice's Queen of Hearts — there was no villain who came before her (or really after her) that could "summon all the powers of Hell." The animated Maleficent does not give one flying fuck about popping into the middle of a heavily guarded party, outnumbered hundreds to one, to place the curse on the guest of honor, an infant.
That's how she rolls. Poisoned apples? That's cute. When Maleficent sets a curse, it's a slow march towards your own impending doom. She doesn't want you to die; she wants you to suffer, and then die. You can see this in her every action in the original Disney film. This villain doesn't just walk into the grand throne room of King Stefan's court and say, "Baby dead." No, no, no — she lets that child live just long enough that it forms a life, a personality, connections, and a history. She lets everyone fall in love with this child first. Then she wishes death upon it. Not only will this result in more pain, but it will also create a hopeless fight to save said baby from said curse. These were well-thought-out plans, she calculates her revenge.
Another artful plot is the much-forgotten Prince Philip storyline. After the sleeping curse is enacted and Princess Aurora falls asleep, her fairy godmothers freak out and put the rest of the kingdom to sleep as well. That way she won't be alone, and will wake up with her family, etc. Unfortunately for Prince Philip, Maleficent got to him before the fairies were aware of their love connection. She kidnaps the Prince and throws him in the dungeon. And then this scene happens. This is probably the most calculated and cold villain monologue from any Disney movie, ever:
Maleficent's plan is to keep the Prince alive and well, until he's too old for Aurora. To let him sit in misery for 100 years until she releases him as an old man. Prince Philip would be able to save his beloved, only to have her wake to a shriveled, 100-year-old stranger. That is rough. It's chillingly cruel, but astoundingly brilliant. You had to admire this monster for her creativity.
This is where I depart from the new, live-action origin story. She's just not that clever. Every act in Maleficent's life is completely reactionary and pretty hasty. Look, I don't need the youthful Maleficent to be a big thinker — she's a child, and that's OK. Had this film spent anytime with teenage Maleficent, we may have been able to connect with her personality more. Alas, we don't and all we get is a silhouetted kiss and then BOOM, older, ass-kicking Maleficent, protector of the forest. She doesn't really build any sort of personality; instead all we see is a woman who is reacting to a slew of terrible things her former lover inflicts on her. It just seems like she's running around, coming up with all of these ideas as they hit her. Her go-to move is to zap people into unconscious human balloons, which she then manipulates around in the air. And even that action is entirely impulsive.
She even goes as far as zapping the real-life Prince Philip into an unconscious heap on his horse and then rides with his limp body flailing about on his steed to the castle. Had she just said, "Hey you know that girl you instantly fell in love with, she needs your help," we may all have been spared that embarrassing moment. There's no thought behind Maleficent's madness. Where is the clever woman we met years ago? Meanwhile her enemy (King Stefan) literally goes insane. He's just throwing his anger at the wall and seeing what happens. And what happens is a mess.
I'll be real: The original movie offers zero explanation for why Aurora would meet the sharp end of a spinning wheel and fall asleep. Were they all really into spinning wheels at some point? Is that a metaphor for women being constantly attacked by little pricks all the time? Who knows? But finding out that the reason Maleficent cursed Aurora with a spinning wheel was because it was TO THE LEFT of the King was disappointing to say the least. The significance was entirely arbitrary; it could have been an old sock, a pile of leaves or a raccoon skeleton they found in the basement. It makes no sense. In a way it's like a metaphor for this movie: Why should we make a Maleficent movie? For no reason at all.
The title may have been Maleficent, but a large majority of time was spent watching Princess Aurora plod around in the forest. And isn't Aurora great? With her blonde hair and her wide-eyed wonder and unmarred etherial innocence? Very little time is actually spent learning about Maleficent's backstory.
What do we really know about Maleficent? We know that she really loves the moors (the name of her fairyland) and her wings. We also know that she meets a young human boy, befriends him, and then falls in love with him later. We don't actually see this romantic relationship play out; we're just told that it happens. The young teen fairy and the young future King Stefan plot could have been interesting. We could have seen her teaching him, falling in love with him, growing with him.
Or screw the men—the film could have just focused on Maleficent! Why not spend some time with a young fairy coming into her powers? Instead, most of Maleficent's camera time is spent spying on Sleeping Beauty. And when the two ladies do become friends, they don't even appear to have much of a relationship apart from Aurora doing things while Maleficent watches from five feet away. Maleficent becomes a voyeur in her own life. She stands in the sidelines or the bushes, just...watching. Never teaching Aurora about magic, learning her own craft, or growing. No, it's the dewy-eyed blonde that needs to teach Maleficent a lesson about... erm... love? I guess? And Aurora herself has no real personality besides expanding her eyes the size of a cartoon deer and exclaiming just how beautiful everything in nature is. "I love these fall leaves, look a beautiful flower, la la the world is great." It's an odd worship of innocence that I had trouble connecting with, or understanding.
Even in the final moment of this film Maleficent continues to be upstaged by Sleeping Beauty. In the conclusion at the very end it's revealed that Princess Aurora is the movie's narrator. So it's no wonder this story doesn't make any sense, because it's being told by an idiot.
We're not the first to bring this up. And I'm sure we won't be the last. I, personally, picked up on some strong, unintentional date-rape undertones in this movie. Why? Because at its face value, this is what happens: Two ex-lovers met each other in the woods. She is defensive about inviting him into her home. He seduces her with familiarity, comfort, and their friendship/love. Together, they reconnect and are then seen cuddling on the ground in a loving embrace. He gives her magical GHB that puts her asleep. He then moves to murder her with a knife, can't, and instead physically violates her body by hacking off her most prized possession: her wings.
Before this betrayal, she is a good person. After this betrayal, Maleficent dons all black, hides her hair, and becomes "evil." One could argue she is robbed of her innocence. Is there a forced sex act? No. But to witness this amazingly powerful creature, the most feared villain in the Disney book, become evil because a man drugged and violated her is disappointing. It's upsetting to watch yet another powerful character be taken down a notch in such a suggestive manner as this. There were many, many other ways in which they could have robbed her of her wings. What about an epic battle, and she takes an axe to the right wing? Or she could be tricked into giving them to King Stefan as a sign of peace, only to have him turn on her. Perhaps it's because we know so little about this King Stefan character and his alleged love for her that's it's almost impossible to give him even the slightest shred of credence. He goes from child to violator at lightning speed.
Whether the filmmakers intended to or not, drugging a woman and then violating her body — no, physically mutilating her body — made me incredibly uncomfortable. I didn't want Maleficent to get revenge; I wanted to crawl inside a tree hut with her and just weep.
So after Maleficent was robbed of her wings — the thing that made her powerful, and special (according to the live action origin tale) — she is then robbed of the very thing that made us all remember her 56 years later: She doesn't turn into a dragon.
The entire climax of the Disney fairy tale is hastily handed over to her crow pal, the walking human conscience. I was looking forward to this scene during the entire movie. The big set piece of Maleficent turning into a dragon and laying waste to everyone. And watching my beloved baddie point her finger at some guy and bestow upon him the gift of turning into a dragon was crushing. This is her thing! Even ABC's Once Upon A Time got this right! And no, this isn't just one more thing that the men take away from Maleficent, this is THE THING. THE THING WE ALL WENT INTO THE THEATER LOOKING FOR AND THEN WATCHED GAPE-JAWED AS IT WAS HANDED TO A MAN.
First Maleficent is stripped her of her wings, then stripped of her grand dragon transformation.What the ever-loving hell, Disney?