Magnificent Maleficent?

It’s no secret that I love a good fairy tale, especially when it promises a kickass female protagonist. Or antagonist.

I couldn’t stop raving about Brave, and Princess Merida wasn’t half as tantalising as the combination of a Lana Del Rey soundtrack and Angelina Jolie lead promised to be.

To say I had high expectations is a bit of an understatement. So now you get to suffer the fallout of my utter disappointment.

My second nephew is also into scary fantasy films, and given he’s had a love for Jurassic Park since the age of six, I thought he might enjoy this for his 10th birthday.

Really?

Really?

But the day before its release, Australia’s classification board slapped on an M rating, and being a responsible aunt, I thought I better check it out first.

Lucky I did, because there turned out to be multiple reasons I wouldn’t take my nephew to see that film, and none of them have do to with the rating.

As you would expect from the trailers, Maleficent is a feminist reworking of an old beauty myth.

At this point, I would say * SPOILER ALERT *, except that by the end of the film the only thing I can honestly say I didn’t expect was to be unafraid, underwhelmed and uninspired.

(Having said that, if you would rather find that out for yourself, skip The Gory Details and move on to The Monstrous Truth.)


The Gory Details

The narrative follows a linear trajectory, blandly filling us in on the backstory of a young, powerful yet benevolent fairy and the bitter rivalry between her woodland paradise and the neighbouring kingdom ruled by greedy men.

Despite the rivalry, an innocent romance blooms between the fairy girl and a young boy, and from here on you know more or less exactly how this story will play out.

Young Romance

  • Boy grows into a power hungry man, commits a hideous betrayal against his one true love and wins the throne. Check.
  • Birth of Princess Aurora. Check.
  • Vengeance in the form of a curse exacted by justifiably embittered Fairy Queen. Check.

From here, the narrative starts to look familiar, except for some troubling bumps in the plot.

For her own protection, baby Aurora is sent off to a hideaway in the forest, under the guardianship of three pixies until her sixteenth year. Fine.

PixiesOnly the pixies are so dim witted that they can’t even feed her proper food, let alone instruct her in the ways of the world.

Instead, her care falls to Maleficent, who watches from the shadows and, with begrudging curiosity, keeps her from harm’s way.

The result is a girl who grows up sheltered and naïve, as unaware of who she is or the fate that awaits her, as she is unafraid of horns that lurk in the dark.

It’s not a good outlook for female empowerment.

With a mother almost completely absent from the plot, pixie nannies who are both clueless and neglectful, the only source of female strength in Aurora’s life is one that sought her harm.

Of course, by the time Maleficent reveals herself to Aurora, she is genuinely attached to the girl and regretful of her actions. But since she fails to tell her the truth, Aurora has nothing really to be afraid about, and the moment of reckoning anticipated by the appropriately named ‘teaser‘ is a horrific anti-climax.

AuroraWhen Aurora finally does learn the truth, she naturally runs off to the castle and gets her finger pricked, invoking the curse and landing in a coma.

At this point, the outlook for male empowerment is similarly grim. The only men in Aurora’s life are a vindictive, power hungry father, and a Prince with a flaccid kiss.

By now it’s pretty obvious who will deliver the awakening kiss, and from there it’s just a matter of magic and a few convenient plot holes before the evil king is done away with and women get to rule the world.


The Monstrous Truth

As sympathetic as I might be to the idea of women taking over for a change, this film was nothing but a tease.

  • The only sign of Lana Del Rey is a single rendition of “Once Upon a Dream” over the credits.
  • Though everything looks pretty, the 3D goes in and out of focus with nasty double edge effect. It is only in the credits that we learn the film was not shot in 3D, but instead, badly converted.
  • The characters are similarly two dimensional and the plot is full of holes.

Instead of a tale of female empowerment, we find the old gender divisions alive and well.

All we have, in the end, is a Disney branding exercise of a horny goat woman in latex and leather who inspires us to maybe want to look like that.

