37 years I’ve waited, but Disney finally righted itself. I’m speaking, of course, of Maleficent –– Disney’s remake of their own Sleeping Beauty story. I should warn you now that, should you continue reading, copious amounts of cats will be let out of bags. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
In an earlier article (read here), I wrote of the reaction I had after seeing Disney’s 1959 animated version of Sleeping Beauty. I was a whopping 4 years-old, and wondered to my mother, “why didn’t the pretty lady win?” I was confused, as it seemed to me there had to have been a reason that she cursed Princess Aurora.
I mean, somebody had to have seriously pissed off that gorgeous woman, right? It seemed like a perfectly logical query to me at the time.
A good friend and I made a pact to see Maleficent as soon as it came out. Both of us are creepily interested in childhood stories, especially the fairy tales of The Brothers Grimm. Though Disney’s first telling of Sleeping Beauty was a lovely story, it was a bit too fluffy for us, we decided.
Fairy tales were written to help young children to develop their moral compass through the interest they already have for the macabre. My pal, Sheila, who was my Maleficent partner, has written a great article about this Jungian phenomenon in children. Read more here.
I don’t want to completely spoil the retelling of this story for you, but I am going to spoil it a little bit. Hey, I warned you earlier. You’re the one who’s still reading…
The story begins by telling of the wars that had occurred between the human and the fairy realms. There was never a ruler in the fairy land, where everyone got along. Maleficent was the most powerful fairy who lived there, with wings so large they “dragged on the ground.” She was beautiful, loving and kind. She even befriended a human boy when they were both young, an unheard of friendship.
And then… *takes deep breath*
Boy has delusions to be King.
King declares war on fairies.
Maleficent beats back King’s men.
Boy is now a man and seizes opportunity to be successor to the thrown.
Boy betrays Maleficent.
Boy becomes King.
Maleficent turns dark, hurt and betrayed, and claims dominion over fairy forest.
King marries, has daughter, Princess Aurora.
Maleficent curses the child into a deathlike sleep on her 16th birthday… prick of the finger… yadda, yadda, you know the story…
EVERYTHING GOES KITTYWAMPUS AND THE WHOLE STORY TURNS ON ITS DAMN EAR.
I’m not a total jerkface, so I won’t give away the rest of the story. But there are a few things of note left to address.
As Maleficent continues post-cursing scene–– which, by the way, is one of the most amazing pieces of cinematography I’ve seen in years (see photo above) and will cause you to squirm in your seat while an uncontrollable Cheshire grin creeps across your face–– we see a side of Maleficent Disney’s animated version never addressed.
She’s funny. Who knew?! As Maleficent watches Aurora grow up, she calls her “Beastie” from afar. It’s both hilarious and touching, as it’s clearly affectionate.
She has great humility. When she realizes the fate she’s brought upon the princess, she does everything in her power to reverse it. She knows she was wrong, and admitting that and taking responsibility for fixing it shows great strength of character.
She is fiercely protective. When it becomes apparent to Maleficent that the King’s hatred for her had become all-consuming, leaving no room in his heart even for his own daughter, whom he locks away, we see Maleficent for the powerhouse she truly is.
In the end, Disney wraps up the story as Disney always does: the villain dies, and the hero wins. Only this time, you will look at the definitions of “villain” and “hero” a bit differently.
After the movie, Sheila and I discussed at length the impact it will likely have on this generation of young girls. I think she’d agree that we both felt it a pleasant diversion from the saccharin-riddled fluff of most fairy tales. It isn’t as much about girl power as it is about knowing what is right, what is wrong, when you’ve made a mistake and how to go about remedying that mistake.
It’s about the terrible things that happen to us when we’ve done nothing to deserve them, and how to find our way back to the righteous path when we’ve gone down the vindictive one.
I applaud Disney’s retelling of the story of Maleficent in such a new and relevant way. I’m excited that her moral and ethical struggles were not wrapped in a pastel candy shell. But mostly, I’m just pleased as punch that the pretty lady finally won.