Maleficent

Seeing this through my nephew’s eyes, if he took away any message at all, it would be this:

  • Men are either ruthless or weak.
  • Women are either neglectful and stupid, or vengeful, somehow all powerful but not very scary, sometimes sorry but always right.
  • Don’t trust anybody.
  • Definitely don’t fall in love.

To be fair to the creators, maybe their point was that powerful women don’t have to be scary. But that seems unlikely, since she lets the king fall to his death.

At any rate, I doubt my nephew would care enough to notice any of that, which is why the reviews seem to be putting it all down to a bit of harmless family fun.

And why I remain perplexed about Australia’s M rating.

Magnificent Maleficent? Meh.

Have you seen it? Will you see it? How do your expectations measure up?

Comments

  1. says

    It’s not the de facto film version of “Wicked” I had hoped for? Oh well — probably, Disney will buy the rights to do the Wicked movie as well. I can imagine that getting an M rating too (although I am admittedly not that well-acquainted with the Australian rating system) because of the violence that occurs in the show, but perhaps that will be bowdlerized after this experience the way that “Into the Woods” is expected to be.

    • says

      Yes, I can’t help wondering if the M rating is just systematic of Australia’s inherent fear of female power, regardless of the fact it was lame. It’s interesting because Brave was PG, but a lot more confronting than this movie, so maybe it’s the difference between animation and fantasy. Funnily enough I haven’t had the inclination to even look at Wicked, but I imagine if they do make a movie, it will likely be ‘bowdlerized’ as you say 🙂

  2. says

    Everything you say here is exactly what I feared about this movie. I had a pretty good idea that I did not want to see this from the ads.

    I have lots of problems with it. First, it seems like faux-feminist lite, rather than actual feminism. This confusion is why I keep hearing young women (Ms Del Rey included) saying feminism is boring, isn’t a concept they relate to, etc.

    Second, I have problems with confusing evil and with evil being broad brushstrokes … all men are evil. All women are good. Seriously? No.

    Third, it’s reminding me of something J.K. Rowling said. She talked about people criticizing her for including evil in her books. That it was too harsh for children. Then 9/11 happened. And she said something like, people don’t want me to write about evil?

    But the worst is this: “With a mother almost completely absent from the plot, pixie nannies who are both clueless and neglectful, the only source of female strength in Aurora’s life is one that sought her harm.” It sounds like there is no one in Aurora’s life who is genuinely good. Just … good.

    When did being a truly good person (or fairy or pixie or whatever) become undesirable?

    • says

      You’re smarter than me – I should have seen it coming! 🙂

      It is definitely faux-feminist lite, although I can understand people saying they don’t relate to the word at all. Feminism hasn’t done itself any favours, oscillating as it does between self hate and man hate.

      I was really quite conflicted about the Maleficent character, because they have tried to grapple with that issue of evil being more complex. She was definitely the most well rounded character, but lost all her impact because everything around her was over simplified. Maybe they were scared of the criticism you mention. But then they just shouldn’t have bothered going there at all…

      What would have really elevated that good vs bad debate is if she had kept the king alive!

  3. no1talks says

    so good to read you =)

    regardless of the plot holes, the gender division all I could thing about was a curse and love:
    Do curses exist? Do we call those upon ourselves?
    Do curses come from some other non-human force? Do we have a fairy godmother as well as an evil one? or it is just one who can turn against us depending on her mood?

    About love: Just like her (Maleficient) in my youth and later in life, I felt cheated, brokenhearted and sent away to be forgotten; Maleficient had a gentle pure heart, she was truthful and felt for what humans promote as love, misguided and left behind she turned toxic to her own nature and learn the bad habits of a cold and broken heart (just as human’s often do)

    -“true loved” doesn’t exist”-
    may be no between a man and a woman, we are different creatures with similar biology, but what about that mother-daugther bond? is that “it”?
    is that the purpose of humanity to turn into another human being which is flesh-of-your-flesh?
    is it the motherhood awakening, selfishness and relentless love of a mother to nurture and protect a youngster?

    …Let’s blame Disney for making it dull and little lame, it could have been so dark and powerful… entertaining but not magnificent, perhaps Disney should stick to animation.

    • says

      So good to ‘talk’ with you! Weren’t you also starting a blog soon? When’s that happening? 😉

      Yes, I’m fascinated by that whole thing about love as well. Curses? I don’t know… I grew up with a mother who believes women are rightfully cursed, so I prefer to think of it as an issue our evolution is yet to work out. Curses be damned!

      There is so much potentially rich and relatable stuff in Maleficent’s backstory. She had good reason to want to cause some harm! So its a shame we didn’t get to really feel that. Maybe if it wasn’t such a linear storyline we could have really taken that emotional trip with her – through the toxicity into the deep dark core of it, and learned something about our own brokenness, instead of “oh, yeah, and?” I guess they meant well, but they just didn’t take it far enough.

      “True love doesn’t exist” is a topic worthy of a long discussion! The thing is, Maleficent isn’t actually her mother, so are they talking about biology, or are they talking about plutonic love? One that is not driven by the gene’s selfish drive to replicate, but something else…

      We shall have to use our own imaginations and dream of what it could have been 🙂

  4. says

    I haven’t seen it and don’t particularly intend to, it’s not the type of film that particularly appeals to me (even before I read your review) so I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it, but further down the line when it comes on TV/streaming in some form I’d probably catch it. Often when there’s a lot of hype about a film it can be a let down can’t it, our expectations are set sky-high, so I prefer to watch very hyped up films after the hype has died down and been forgotten, then our expectations have generally floated back down too.

  5. says

    Thanks for the insightful review, Alarna. I haven’t seen it, but I’ll steer clear.

    Perhaps the M rating was for the bad messages imparted on those who have seen it.

  6. says

    Woah. Well I was mildly curious about this movie and hadn’t really heard anything about it. It sounds awful, reading your words! I can’t stand when a plot attempts to turn things upside and then utterly fails. If you’re going to do that, then just keep with the same tiresome fairy tales and stop wasting our time 😉

  7. says

    Alarna I love your thoughts on Maleficent as I stated in my post my Daughter and I enjoyed it, maybe the fact she was different to most pretty barbie like role models. We also agreed on the way home in the car that there were some plot holes and lots of staring off into the distance and huge part of it with the main character just observing stuff. We mostly enjoyed the actual getting out (which is rare at night) because we live so far away from any where. My daughter just enjoyed the ride and did not think too deeply about the whole thing, we came away with no messages, other than it was a visual feast for us, even though the story was lacking it opened up ideas for our own fairy creatures and how we could better them in our own stories. Different strokes I guess…

    • says

      For all my cynicism, it was definitely a step up from Barbie! A visual feast is a good way to describe it, and I think you both had the right approach – just go for the ride! I’m so glad you enjoyed your girls night out and that it got the imagination going. That’s what its all about 🙂

  8. says

    How disappointing, Alarna! It’s rare to see a movie that really wows us and has substance these days! I sound like my mother but it’s true! You were smart to see it first before taking your nephew. Such a good auntie! 🙂

  9. says

    Well, this is disappointing… I still want to see it so I skipped the gory details in your post. After reading your conclusions, definitely a good decision to not go with your nephew! Have you watched the series Once upon a time? It’s a little bit like this, all the bad queens and kings had a difficult heartbreak that explains their actual behavior.

  10. says

    this was such an in-depth review! Great job. I had no desire to see this, nor did my boys, but this seals the deal. we’re not much on fairytale movies (b/c I have boys, and I never like them), but you just never know …sometimes these movies are amazing. I had a feeling this one would be a let down if I had any kind of expectations. AND, I find that most Disney movies are very bad at negative stereotypes.

    I don’t know who produced Journey to the Center of the Earth (with The Rock), but I remember when my husband and I watched it with the boys, we were shocked at how they dressed the young lady in the movie. I’m sure she’s older in real life, but was playing a 15, maybe 16yo. OMG. her shorts weren’t longer than her vagina. It was gross, and gratuitous, and totally unnecessary.

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